Monday, May 29, 2023

A Story Is Still A Story: These Are the Roys Of Our Lives

One thing I find fascinating about a lot of people who watch only prestige TV? They assume it's automatically operating on a higher level, and more subversive, than mass-consumption series like Law & Order or One Chicago and what-have-you.

As though streaming or a bigger budget or an edgy cast means the basic foundations of storytelling are somehow different or better. They aren't. And those who constantly screenshot frames and zero in on props, looking for Meaning...oftentimes they are overlooking the obvious.

Because obvious messaging is boring, right? God, it's so pedestrian. If it's a smart show, then it has to be stimulating me intellectually and making me look deeper. No. Really, it does not. Often, the writer is still telling a core story that boils down to right vs. wrong.

Put another way, the Roys on Succession are a big-budget, award-nominated, variation on Days of our Lives' DiMeras*. The archetypal warring family with the patriarch they're desperate to impress and live up to. And, frankly, none of those kids jockeying for control can possibly measure up. Those who watch both shows are probably like "Yup, I know what the crux of this is." While many prestige-only viewers are flailing to assign "elevated" meaning.

This goes for things like Ted Lasso as well. I often feel like some viewers don't watch any other shows, because the basic foundational storytelling of a comedy or dramedy is missing them entirely. They can't see the forest for the trees that don't actually exist. Like, no, a heartfelt comedy with the message of "believe" is not going to have the Dutchman assault Rebecca while she's too drunk to consent. That is breaking the contract with the genre and with the viewer. But people were assuming ambiguity and some sort of awful "gotcha." When the writers were doing no such thing. 

It occurs to me that the word "prestige" comes from the French for "illusion." It's "a conjurer's trick," per Merriam-Webster. The first definition that comes up on Google is "widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality." On the basis of a perception. Sometimes what you think you are seeing is not what's actually there. And that stands as much for the magician being obvious as it does for them pulling the wool over your eyes while they saw someone in half. What if the illusion in question is that it's deeper than what it actually is? The audience perception of this as a trick when it's not a trick at all.

A story is not lesser because its meaning is discernible and blatant. And writers can be telling the same core stories no matter what network or streaming channel their project is airing on. Right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, the patriarchy and white supremacy often win out, and kindness can be inherent in every gesture. Sometimes, there's no need to sift through the sands in the hourglass looking for more than what's there. The sand itself is enough.  

*Anyone who thinks comparing the DiMeras to the Roys is an insult? I hope Stefano's ghost haunts your pompous elitist ass.

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