Blood And Treasure
You might remember that the other day I noted that there wasn’t any SF on HBO in a conversation about realism in genre television. Of course, that isn’t true; at the very time I wrote that I was also watching the first season of True Blood on DVD. Based on Charlaine Harris’s bestselling Sookie Stackhouse series of paranormal romance – or what ever it is being called this week – novels, it might not be science fiction (which is where that conversation started) but it certainly fits under the broad umbrella of speculative fiction. And yes, despite its kitchen sink approach to paranormal tropes, it is far more realistic than Battlestar Galactica, not to mention a hell of a lot more fun.
Now, your Adam Robertses or your David Moleses might complain that that opening is excessively strucuralist. I’m going somewhere with this, guys, honest. Those of us in the SF community have a tendency towards loose language (even “SF” itself is ambiguous). Take for example our pretty much indefensible fondness for the term “mainstream”. Or our casual equivalence of “genre” with SF when SF isn’t even a genre, let alone all genres. One of the create things about True Blood is that it is all genres: SF, romance, crime, drama, melodrama, sitcom, soap opera, gothic, it is all there. As a result it is messy, silly and, I think, rather loveable (despite the major flaws Roberts points out in the review linked above, particularly regarding the symbolic representation of prejudice). It is that kernel of realism mentioned at the beginning, a kernel that simply doesn’t exist in mainstream American television (more loose language), that holds it together and allows the reader to overcome the issues; alas, I can already feel it slipping away in the face of other inherent pressures of serial television. The urge to expand the universe and to top each cliffhanger with an even bigger one means that even as the season ends, they are already wheeling out the lost relatives with special powers for the next one.
Which brings us nicely to Heroes. I promised that I would quit while I was ahead but no, I went and watched season three. And it was very bad indeed. What started as a compulsively addictive obsession with the cliffhanger was ballooned into a showcase of everything that is wrong with the word “reboot”. This term is bad enough when it is applied to some innocent culture artefact of the (not so distant) past but Heroes had already taken it to the next level by rebooting at the end of every season. Now they not only have a complete reboot half-way through the season, they also have mini-reboots running through the season like a series of minor strokes. So, for example, Sylar’s personality can change entirely literally every single episode (and this wild oscillation is not confined to him, he is just the most extreme instance). Any attempt at consistency or realism has been abandoned with the result that the show has become untterably boring. It is postmodernism gone mad, I tells ya.