Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Can't Force Chemistry, But You Can Follow a Formula

I was watching "Warehouse 13" last night (still don't think it's going to last very long) and like I mentioned in my review of the show, the partnership of the two main characters seems contrived to do nothing more than generate sexual tension-- and it's not really working. Chemistry is probably the biggest challenge when it comes to casting a new show and a series can live or die on how well the actors interact with each other. In fact, I'd argue good, or lucky, casting can overcome a weak script much of the time. But I've noticed a trend among the shows I watch; male-female partnerships and the funny/crazy sidekick. A couple examples.... Chuck, a cute series about a computer geek who unwittingly comes into possession of a vital government secrets, finds himself being protected by an oh-so-hot CIA agent. Of course Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski)-- our hot secret agent-- and Chuck (Zachari Levi) have feelings for each other that must be denied due to the dangerous nature of their circumstances (or so Sarah often insists) and the show goes through the predictable cycle of the characters getting together and breaking up. The saving grace here is the addition of another CIA agent played by Adam Baldwin. The eye-rolling cynicism of his character keeps the show from getting too cute. Burn Notice, another spy action-comedy, follows Chuck's pattern in an almost textbook fashion. In this case the main character, Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) is a spy who was "burned," --essentially blacklisted. He's stuck in Miami trying to figure who burned him and get his life back. Helping him is a former girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar) who, of course, still has feelings for him. They get together, but Michael pushes her away so he can remain focused on what he's trying to do. Like "Chuck," there is another partner in the mix (played by the great Bruce Campbell) who acts as a comedic foil between the two lead characters. Fringe, probably my favorite of the newer shows, hasn't yet gone for the obvious sexual tension angle-- but it's always a possibility since it has the male/female leads. But it does follow "Chuck" and "Burn Notice" in that it has a main trio of characters. FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) stumbles across something known as "The Pattern" in the course of an investigation of mysterious events and seeks the help of scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble) who worked in the area of "fringe" science. The only problem is that Walter has been institutionalized for 17 years and is more than a little crazy. Enter Walter's son Peter (Joshua Jackson) who is brought in by Olivia to work with, and control, Walter. No romance has developed yet, and I'm hoping they keep it at an "X-Files" type distance, but the possibility is there... Not every show I watch follows this trend to the detail, but you can see it's a pretty popular dynamic. Shows like Bones deviate a little from the pattern in that you have a whole cast of "quirky" characters, but they're definitely going for sexual tension on that show. Pushing Daisies (I could cry that this has been cancelled) was an extremely original show-- and yet it too followed the format. Castle almost follows the same arrangement with its two leads, Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, but lacks a full-time sidekick to give it the full formula treatment-- but Castle's mom (Susan Sullivan) seems determined to fill that role. And you gotta hand it to Fillion, he does his charming best to make the chemistry seem genuine and darned if it doesn't work. I don't know if it's the fact that the formula is becoming obvious or if it's a lack of chemistry, but "Warehouse 13" seems to be trying awfully hard to following in the footsteps of these other shows and not quite finding its way. Maybe it's time to bring back the old school same-sex buddy system-- the current versions all seem to feature brothers ("Prison Break, "Numbers," "Supernatural"-- does Hollywood have any original ideas?) with the exception of "Psych". I miss the old Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid type partnerships. Who knows. Given the Hollywood love of recycling TV shows, maybe they'll remake CHiPs. I shouldn't say that out loud....

8 comments:

Karen said...

I'd like to see a buddy show that centers on two female partners (either sci-fi, action or drama). I kinda wish they would make a show that teams up Veronica Mars and Chloe Sullivan from Smallville. Those two would be a nice fit.

SQT said...

Karen-- that is a great idea. "Cagney and Lacey" was really popular when I was a kid. Those characters were older than the girls you mentioned, but it's the same general idea. I'd love to see some cop dramas with same gendered partners-- anything that allows us to enjoy the show without the whole "relationship" think hanging over our heads.

Charles Gramlich said...

I know, the Muldar/scully riff has been just about played out.

SQT said...

Charles, it really has. Time for some new material.

OnlyTheBestSciFi/Fantasy said...

That detective/psychic show Psych I think its called, has 2 dudes as mains who aren't brothers.

Now that you point out the pattern, I absolutely agree with you.

Although, I would take another season of BSG. The main issue for me with warehouse 13 is the budget... it just doesn't allow for some of the stuff that makes sci-fi good... you are forced to have small plots and shitty scenery because, well, you just can't afford it.

SQT said...

@Best, I did throw in a brief mention of Psych as the only show I could think of that didn't have brothers. But the more I look at the current shows, the more I see trends.

Steve Malley said...

My problem with sexual tension subplots in TV series is how long stuff gets left hanging. Maybe I'm wierd, but I have *never* had or seen sexual tension between two available, single people last for more than a few weeks, a couple of months at most. But TV characters often go *years* without, ahem, resolving things...

SQT said...

Steve

I think that's kind of the rub-- so to speak-- with this formula. That isn't how real life works but it's how the TV world likes to keep things and we can only stay interested for so long.