Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What About Brian?

So I watched the first two episodes, out of some weird loyalty to all that is J.J. Abrahms. Unfortunately, this show lacks his true genius and I was left feeling the answer to the question posed by the show "What About Brian?" is "Who cares?"

These thirtysomethings are not like anyone I know. All of them are varying degrees of successful and pretty well off. Maybe your friends are like that, but mine are still struggling to reach their goals and don't own successful game companies, are not pediatricians or lawyers or think about having open marriages. Maybe I live in a cave. I just couldn't relate to this show. At all.

Dead in 4 weeks, is my prediction. The ratings aren't great and they are only going to get worse.


Anonymous said...

Hey Shawna -
You said it. I, too, have this thing about giving a looksie to anything JJ Abrams. But... this show has a lot of complications, without anything genuine. In fact, the show lacks heart, and anyone to care about. Which is unfortunate, cause, is Matt Davie a cutie, or what :-) (I say go rent Blue Crush for a fix).

Here's hoping that JJ and Matt Davis will come up with a better vehicle.


-- Kate

Warren said...

When it's lighthearted, I really enjoy it. But when it delved into the serious dramatic issues, it slipped into melodrama I thought, and frankly, I don't care enough about these characters yet to be really drawn into their drama. There's something there, but I agree with you both, it probably won't last much longer, especially with 7 million viewers in its normal time slot.

Vince DC said...

Hi there, Shawna. Just blog-rolled you. Wish I watched more TV so I could relate a little more to your blog. Alas, I'm a movie creature unless you comment on PBS and Dicovery Channel shows. The blog is great otherwise.

Bill Cunningham said...

It's a show that has very little to do with reality, and a lot to do with the shows creator's indulgent fantasy.

Brian doesn't act like any male I know would...there's no strong personal 'voice' to the character as there is to Meredith Grey of GREY'S ANATOMY.

No self-respecting single guy I know would ever consider it a problem that he slept with two women within 24 hrs.

No one.


And that's the problem with this show - not one true voice in the whole thing. Brian should do what he wants, and the consequences of his actions should have repercussions within the "married folk".

It's bad. Really bad.

Christian Johnson said...

I don't know, given the 24/Prison Break/CSI:Miami competition, added to the fact that ABC Monday can afford to be weak with Disney's focus on Monday Night Football for 1/3 of the year (on ESPN) any ratings on Monday at all are good.

The show rated higher that King of Queens and How I Met Your Mother.

Personally, I liked the show. I think it has some kinks to work out. But I don't look at it as a JJ Abrams show, he's just the producer and not the creator. I look at it as a Barry Watson vehicle. Will people migrate from 7th Heaven to Brian? (Brian Currently has better numbers.)

As to your comments regarding not relating to the characters, that I can sympathize with.

Since I am the age Brian is supposed to be (Barry Watson is 31, but I think his character is about 35. Interestingly, "18" year old Ryan on the OC is 27), I have wondered just who the heck my Brian equivalent friends are.

My friend Joel is a struggling early attorney with many of the concerns that "Adam" has, but without the massive home in the Hollywood Hills. My friend Mark is owner of a digital intermediary company (just starting up) and owns a nice, but not extravagent, condo in Torrence. My friend Darius has his Ph.D in Political Science and is looking for work (he owns two houses in Pasadena though). I am finishing my Ph.D and am a non-profit director who rents an apartment in Glendale (at least Brian lives in an apartment). My wife is a Writer's Assistant who graduated from USC's grad film program and is trying to become a writer. Two of our friends are in the same boat as Jody.

Though I like the humor of the show, I think Warren is spot on, and the soundtrack, I kept wondering..."Hey! Where's the person who manages to make rent because of additional income from house-sitting?" Early to mid-thirties are the struggling years.

I don't mind the successful computer company, many people succeed at a moderate age in that industry, but Adam's home drives me mad.

That said, I like it and as a Monday 10pm on ABC, I think it is pretty secure. Though it appears that the Grey's Anatomy slot premiere didn't help too much, so we'll see. Maybe Gen X isn't ready for its Thirty-Something yet, after all when Ryan on the OC is 27 and most of the "references" are Gen X jokes, maybe it is a sign that Gen X is still in the throws of Peter Pan syndrome. Which would be a good thing in my mind.

Bill Cunningham said...

Christian --

With all due respect to you, are you out of your freakin' gourd?

This show, is a fantasy and clearly violates the rules of drama which have served us well since Aristotle wrote them down.

There are too many "outs" in this show ("Outs" for those not familiar, are narrative bits that allow a character to escape the peril he's in). For example:

1. Brian sleeps with Lisa #1, and she tells Marjorie she's not sure she's going to see Brian again. It's an out. There are no consequences and the stakes to Brian's behaviour are actually LOWERED with this statement.

2. Computer guy is sitting at the bar showing hot chick pictures of his kids... and she's NOT INTERESTED. That's an out. He should be back in the hall near the bathroom kissing this girl then realizing what he really wants to do is show her pics of his kids.

3. Adam caves in and goes to get bridal mags for them to peruse. Again, he caved and lessened the drama.

These "outs" are bad. They violate drama and make for "safe" situations and characters.
This is the formula for making BAD TELEVISION.

The best drama comes out of pinning your characters down, leaving them no way out, then seeing how they deal.

BRIAN doesn't deal.

Oh, and by the way, being better than KofQ or How I MYM, is not a bar that is set very high.

Christian Johnson said...

I agree with everything that Bill said, with the exception of my being out of my gourd. And as a student of political philosophy (and aesthetics), it is always nice to see references to the Poetics.

In fact, I would add that the problems you mention are actually extant in all of Dana Stevens writing. Take the adaptation of For Love of the Game, which I thought was a wonderful unfinished novel, directed by Sam Raimi. The "outs" you mentioned are my biggest problem with the writing of Brian, and they were in FLotG as well, but I might posit that this is an artifact of the lack of faith the writers have in the concepts abilty to last. It is fear of cancellation and leaving open threads that leads to this simplistic writing.

Let me rephrase. Threshold, which I really liked, never settled any of its issues and took a long time to establish its underlying tensions. Actually, it didn't even finish establishing its primary longterm conflicts. Television shows as you know, and are arguing in your post, have both episodic dramatic narratives and season/series long narratives. Threshold's weakness was an overly large focus on the Three Season structure (Threshold, Foothold, Stranglehold) that the writers had designed. They assumed the show would be picked up. So there was little to no single episode resolution and audiences left immediately because the episodes felt incomplete.

With Brian we have exactly the opposite phenonmenon. The writers appear to have no faith that the show will last beyond the next sunrise (a sentiment shared by you and Shawna). Case in point the Marjorie relationship triangle. They resolve, poorly, the tensions twice in two episodes turning a series long narrative into an episodic one twice. As you say, "Brian never has to deal."

The narrative should be the audience rooting for Brian to "get" Marjorie, but being frustrated because of Adam's doing just enough to keep her and Brian dealing with a conflict of romance/friendship. But we don't even know why Brian values Adam's friendship. To the contrary, we wonder why he even likes this lecherous loser. Your example is a great example of a dropped ball. Adam should come home, after the conversation at the party, but he shouldn't bring Bridal Magazines. That's too much, it's too clean for an evening continuing narrative.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I like the concept of the show, I like the actors of the show, but that I think the execution needs work. I don't sleep much, I read, watch TV, write poli-sci papers, until the wee hours and then get up to work. So I can wait a few weeks to see if the narrative picks up.

Sure, most people won't do that, but if I didn't have that behavior I never would have gotten past the first episode of Deadwood. I love the show, but the first episode forced the profanity in the writing and didn't develop the conflicts very well. Later episodes, in fact those immediately following the first with different writers, used the same amount of profanity, but used it more naturally.

It's actually interesting how, in my opinion, every one of your criticisms is valid, yet that won't stop me from watching the show for at least a couple more weeks. I want to see what the other writers do with the show. If they continue to sacrifice drama by resolving narratives as if this was a situation comedy and not a new thirty-something then I will stop watching.

You will notice that in none of my comment above did I express an opinion regarding the writing and my thoughts on the maintanence of dramatic tension. Rather, I was merely providing examples in my own life of how I agreed that the wealth/success of the characters was out of whack. With the exception of my one friend who lives in Torrence.

My only content comments were: "Personally, I liked the show. I think it has some kinks to work out." I didn't say why. My why has to do with potentiality and not actuality, but some shows have started awkwardly (Next Generation, DS9 anyone?) and improved dramatically.

Since I am not a television writer, I am not asking myself how I would do a similar show better. Or even if I would write a better episode given the same characters. I write about crazy stuff in my free time, in my professional time I write political analysis. If I used my own profession as a lens, I would hate Boston Legal, but I don't so I love Boston Legal. And no, it isn't the "bias" of BL that would bother me, it would be the sloppy research and often old information passed off as established fact. Instead, I like the humor and the characters, my favorite being Alan. Though I am in the cult of Shatner.

Shawna said...

Oh goody! A debate!! Me=excited...

So, what I find really interesting is that we are having this discussion at all. I can't tell you how many shows I watched this season that I didn't even bother commenting on how bad they were, because I just didn't care. The thing about this show (and Bones -- but that's another topic for another day) and even Threshold is that they had me, the viewer ready and willing to like their show. I WANTED to fall in love with the show. Almost every other show I watched I felt like I was sitting with arms folded saying "okay, show me something. Prove to me that I should watch you." For these three shows, they seemed to be tailor made for me to like them...

...which I didn't, but to varying degrees.

The problem with Threshold was that they 'had a plan'. And things went according to plan. The times the show rocked and really had something going was when the plan had to be thrown out the window. Plans are boring, especially in TV. We want to see complications thrown at characters and we want to see how they will deal with these complications, especially when given limited resources and NO 'outs'.

You both hit on the reason that 'Brian' didn't work for me -- everything felt way too easy for him. His biggest problem in life is that his best friend is marrying the girl he loves. Boo-freakin'-hoo. The married couple feels that they need to have affairs to spice up their marriage. Ironically the only couple with any interesting story for me is the one that gets little attention -- Brian's sister and her husband's attempts to have a baby. THAT'S DRAMA.

So, let's talk about Grey's for a second. I like Grey's, but I don't love Grey's. My biggest problem with that show is the main character. Meredith is just too whiny a character for me to like. Give me House, who is unlikeable in every way, and yet -- you can't help but like him. Give me Alan and Denny on Boston Legal who have more negative qualities than good. The last thing that any of these characters are is whiny. I've decided that whiny is not a good character trait in a lead. Supporting player, it's ok (see: George, on Seinfeld). Leading character...not so much.

The common element of Threshold, Bones, and Brian for me lies in the potential of these shows. I understand why they were greenlit, why they got picked up. I get why we should care (in general), but the execution just isn't there.

I have to go back to 1st season Alias. I know there are a lot of people who feel like it got confusing with the Rambaldi stuff, but now shows do things way more complicated than Rambaldi as a running arc and no one gripes about getting lost. Alias was very effective at having a defined story for each episode and yet maintaining long story arcs. After the 2nd season, we can debate the quality of the story, but the show has never wavered in telling a good hour of TV with a definite beginning/middle/end and yet leaving enough to keep you wanting to see what happens next.

I'm a fan of the hybrid procedural/character drama. I think it helps to have a formula people can depend upon seeing every week (like Law & Order) and yet continue to expand the character stories and interactions. When House does better than American Idol in some markets (as it did last night), you know that it is doing something right. Bones needs to watch and learn.

But Bones is a different topic. *sigh* Bones...I wish I could quit you, and yet you suck.

Bill Cunningham said...

Christian --

If at any point you felt I was attacking you personally, well then I apologize. That's not what I was going for, and if you read me regularly you know I shoot a mean scattergun without regard for the consequences.

Okay, the fact that the show's creator is a woman is not lost on me in regard to Brian. It is my opinion that, based on these two episodes, she is a person who "looks for closure" in her life. I think this has clouded the storytelling possibilities inherent in the concept behind WHAT ABOUT BRIAN?.

Brian should be a brutal show, and by that I mean a show that pulls no emotional punches. Instead we are faced with a show that's a "pillow fight."

And like all pillow fights - deep down you know no one is ever truly going to get hurt, mom and dad are going to come in and break it up then tuck everyone in bed safe and sound.


If I were a writer on that show, I would pitch a story several months down the road that:

a) sister isn't knocked up and she's heartbroken about it to the point she may get a divorce.

b) One of the Lisa's from this second episode is pregnant with Brian's kid.

c) Marjorie knows, but Brian doesn't, and she has to be the one to tell him.


RE: BONES - "will they or won't they?" will save this show. These two need to be Nick and Nora Charles. More banter, more passion, more chemistry(between the sheets and not in the beaker), and more drama. Less clinical and more psychological. It has to differentiate itself from CSI: Silverlake and Law & DisOrder.

RE: THRESHOLD - never thought the aliens were much of a threat. No horror. No terror. No feeling that these agents of the government were readyto do anything to stop these aliens in their tracks. It's UFO (the old Gerry Anderson series for you youngsters) without the aircraft.

I'm tired now...

Christian Johnson said...


If you thought I thought you were attacking me, I apologize. I was attempting to be snarky in my opening sentence. Damnable text and lack of voice inflection. Grr...

Re: Bones, exactly. We need more chemistry between Agent Booth and the good Doctor. Though I can't wait for CSI: Silverlake.

SUPER CSI COP: Looks like someone got tired of listening to the Half-Wolf-Dog-Walking Man argue with the SmokerLady.

LA PD Beat Cop: How can you tell?


SUPER CSI COP: The bodies were covered in flea shampoo.

LA PD Beat Cop: Huh?

SUPER CSI COP: (Removes Shades and Looks at Camera) Exactly.

I wish that the people who wrote Threshold had watched more of The Invaders. When people with mere tweaked pinkies creep you out, you know you got something going on.

Bill Cunningham said...

Not to forget that wonderful Dominic Frontiere score for the Invaders. "Haunting" I believe is the right word.

CSI: SILVERLAKE - someone takes a hit at the Trader Joe's and falls flat out in that mindlessly f*cked parking lot.

Everyone immediately switches to the 99C store on Sunset and ups the GNP of Mexico.


guyot said...

Expect to see a lot more stuff with JJ's name on it, but without him being too involved. He has a MASSIVE deal at Disney that they need to lay off.

Add to it that JJ is going to be concentrating more on feature directing over the couple of years.