Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tragically, TV shows haven't caught up with novels

Has there ever been a protagonist in a TV series who becomes less likeable and more flawed by the end of the series? I’m not sure that The Sopranos qualifies. More and more about Tony Soprano has been revealed over the past eight years, and little of it has been good, but the character itself has not changed much. There’s a stronger case that Carmela and Meadow Soprano have lost the small sense of morality that they once exhibited, but they don’t exactly count as examples of Shakespearean downfall (yet). Miniseries are another matter, since most are based on novels and none have to worry about keeping characters going for years (to milk a show’s popularity) while not allowing them to change much (because change threatens a show’s popularity). But if television is going to rise to the same level as film, theater, and novels as a form of storytelling — and I think it eventually will — it has to give us a few tragic endings. The biggest flaw about The West Wing, and the reason it ceased to be interesting after a year or so, is that creator Aaron Sorkin refused to give any of the main characters an irreversible bad decision. This was a show set at the highest level of government, yet no one was corrupted by power! Will Lost turn Locke into a madman? Will House turn its protagonist into a complete misanthrope (instead of someone pretending to be an ass because he’s avoiding intimacy)? Someday there will be a long-running series with the awful downward spiral of Citizen Kane, Vertigo, The Conversation, or The Blue Angel, but I think we’re still a few years off.

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