Elizabeth of the Binary System podcast and sister Hannah had a late-night conversation about television writing that quickly spun into a critique of at least seven different series. We place it here because it’s Monday and it needed to go somewhere. If you disagree with anything we called “slightly overhyped” (looking at you, Supernatural) (You too, Stranger Things) please chime in at the comments!
(Fair warning for language and bagging on some things you might like.)
Elizabeth – Man. I think I’ve been telling myself for a while that season 4 of The West Wing was when it started to drop off. But I just watched episode 5, “Debate Camp,” and it’s so lovely.
Hannah – It’s pretty solid still, as I recall. The cinematography just gets a bit more… flamboyant.
Elizabeth – Definitely. But the dialog the dialog.
The snappy Sorkinesque exchanges.
So much love.
And cute little B storylines like the missile silo under the White House.
Hannah – Yes! And all the actors who had years of Sorkin training.
Elizabeth – Seriously.
And it was a flashback episode too, and most of the time I find those annoying but this was done SO well. Especially the nod to “this is how the pediconferences started.”
Hannah – I’m at the point in West Wing Weekly (early season 3) that I need to start rewatching–the first two seasons are still the most familiar.
Elizabeth – I still haven’t listened to enough of that.
Hannah – I’m trying to watch the last ep of Stranger Things right now, and boy do I not give a fuck.
Elizabeth – Yeah, I think the show’s fun, but it got seriously overhyped.
Hannah – It reminds me of A. what I don’t like about the major plot stuff in Zombies Run, and B. why I need to be nicer to ZR, because even critically acclaimed stuff is over-dramatic fuckery.
Elizabeth – But the overhyping thing kills so much decent stuff. I rail against the Supernatural fanatics for hyping that show to a ridiculous level, but please, I watched Vampire Diaries. Religiously. Supernatural’s on the same plane and still outlasted the hell out of that.
Hannah – It definitely makes a difference.
And yet I don’t know where the line is–to my mind, Breaking Bad is amazing and Mad Men is shit, so…what do I know.
Elizabeth – Heh, I haven’t brought myself to watch Mad Men because everyone said “oh it’s a bunch of advertising people..” and I go “NOPE, I’m out.”
Hannah – Heh, I don’t think that’s really the issue.
Elizabeth – Deal with those dudes all day and NOPE.
I’ve heard it’s fun, but I’ll only be able to watch it when the hype is totally gone.
Hannah – I think wherever Mad Men erred in my brain it was in not being interesting enough–it’s very pretty and certainly well acted, but I gave no fucks.
Elizabeth – Man, that line in the longform.org article about creative writing.
Lovely writing, convincing characters, and we Do Not Care.
All the time with that.
Hannah – Like, so many of these things are like characters being, “there is DRAMA RIGHT NOW” and I’m just like, “…is there?” Mad Men is a little the opposite.
Elizabeth – Funny that nobody who told me they liked the show ever said anything about the story itself, it was always the actors or the clothes or the cocktails. Breaking Bad though, the turtle.
Hannah – heh
Yes, BB was beautiful AND had plot, and I always felt like the plot was still wonderfully underplayed–none of the characters wanted drama, but it happened anyway.
Elizabeth – They avoided drama and couldn’t get away from it.
Hannah – I think that’s the way to do it. (There is a character point in season 4 Zombies Run radio that I appreciate simply for that reason–you need to know about it, but the character is so reluctant to talk about it.)
Elizabeth – Nice.
Hannah – People rending their garments at the drop of a hat (we’ll go for that conjoined metaphor) is so hard to connect to
Let them be reticent, and let things happen anyway.
Elizabeth – Did you ever watch the Rome series?
Hannah – No, actually, do I even know what that was?
Elizabeth – It was an HBO thing back in 2005. Pretty powerful, but intensely depressing in places. Good though. Your “rending garments” thing reminded me of it. Lot of literal rending of garments going on, but they made it seem realistic.
I was getting them through Blockbuster, if that dates it well enough 🙂
Hannah – heh wowsa
Elizabeth – Heh
Hannah – If you put the reasoning in place, it’s fine; just jumping to it from the get-go is where it’s annoying.
Elizabeth – True, there was always some good buildup there.
Ditto Breaking Bad, any time someone lost it they had reason.
Hannah – Like, just make sure it makes sense; don’t make the drama unearned.
Elizabeth – Also I just started Peaky Blinders, so I’m looking forward to what that does to my heart.
Hannah – ooh heh.
It’s intriguing; I dunno that it’ll wreck you or anything.
I don’t care if they’re depressing so long as they’re well done.
Elizabeth – Cool.
I’m always a little nervous to jump into the depressing ones.
I mean wow.
Hannah – You’ve brought that up before; I need to try it.
Elizabeth – I’m not entirely sure you do? It’s just…it’s so depressing in places. But Ian McShane created such an amazing character, you just hated him but you wanted to see more.
Hannah – I just don’t necessarily consider “depressing” a bad quality–if it sincerely affects you, then it’s good.
Elizabeth – True.
Hannah – Schindler’s List, Dead Man Walking–some faves.
Elizabeth – Lordy, both of those.
You haven’t checked out House of Cards yet?
Hannah – Nope.
Elizabeth – I’m torn on that one. I mean I love it, but I haven’t figured if it’s worth recommending.
Especially to Mom and Dad. I mean they loved Breaking Bad but somehow I think this might be too far.
Hannah – I go back to Mad Men and not being able to figure out where something is just unrelateable or detestable. I can’t tell you why that and BB are different, unless it’s that at least Walter White had a driving force, and John Hamm’s character is just a meandering asshole.
Elizabeth – I think I’ve heard that before, from people who genuinely LIKE John Hamm, so I know it’s not the actor.
Hannah – No, yeah, and it’s not like Walter White is necessarily appealing, but at least he’s locked in, so you know where you stand.
Elizabeth – I have to tell ya, when you said you’d recommended Breaking Bad to Mom and Dad I did that *intake of breath through the teeth* “eeeee I don’t thiiiiiiink…” and then they loved it, so what do I know?
Hannah – heh
I definitely don’t want to watch it with them, but…
Elizabeth – Oh no, most definitely not.
Honestly, I’d checked out after the fly in the lab episode, but Mom convinced me to keep watching.
Hannah – People hate that ep. I get why, but I’m on the other side. If they’d done more than one ep like that, it would’ve been self-indulgent; as is, I was ok.
Within the string of eps, it’s brilliant.
Elizabeth – Totally.
I didn’t hate it per se, but it’s interesting that I finished it and then put the show aside and didn’t pick it back up for a year.
At least a year.
Hannah – That will make you lose viewers sure.
Same with like Better Call Saul; they cannot get their momentum going.
Elizabeth – I definitely need to check that one too, I know Mom and Dad enjoyed that one, but I wasn’t sure if it was because none of us really want to let go of Breaking Bad for good.
Hannah – Thaaaat’s part of it. And also The Fly syndrome: It’s excellent and well done within its universe, but at some point you’re going to need to get back to a plot.
Elizabeth – And a new plot too.
No Walter White, which is what we really want if we’re being honest.
Hannah – Which…I mean, you could see that they were getting at that, but it’s hard to deal with when you get so few episodes at a time.
It’s pretty, Saul is fun, you’ve got BB easter eggs, Michael McKean is always a treat…still.
Elizabeth – Heh, I can’t blame my delay after the fly in the meth lab on anyone but myself, I just didn’t come back to it.
Hannah – Yeah, the ebbs and flows of network TV. Like a novel–it’s amazing people can manage long- and short-term entertainment like that, and I wonder how much of it is pure instinct or luck.
Elizabeth – Gotta be a lot of luck. And behind the scenes shenanigans. The latest Marvel Netflix show has got to have a lot of that, I feel like there was a secret strike or something to explain why Iron Fist was that gawdawful.
Hannah – Heh, I hadn’t listened to your podcast (I don’t even know what Iron Fist is, tbh), but whenever I get shitty about the things I like, considering I consume so few things at all, I need to remember how much absolute shit is out there.
Elizabeth – God. Shitty stuff made by people who’ve made good things is the worst. So much betrayal.
Hannah – Which just shows how much of it is luck, even if it’s 75 percent skill. To do a massive thing well across the board…
Elizabeth – True.
Eventually the pieces aren’t going to come together and then the internet will pounce on you.
Hannah – Well, whatever the internet says, you’re just making shit.
Elizabeth – Oh true. 99% of the internet is someone telling you you’re doing it wrong.
Hannah – yes.
Elizabeth – And cat videos.
Hannah – hee.