Thursday, June 12, 2014

BBC'S "LUTHER" - THE SHOW THAT INSPIRED ME TO TAKE A CRACK AT WRITING MY OWN (MINI) SERIES


There's been an ongoing shift in the industry, where film is no longer the most viable, sought after, or cost effective vehicle for delivering a premium product for your viewing pleasure. The richest narratives, characters, and the actors who bring them to life are now on your telly.

I can't quite pinpoint when it started, as I am not a TV enthusiast unless there's a hockey game on. It may have begun with LOST, until the writers got lazy and ruined a brilliant concept. The peak of it certainly hit with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead. AMC eats up a lot of the credit, I guess. FX isn't far behind with Sons of Anarchy, American Horror Story, and now Fargo. For me, the problem with all of them is simple - time. It makes me twitchy just thinking about committing myself to a series I haven't watched from the beginning. I look on Netflix and think, oh man, it's already on Season 5… The time commitment is ridiculous, especially for somebody who likes to binge watch. I want to see the whole thing and be done with it, at times allotting myself a day, where I do nothing but watch my queue. There aren't enough hours in the day for a 6 Season marathon, no matter how good the show is. I did it with Breaking Bad, a great show from a screenwriting perspective, but I remain uncomfortable with how much time it sucked out of my life.

Then, I got into BBC. The format for most of their dramas is what we deem a miniseries. Seems it's the best way to write, make, and watch a television program. Broadchurch had 8 episodes. Top of the Lake had 7. The Fall had 5Obviously, there are exceptions.

It may be better to narrow down the genre here. I'm talking specifically about BBC's crime thrillers working as serials. New episode - new case. Think Sherlock, Wallander and, of course, Luther. However, where Sherlock and Wallander clock in at a film-worthy 90 minutes, Luther has the upper hand with 50 minutes, as time and brevity are of the essence.

This is the ideal format. Not too long, not too short. It has the grit and atmosphere of the quintessential police procedural, but is far from your run-of-the-mill Law & Order shenanigans. It doesn't suffer from over the top "ripped from the headlines" writing clichés so often utilized this side of the pond. It does require occasional suspension of disbelief, and this is likely the one spot where Luther falters briefly, as the believable often morphs into probable, then highly doubtable, until it escalates to levels of the altogether impossible. Doesn't matter. The talented cast is able to carry it regardless. 

The most interesting part? It provides a completely different sensory experience. There are rarely any guns. For someone who is used to seeing and hearing them in every single show, it becomes an initially disorienting encounter. The process of reaching for a gun, positioning oneself, aiming it, cocking it, firing it - the close ups of the barrel, the firm grip, the body language - Luther has none of it. I'm not propagating for or against guns, I am just amazed at how wired we are to expect these rituals. It's ingrained in our psyche and, in comparison, Luther is.... quiet. There are loud arguments, fights, chases, but the lack of gun fire yields a different kind of aural landscape. If you haven't already done so, give it a go. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Luther's setting, actors, and plot lines ignited a fire in me to write something for television. A weird, thrilling miniseries. The project is on the back burner in leu of this year's literary developments, but there isn't a day where a new scene, character, or concept doesn't cross my mind. I take a post-it or a napkin and jot it down. There's now an overflowing drawer of random paper scraps, but it will come to fruition eventually. What work(s) have stirred your creative aspirations?

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