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The Cost of Bad Dialogue

A few weeks back I saw a couple pilots on TV which marked one of the first time in years I was actually motivated to see what happened in a television show (I talked about it here). One of those shows, Siberia, I’m still finding pretty entertaining and well done. The other one – Under the Dome – is getting increasingly frustrating to watch. The trouble is this: while the concept of Under the Dome is cool (and it is), the visuals in the show are also very cool (and they are), and the characters are (mostly) interesting, I am losing more and more patience with listening to the characters talk to each other. The dialogue is, in a word, bad.

I’ve been trying to nail down precisely what it is about the dialogue that is so terrible and cringe-worthy. It isn’t just the acting, either (though the sheriff’s deputy is abysmally wooden), though few of the actors on the show are really good enough to overcome the cheeseball nonsense they’re asked to say. The problem is, ultimately, that everybody seems to have a permanent case of Cliche’s Disease. Basically, if there is an obvious and overdone way to express a thought at any given time, the show will use that specific way. I will also call this the “Dingo Ate My Baby Syndrome”. It takes what could otherwise be a perfectly serviceable, dramatic, and interesting scene and renders it foolish and weirdly dull.

Point in case, the lesbian couple. Their lines have exactly one and only one setting, and that setting is “A Dingo Ate My Baby!” They rush

Would you two just Lo-Jack your kid, already? Sheesh.

Would you two just Lo-Jack your kid, already? Sheesh.

into a room and say “Has anyone seen our daughter!” over an over and over and over to the point where you just want to smack them. They have super-serious conversations about the status of their insulin supplies, which is fine. But then they have the exact same conversation again, in the exact same way, with the exact same emotional investment. You can almost see the actors getting tired of it.

It’s like everybody in Chester’s Mill has the same five lines to recite over and over again. Now, in the pilot/second episode, the corny dialogue didn’t bother me as much, primarily because (1) it’s the pilot and the concept was strong – I was going to cut them a little slack and (2) they’re supposed to be in a small town somewhere, so the fact that people sounded hokey seemed authentic. Things should have loosened up a bit from there, but no – we are instead trapped in some kind of weird cliché factory. I keep expecting a Family Guy-esque cut-away where the Kool Aid man and the Giant Chicken make some kind of joke at the show’s expense.

Naturally, having sung the show’s praises early on, this whole turn of events is rather embarrassing for me (and, by the way, Katie: you seem to be more and more right). I am still interested in what happens (God help me), but if we keep heading down this trajectory, this show will hit the ‘unwatchable’ level pretty soon. Too bad.

Blah blah blah blah...God, even Boxleitner looks bored.

Blah blah blah blah…God, even Boxleitner looks bored.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Babylon 5 I have long held up as the prime example of how bad dialogue/writing ruins an otherwise good show. B5 had a really cool plot arc, interesting characters, good visuals, an engaging concept, and so on and so forth, but had the worst dialogue known to man. They didn’t have Cliche’s Disease, oh no, that show suffered from Terminal Exposition Syndrome. Pick any given scene from Babylon 5, and there’s probably a 75% chance that the only thing the characters will talk about are things that just happened (exposition) or things that will probably happen someday (exposition). Nobody talks about what is happening now and, indeed, they prefer to discuss the things that are going to/have happened rather than actually do anything. They took what should have been really interesting and made it one of the most arduous things to watch on television.

So, therefore, even though I still find myself watching the damned thing, I’m rescinding my endorsement of Under the Dome. Granted, I still think the concept is cool, but I don’t think it’s really worth putting up with some woman saying ‘the Dome did something to my BABY’. Sheesh.

At Last: Good Television!

The last good television show I watched was Lost. Yes, yes the last season wasn’t ideal, I know, but even with that caveat, the last season of Lost is better than the first season of pretty much any other show to come out since then. There have been things that are watchable (Defiance,

Yes, this guy is goddamned awesome. Have they given him ALL THE AWARDS yet? Why the hell not?

Yes, this guy is goddamned awesome. Have they given him ALL THE AWARDS yet? Why the hell not?

for instance, along with a laundry list of crime procedurals), but nothing that I saw and actually felt motivated to see more of. I would point out that I am aware Mad Men is supposed to be awesome and lots of people love The Walking Dead, but given my distaste for zombies and soap opera melodrama, the prospect of watching either of those shows sounds a lot like going to the dentist to me: good for me, and probably not that painful after all, but hardly something I’m rushing out the door to experience.

Oh, right, and there’s Game of Thrones, but seeing how I read all the books only to become disenchanted with the story at the end, the only reason I’m watching is to see Peter Dinklage tear up the screen. I’ve got the first two seasons on DVD, and I haven’t worked up the motivation to keep watching through season two. I mean, I already know everything that happens.

This brings me to my delightful discovery of the past week: Not one, but two shows whose pilots looked sufficiently interesting and fun that I am probably going to watch them both! Yes! Crazy, right?

Under The Dome

This is just a fantastic 'WTF' moment.

This is just a fantastic ‘WTF’ moment.

This is based off a Stephen King novel. I would imagine if you read it, that might suck some of the fun out of the series (much as happened to me and Game of Thrones), but beyond that, this show looks pretty awesome. It isn’t just that there’s a magical force field that’s cut off the town, it’s the completeness with which this idea has been imagined. King has thought of all the implications, here, and it shows. I know it’s been thought through because right at the end of the first episode (spoilers, sort of), I knew Duke shouldn’t touch the Dome, I yelled it at the screen, and I was right. Why? Because the Dome is operating under consistent principles and, therefore, can be anticipated. It also means there’s a lot more to discover, too. Throw in the devilish array of quintessential King small-town weirdo characters, and there is enormous plot potential running around here. So much has been set up and, goddammit, I want to see what happens. That hasn’t happened to me for the longest time.

Siberia

This one snuck up on me. It just kinda came on the television just before bed, and it is just so gloriously new and interesting that I can’t help but be sucked in. If you loved Lost and its weird, mystery vibe, there is no reason you shouldn’t love this show, too. That, though, is basically similar to a lot of attempted shows since Lost, and the majority of them have fallen utterly flat. What gives Siberia the edge? Well, it’s filmed like a reality show. It’s a show about a reality show gone horribly wrong; it’s the Blair Witch Project on steroids with actually good actors and a better special effects budget. Besides, if you loathe reality show contestants the way I do, why wouldn’t you want to watch some of those self-absorbed assholes get devoured by monsters in Siberia? Throw in a series of creepy mysteries on top of it, and I’m sold! I’m in! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait until the next episode!

It’s such a relief to say this, since I was worried I was becoming jaded and cynical towards the world of television science fiction. I’ve either been indifferent or hated almost all of it for years, and now, all at once, I’ve got two shows I am seriously interested in watching. So, kudos, tv executives, for finally stimulating that bug in me. Now, off I go to On Demand…