It’s the summer, which means there’s a whole lotta filler TV clogging up our screens. My DVR is so barren I’m trolling all those strange channels I never watch unless it’s three in the morning and I’m desperate for any semblance of entertainment, no matter how lackluster. Pop, Chiller, Ovation and Pivot come to mind. Even the comedy reruns on TVLand and Logo fill many a listless half hour. And Netflix. Thank you Netflix for British, Spanish and Irish programming. Now I can look up other projects featuring JJ Feild, Samuel Roukin, Seth Numrich. They are some of the most interesting actors from the cast of Turn on AMC, a show I will be sorry to see end its season this Monday. Especially difficult is saying goodbye to Seth’s yellow breeches. So so sorry to see those go. But you know what I would love to see go? Actors who talk like Vanessa Williams singing a ballad. Hear it in your mind: “And now we’re standing fache to fache, isn’t this world a crazy plache? Jusht when I thought our chansh had pashed, you went and shaved the besht . . . for lasht.” Tell me the way she sings that doesn’t get on your nerves. Tell me back when it was a top ten hit you didn’t sing it just like her in your car when no one was around. Hell, probably you and your friends sang it out loud together. Have you heard the men on TV lately? Elyes Gabel on Scorpion? He never met an “S” he didn’t “sshhh.” Josh Bowman on Revenge was a big one for this, too. Jay Ryan on Beauty and the Beast. Yesh, these three men are burying their English accents (with the exception of Jay, born in New Zealand) in American characters, but what dialect coach taught them to convert the “S” into “Sh?” Do they think it’s shexy? No. It’s not. It’s a trend. Alan Rickman didn’t talk like that. Nor does Dominic West, Ewan McGregor, Russell Crowe or any number of British, Scottish, Irish, Australian actors who’ve had to let the American S roll off their tongues with a proper hiss. So shtop it. Now.
Which all leads us into my very tidy list of four things I wish to see less of when fall television rolls around.
1. LAZY DIALOGUE–OMG, if I hear one more character tell another “it’s complicated” to describe their love life, work life, drug addiction, reason why they’re tired, angry, bored, haven’t had lunch or sex or a cup of coffee I just might lose it. I don’t think I’ve ever answered anyone’s question with “it’s complicated.” Rachel, why aren’t you married yet? It’s complicated. Rachel, have you published a book yet? It’s complicated. Rachel, why did you take back that plaid sweater I bought you for Christmas? It’s complicated. Seriously, do you think that would fly in real life? Why did you sleep with my best friend? It’s complicated. Dateline would be pretty tedious if every time the cops interviewed a perp he answered their questions with “it’s complicated.” Everyone’s life is twisty and turny, and there’s no neat little answer to every question. How full of yourself do you have to be to think your reason for shagging the pool boy is too complicated for my small mind to comprehend? What isn’t complicated? That dialogue. Lazy and boring and quite uncomplicated.
. And while we’re on the topic of lazy dialogue, what’s with the chanting already? Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Bitten, Once Upon A Time. So much chanting. And in Latin or some language they think we won’t understand so they don’t actually have to write dialogue. Okay, yes, I know these shows are fantasy/sci fi, but even the Halliwell sisters of Charmed did their chanting in English. What, does a spell only work if spoken in Jabooby? Spirits come in all ethnicities. Which brings me to problem #2.
2. DISTRACTING POLITICALLY CORRECT CASTING AND STORYLINES–Yes, Once Upon A Time, I am so talking to you. How convenient to rewrite someone’s characters to fit your own needs. So Mulan is suddenly gay? Oh, but I see she’s still Asian. And Ariel still has red hair. But Alice in Wonderland? Nope. Not blonde. Now she’s some buck-toothed tomboyish brunette. But the gorgeous Aladdin still loves her. Hey, know who our latest supercouple is? Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Little Red Riding Hood. Yes, the brave, strong women who stand alone without Price Charming unlike Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, the ones who can get by without dick being the center of their universe, well hey, they must be gay, right? Good way to further confuse our young ladies who choose education and career and exploring her own interests instead of hitching her star too early to some guy. Oh, you don’t want to pop out babies? Oh, you can stand up for yourself? Oh, you are smart and can kick ass? Dyke.
. Hey, I’m all for people wanting to see themselves in characters. I know Grease was written in a time without PC, so now little girls can see a black Frenchy. Selena Gomez would make a perfect Maria in West Side Story. Can you see the heads that would roll if they gave it to Taylor Swift in a brunette wig? How wrong would any of that be? I don’t know. I know I grew up with certain characters, seeing them in a certain way. I know as a writer, I see who I see as my characters. It’s why Daniel Radcliffe made such a stunning Harry Potter. Why everyone was pissed off watching Jamie Dornan take on Christian Grey. Let’s stop telling stories with our I’m so afraid to not address every living member of society brains.
3. EVERYBODY EATS, BUT NOBODY EATS–How many more times do I have to watch actors pushing food around their plates, twirling spaghetti on a fork that never goes into their mouths? Share a carton of ice cream that looks like it’s been sitting on the counter, melting for hours? And the actors really play with this stuff, stirring it and smoothing it with their spoons, mashing it around the container like lumpy whipped potatoes. Because the ice cream is almost always vanilla. Never chocolate or strawberry. Or even on a stick, or an ice cream sandwich. How about the cone that never drips? And I simply love the actors who jam chopsticks into empty Chinese takeout containers like they’re trying to remove the perfect amount of noodles. I sing the praises of the empty, brandless, takeout coffee cup. My favorite: the cup of tea with the tea bag still in it. Nope, don’t know anyone who drinks tea this way. Everybody I’ve ever shared tea time with takes the bag out of the cup. Like, do we really care what’s in the cup anyway? Unless it’s poisoned, who cares if a character is drinking coffee or tea or hot chocolate? Unless you’re saying something about the character (mellow teetotaler, fun hot chocolate sipper, jittery coffee drinker), why do I need to know what’s not in your fake drinking vessel? If someone’s drinking tea, have them toss the bag in front of the camera. Or say, “Mmm, this tea was exactly what I needed to settle my fourth chakra.” New rule: if your characters aren’t going to eat, stop putting them around the table. Have the action take place after the meal, while they’re clearing the table. If they’re at a restaurant, have them talk just before they order, or while dessert is sitting there. Have one of them push the plate away and say, “I’m stuffed.” Or have someone playing with their food and say, “I haven’t eaten a bite. I feel just like one of those annoying characters on TV.” No one should pretend to chow down unless it’s a script dealing with an eating disorder.
4. TIRED PLOT TWISTS–Yeah, this would be the happy couple in the front seat of the car who gets t-boned by an eighteen-wheeler from out of nowhere while in mid-sentence. Or the person who steps out into the middle of the street, unassuming, waving good-bye or also in mid-sentence, only to get run over by a passing vehicle. I first saw this device used on Felicity twenty years ago. Shocking then. Brilliant. Every other time since? Lame lame lame. And how about one character saying to another, “I have something very important to tell you!” The other character–um, so self-absorbed or what, I don’t know–usually ignores this and tells the first character something that impacts what that character was going to say, finishing up with a variation of, “Oh, listen to me go on. You said you had something important to tell me?” First character: “Oh no, it’s not that important. It can wait.” Selfish character: “Okay, meet you later for coffee.” What? Um, no one ever lets me get away with this. Then there’s the character who hears a knock at the door, assumes who it is and starts talking to the door as they walk to open it, and on the other side of the door is . . . OMG! Not who they thought it was! I’m so shocked by this every time. What imaginative writing. Come on, guys. We deserve so much better than this. It’s your job to create people prettier than us, smarter than us, more eloquent and interesting. If I wanted predictable and ridiculous, I’d turn my TV off and go talk to my family.
Hmmmm, now there’s a novel idea.