Road Runner, TV series, and The Odyssey

A character in Money Heist reminded me of Wile. E. Coyote who comes up with ingenious plans to capture the Road Runner, only to see them fail every time. He never learns and the characters never change. They just go through different challenges with the same results, akin to one definition of crazy. But, in this case, funny.
So: Aren’t many TV series, even some of the best like that? The basic qualities of the key characters are established early on and then they face challenge after challenge only to find a way to overcome them. Character development or change is rare since the appeal of the challenges is seeing how their fixed personality gets them through the problem: Saul Goodman’s resourceful efforts in Better Call Saul to work the legal system to benefit less than law-abiding citizens, Marty and Wendy Byrde’s incredible ability in Ozark to use their wits to outsmart gangsters and cartels, scheming locals and crooked politicians no matter how dire the circumstances? Money Heist explores a single robbery attempt over two seasons as challenge after challenge confronts the impressively resourceful robbers, who also have a political axe to grind with late capitalism!
And in others like The Bridge or Shetland or A Place to Call Home, the challenges may impede a murder investigation or test the mettle of an entire family, but the characters alter little while the challenges proliferate like a field of wildflowers.
But doesn’t this idea of fixed characters confronting severe challenges that they typically overcome with skill and wit not go back at least to The Odyssey? Do TV series owe an enormous debt not only to Chuck Jones and his amazing cartoons but also to Homer and his classic tale of an almost interminable quest to achieve a long-desired goal despite nearly insurmountable obstacles? Except in some TV series the hero’s journey doesn’t bring them home so much as the kind of predicament that invites another season. Stay tuned.


Mad Men again

Catching up on Season 5 on dvd I am again amazed at the quality of this show.  The scripts are incredibly well-crafted. Within a minute or two we go from initial encounter to serious stuff.  Don comes in as Joanie goes beserk at receptionist.  He asks what’s up. Joan withholds, then, in her office, she admits to heartbreak: hubby served divorce papers.  Don, gallant guy he is, takes her to test drive Jaguars, a potential new client.  They wind up drinking and confessing long suppressed feelings.  She intimidated him; he didn’t send flowers like all the others. She found him hot but would never act on it.  A man eyes her. Don, still in early love with Megan, his new and incredible wife, takes his leave. We don’t know what Joanie does but can guess, knowing how she is. But Don gets hell at home for coming in late and drunk and not calling. Megan can’t stand his cavalier way but they clearly love each other.  All this in minutes.  And when Joanie gets flowers later in the program, guess who sent them?

For a tv show where dragging things out is often a key ingredient, ala the classic soap operas, Mad Men leaves little waste, little hesitation. Within a line or two we expose character flaws and deep yearnings, weaknesses and strengths. And every character has more than one side, none are set ups for the others.

If only every show were this complex, and others are too–Game of Thrones for one–I’d reconsider dropping my Direct TV service soon given that so much is a wasteland. Can you imagine a restaurant where, if you order steak, are told Great and that comes with mashed potatoes, french fries, potato chips, baked potato and potato au gratin.  I don’t need the fries. Sorry, that’s not an option.  It won’t be long before someone figures out the Hold Them Captive So We Can Pay Exorbitant Prices for sports events and other things, will crumbe in the face of a reasonable, appealing, affordable alternative.