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Psychopaths as Protagonists

With this article, I want to explore the role of the psychopath protagonist in Film, TV and Literature, attacking it from a screenwriter’s perspective. Most of the content I’ve watched, the protagonist has always been someone with a moral compass, giving the audience someone to root for. However, what do you do when your protagonist has no moral compass? How do you find a way for your audience to root for them? I refer you to Frank Underwood of House Of Cards or Travis Bickle as examples of the Psychopath Protagonist.

  • I think establishing sympathy between psychopathic protagonists and audiences helps. Sympathy doesn't necessarily mean likability, but understanding between people that can result in pity. It helps if there's something relatable about the protagonist. I've not watched House of Cards but I do know of Nightcrawler, in which the protagonist (albeit more sociopathic) can be relatable due to his struggles to land a job. When he finally finds one, his determination to succeed can invoke sympathy, even as he embraces a morally gray industry... Though in saying that, it might help (from a screenwriter's perspective) to frame psychopathic protagonists, or any immoral character, within the context of the society they live in. – Starfire 2 years ago
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  • There is a difference between Travis Bickle and Frank Underwood. The idea of a psychopathic protagonist can be a little diverse. There is a difference between the anti-hero and the villain protagonist, not to mention the other subcategories. For example, Travis Bickle isn't intentionally an evil character, he is more of an anti-hero struggling with a form of PTSD whereas Frank Underwood actually fits into the psychopath mold as he strives for power. How do stories with unlikeable protagonists garner our attention? It varies from story to story, so I think this needs to be a little more specific. Would this cover literature as well? You specify screenwriters in the topic so I think you have to distinguish between them. Even the writing for television and film differ. It would be interesting to compare/contrast the differences between television villain protagonists and film villain protagonists. – Connor 2 years ago
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  • I believe that the audience can feel any amount of empathy for really any character in television. As far as psychopaths go, it's possible to be able to empathize for them, but the majority of psychopaths I've encountered in media have been inherently evil, but I've still found a way to root for them in some instances. The character that sticks out to me the most would be Ramsay Bolton from HBO's "Game of Thrones". Although he's a sadistic, twisted, cruel, and monotonous heir to the throne in the North, I empathize with Ramsay due to the relationships he has with his father and his step mother. Ramsay is bastardized his entire life which ultimately leads to his aching desire to fulfill his father's prophecy of becoming the King of the North and Westeros as a whole. All Ramsay wants is to satisfy his father's demands, and when he realizes this won't be possible once his new baby brother is born, he decides to take action and murders his father and his new born brother with a ruthless and literal stab in the back. If this moment hadn't occurred, I think it would've been possible to appreciate Ramsay as a psychotic protagonist, but considering the rest of his torture frenzies and the murders of his family members, the defending arguments supporting Ramsay crumble under their own weight. – ralphpolojames 2 years ago
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Controversy or Consciousness in Marvel Netflix?

Comic books, back in the day, were the dose of tiger balm to the congested chest. They were painful narratives that made us think, that put our problems into the perspectives of a false world so a hero could show us they can be solved and the villains of our lives vanquished. Unfortunately, the solutions are solely on the page or on the screen, now with the Netflix series’ of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, but does that erase the effect they have on us as viewers and readers?

Do the shows take some issues too far? Present them too blatantly or too straight-forward for escapism?

Are they too real and too relevant? Or exactly what we need?

  • Something else to consider would be whether or not the intention of comic books is still escapism. As entertainment becomes increasingly politicized, the escapism aspect may sit on a balance with a desire to provide political commentary. If you wanted to do that more broadly, too, you could look at the balance of escapism and commentary in modern comic books or their adaptations (like Daredevil/Jessica Jones/Luke Cage), which I feel like is what you might be trying to do.There's an excellent article about Ta-Nehisi Coates discussing his run of Black Panther which touches on this --> http://kotaku.com/ta-nehisi-coates-is-trying-to-do-right-by-marvel-comics-1769418783 – Sadie Britton 3 years ago
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  • I think the subjective nature social consciousness makes this a hard question to answer. Comics have always run the gamut from utterly ridiculous to uncomfortably real but a lot of that is in the personal interpretation. Most comics aren't going to be as clear in their messaging as Captain America punching Hitler in the face. The X-Men arose as an allegory for the Civil Rights movement but not every white comic reader in the 60s was thinking "I see, this is like how we treat black people". However black comic readers may have connected with the story in a different way. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage both seemed overtly political but technically were recreations of plot lines that were decades old. When Brock Turner is making headlines, Jessica's inability to consent holds more weight. When Black Lives Matter plays a large part in the political sphere, a bulletproof black guy (in a hoodie) holds more weight. Your environment and your gender/racial/sexual identity change whether you view it as a nice work of fiction or a very political one. – LC Morisset 3 years ago
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How Many Seasons is Too Many Seasons?

American TV shows tend to stay on the air for as long as they can get renewed. Could the stories be better if the shows were written with the intention of only being on the air for X number of seasons? Broadchurch, for example, is filming it’s third and final season currently. If it went on to a fourth season just because it had the audience for one, there isn’t much the story could go on to do in order to follow the characters it’s introduced along the same tone as the show has set thus far (and I already don’t know how they’re going to manage a third season. The second season seemed a good place to wrap it.)

How would TV change if we signed shows up for a story arc instead of by season? Would we get fewer sudden cancellations of shows (say, how Firefly ended abruptly?) How would we deal with the departure of beloved characters at the end of well-wrapped stories that end before the viewers are necessarily ready for them to (instead of having a show go on for too long and have viewers drop off as the storyline gets convoluted or watered down)?

  • Or take a beat and return after an extended absence like Arrested Development and Prison Break – Munjeera 4 years ago
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  • Arrested Development was abruptly cancelled after Season 3 and was rescued by Netflix (and I'm finding Season 4 really bizarre). A planned extended break could work, but I don't think Arrested Development is an example of that. Season 4 of AD seems closer to the Firefly movie, Serenity. A last chance to give fans closure after an abrupt cancellation.I haven't watched Prison Break, so I don't know about that one. – Amanda 4 years ago
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  • This is entirely dependant on the show – Darcy Griffin 4 years ago
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  • Grey's Anatomy would be a good example to use for this article. They're now heading into the show's 13th season, and the fans are dropping off day by day. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Grey's, but I'm not oblivious to why fans are suddenly turning their backs on it. It's been on for a long time, so much has happened, so many new characters joining and old characters leaving. Not to mention the show is very different from the way it was when it first premiered. I'd like to see your topic fully explored. – Karyn Little 4 years ago
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  • This is definitely a subjective case, not a "one size series," fits all. Look at how successful Breaking Bad was; yet, the creator Vince Gilligan decided to end it after 5 seasons! I think sometimes this has to do with the creative overall vision, and writers truly knowing the "end game," before they begin. Some series go on forever because they are successful, have a solid fan base, and produce quality television. While others meet the first 2 criteria, but differ in producing poor quality television that they get away with. – danielle577 4 years ago
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  • Amanda, I agree: nothing topped AD in comedy for seasons 1-3, and S4 was poor. Watching a series after its expiration date is like watching Holmes destroy Ali or Willie Mays' creaky attempt to top Ruth's HR record: sad. – Tigey 4 years ago
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Online VS On TV: Is cable becoming obsolete?

With the internet becoming a popular choice for watching shows, but how often are people under the age of 30 watching a TV show at a scheduled time from a cable provider? Discussions could include the problem of pirating TV shows, the rise of streaming services and the future of millennials buying cable service.

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    Race and Film

    Analysis of films as they relate centrally to race as a primary lens.

    • Examples? – Darcy Griffin 4 years ago
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    • Hmmm...what comes to mind is actually Disney's recent film, Zootopia. Totally hilarious, classic Disney fare. But also a pretty clear race allegory, as many reviewers have noticed. Gets to the heart of racialized discourse: are people of certain races (or in Zootopia's case, bunnies) inherently passive, while others (see wolves in the film) are aggressive and still others (see foxes) sneaky and conniving? Of course not, but these are the assumptions we inherit and perpetuate, even on the subtlest levels. Ruminating on these topics in animated form is, I think, rather ingenious. – alissac 4 years ago
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    • There are a ton of different ways this could go. Some specification is probably needed: films from a certain era? Country or region? About certain race(s)? Different genres? There are a lot of different factors that will affect the role race plays in a movie. – chrischan 4 years ago
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    • Qu'Allah bénisse la France (2014) a French film, shot in black & white that takes a look at the racism, France's well-known unemployment issue as well as heavy drug use and how these factors affect the youngsters in a devastating manner. The film is based on a true story. – oksly 4 years ago
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    Perception of Nation-Self in Television

    I think it would be interesting to look at how TV influences how a nation presents itself. Quantico for instance presents the FBI as an industry that only accepts the best of the best of the best of the best. Continually culling from their supposedly elite recruits. Shows like CSI and other procedurals and police dramas like Castle and even Brooklyn-Nine Nine irrespective of genre portray the police as singlemindedly determined to find the truth. As a force that refuse to accept confessions if there isn’t evidence to back them up. Who will search for the truth inspite of all the evidence to the contrary if they find someone pleading their innocence. They will only accept a righteous confession as the final closing of the case.

    They also rarely show people using lawyers. Laywers are seen as evil. Even seasoned spies when caught (Castle) confess to the police without a lawyer because the cops simply yell lies at them. Seating in interrogations is always across tables never invading someone’s personal space until "Bad Cop" shows up to get physical.

    Shows like The Whisperers are strangely patriotic and frame every decision as if based on the principles of the founding fathers. The decision to intern children without telling anyone is based on how they will be perceived in history.

    There are many other examples and types but I believe these create a sense of righteousness in how America perceives itself. Quantico tries to humanize their character by giving them all secret flaws and having them share them with other characters at seemingly random times while at the same time having the most complex exams on a nearly daily basis that sound like a logistical nightmare. And while it makes sense in Sleepy Hollow for the founding fathers to come up constantly. It’s odd that a show about aliens invading is so focused on the political theory rather than threat assessment. I think it does the accused a disservice in real life to never show people talking with their lawyers unless they’re rich and (likely) guilty. It creates a general perception that the police can question you and you are obligated to answer them without representation.

    • Good topic! I see this in Law & Order all.the.time, too. There is some analysis that could be done with Althusser and the ideological state apparatus. Although, if someone selects this topic, I would stick to one genre of shows to analyze simply because examining several different genres might make the parts of article disjointed from one another. – Caitlin Ray 5 years ago
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    • I think it's important to look at multiple genres but I might stick to one facet of ideal perception and then look at it across the genres. For instance. You could look at legal representation and you can see it in dramas, mysteries, and comedies and see how they each do it similarly and how they do it differently. In TV defense attorneys are the devil to cops and attorneys are (usually) their buddies. I think it'd be important to highlight the importance of how defense attorney's work and are perceived in real life in comparison to how they are in TV.Or you could do a similar thing with interrogation, or evidence. – wolfkin 5 years ago
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    • Ah yes, I agree with this-legal representation across genres would probably work as an analysis because it has a common thread of "legal representation." The author would still need to tread carefully to not take up too much material.I agree that defense attorneys are often considered the cops (and therefore "the truth's" enemy). However, "The people" or the state attorney, are often on the same side as the cops and seem to also be the mouthpiece for "truth." – Caitlin Ray 4 years ago
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    Lack of homosexual characters in TV, films, and literature

    It’s very hard to find a book about two men falling in love. Most of the time, if there are lesbians in TV or a movie, it is mostly to appeal the male audience. Females are used as sexual items. But, for the past few years, there have been breakthroughs. TV shows such as Faking It on MTV, or shows like Orange is the New Black really do show lesbian relationships and struggles. Are homosexual relationships finally becoming more common?

    • I think entertainment is starting to include more homosexual relationships, but something you could look at critically and address is how these are portrayed. Are the two in the relationship portrayed as the typical "flamboyant gay character"? I'm afraid that this group, though gaining attention, isn't being portrayed realistically and diversely. – moepsen3 4 years ago
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    • I do think you have a point in the relationships seen in pop-culture are becoming a little less hetero-centric; there is something to consider. "Modern Family" depicts a gay couple and by many accounts are a fairly realistic version of gay couple. However, the scenes in which the couple are intimate or affectionate towards each other are almost non-existent in the first season. By the time they do kiss in the second season they are in the background behind a heterosexual hug in the foreground. In a seven season run, conversations about their sex life or romantic life are overshadowed by those of the heterosexual couples. – C N Williamson 4 years ago
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    • Common because of audience demand/network willingness to accept in small dosage/public perceptions. But another question is: How prominent? – GraceD 4 years ago
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    • You're right on the money with lesbian relationships catering to the male gaze. Since you bring up OITNB, it may also be helpful to analyze bi-erasure. Piper has meaningful, fulfilling relationships with members of both sexes, but the show never mentions her bisexuality. She's "straight" when she's with Larry, and "lesbian" when she's with Alex. – Kristian Wilson 4 years ago
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    • There are some articles on here which trace the inclusion of homosexual relationships in various forms. I would suggest focusing on one medium. – Cmandra 4 years ago
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