Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Television you may have missed

Two limited summer television series ended Sunday and Monday nights. One was the 4400 on A&E and the other was the Grid on TNT. These were both excellent shows with some problems. In the 4400 a group of people who had disappeared over a number of years (4400 of them, to be exact) is abruptly returned to earth. Why? By the end of the series it is obvious they have been sent back for a purpose, but what is it?

The Grid shows the NSC, the FBI and the CIA along with Britain's MI5 and 6 chasing terrorists. As might be expected, the good guys win (that's us in the good old US of A) but the Brits have to put with some sarin incidents. One terrorist I had really hoped would turn out to be a double agent actually turned out to be a bad guy, but he didn't kill Americans or Brits, just Arab anti-terrorists so he might be reformed sometime in the future.

The series weren't perfect. Both of them seemed to be edited by the same man who was a graduate of the old Laugh In school of editing, lots of quick jumps, some that had to have identifications (in the Grid) as to where we were now. It seemed to me to be jerky, but I've read that a lot of people who grew up on television and MTV, in particular, don't have long attention spans so maybe he was addressing this. In the other case, both were a bit too predictable for someone who has followed both genres as long as I have. But that doesn't mean they weren't new to others. However, one scene in the Grid seemed straight of the last few minutes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Both of them left enough loose ends dangling that they may be brought back in mid-year, or next summer. If you can stand the editing, they are pretty good.


Blogger David Summerlin said...

Chuck: the style of editing you describe is often called the "MTV" editing style (a slight misnomer) because it relies on devices that, in narrative editing, used to be alienation devices.
Filmmakers of the French New Wave -- Goddard, Truffaut, etc. used devices like "jump cuts" "flash frames" and other alienation devices with specific narrative intentions.
Over the last 20 years or so, those devices have found their way into the mainstream, often by virtue of cop shows like "NYPD Blue," which favor derivations of the "cinema verite" camera style (read: hand held). Now the devices are merely stylistic, no longer considered so far outside the constraints of traditional "continuity editing," developed over the course of the first half of the 20th century from D.W. Griffith, through the Soviet filmmakers, up through Hitchcock's career.
Of course, adopting the style doesn't negate the value and theory of continuity editing. Those stylistic devices are mostly accepted as "normal" by younger viewing audiences raised with a dissociative and chaotic bombardment of visual media.
The producers would call it "edgy," as a justification for their target demographic. Old-school editors like me hope it turns out to be, at least in part, a fad that will eventually take its rightful place among stylized theories, leaving continuity theory unharmed.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Chuck Rightmire said...

David: Thank you. I had to admit I enjoyed the series, but at my age jumping around like that wears out the old gray cells. But I will watch them if they come back.

4:27 PM  
Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...

These were two of my top picks this summer, too, Chuck.

I really enjoyed both of them - with minor caveats.

4400 was set up really nice for "a new episode every week" featuring another one of the 4400 and their unique "special powers." I liked that - it had a lot of creative writing potential. I also liked the fact that they were following some of the 4400 continuously. I would have liked to have found out more about the little girl.

The idea of a different story every week on top of a continued subplot is intriguing and has been part of some of the best television science fiction. (X-Files, Quantum Leap). They spent a great deal promoting this show. I wouldn't be surprised if it returned in some form - perhaps on the SciFi channel?

I have to admit that I loved The Grid, even though some of it was hokey. They scored extra points with me for filming on location (in London and presumably in parts of the middle east?). They also scored points for casting GENUINE AHMEDS, MOHAMMEDS and ABDULS in all of the appropriate parts! This was a fairly big deal, I think, given the subject matter.

I had a minor issue with the alarmist aspect of it. It made for good drama, but I felt a hint of the Annie Jacobsen Northwest 327 fear-mongering coming into play. That's not to say that a good, high quality terrorist hijink flick shouldn't be alarming - it should, and this one was high quality, I think.

And yes, good old Politically Correct Berkeley Bi-Coastal Liberal me has an issue with the depiction of Muhammed, the evil terrorist mastermind.

I don't think it was clear exactly what this guy was after. What was his ideology? What was he driven by? This plays into the massive disservice being done to Americans when our administration boils down the terrorist mindset to "They Hate Freedom." Come on, its far more complicated than that. They had an opportunity to show a little of the complicated origins of terrorism in The Grid, but they failed to deliver.

Furthermore, Muhammed was portrayed as a coward without principles. I have no doubt that Osama bin Laden is an asshole, but it would be naive to dismiss him as cowardly or principleless. (Is that a word?)

I also must admit, albeit ashamedly, that by the end of the miniseries I was having fantasies about Julianna Margulies. Shame on me!

This is one that I will buy the DVD for when it eventually comes out.

Excellent call for a blog topic, Chuck!

12:21 PM  
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6:37 AM  

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