Thursday, October 08, 2009

Coincidence – Or just good writing all around.

Minor Spoiler Alert. Don't read if you're at all interested in Flashforward or Stargate: SGU

Earlier this week, Denis at Dead Things on Sticks had a post rounding up the new TV season. Being a fan of a couple of shows he mentioned (and curious about a few others) I decided to chime in with something that occurred to me on the weekend.

A couple of friends of mine watched the pilot of “Flashforward” and said I’d really like it. The thing about “Flashforward” is that I already knew about the book, but never got around to reading it. The author, Rob Sawyer, is Canadian and really, I owe him a lot. My buddy/co-writer/co-blogger Mark met a mutual friend in Sawyer’s sci-fi writing class at (I believe) the University of Toronto. If it hadn’t been for that class, I would never have met Mark, thus I wouldn’t be broke after many nights spent at the pub. Thanks a lot Rob! But seriously, I forgot that David Goyer was involved with the show and he’s someone I’m a bit of a fan of. (Check out the “Dialogue Series” DVD with Goyer) Anyhow, back to my point. One of my friends, a non-writer, asked me to watch it. She also wanted to know if the beginning reminded me of the pilot for “Lost.”

So the weekend came, and I got my hands on the pilots for “Flashforward,” and another show I was looking forward to, “Stargate Universe.” And here’s the thing: They obeyed rule #1 for any kind of storytelling, be it novel, short story, film, or television. GRAB ‘EM. Hook the audience. Get their attention from the start. The interesting thing is, both pilots did in fact remind of the pilot for “Lost.”

I’m not suggesting that the writer’s of FF and SGU were ripping off Lindelof and Abrams. I’m not even suggesting they were inspired by the “Lost” pilot, though it’s a possibility, for reasons possibly exclusive to the two shows. But it makes the case for what works, particularly for the sci-fi genre. (I’m not gonna go into the Sawyer/Crichton sci-fi, but not sci-fi, debate)

Here’s why they reminded me of Lost. In a nutshell: Lots of people on screen confused, scared, screaming, hurt. And even if you didn’t know who Joseph Fienns is, or recognize any of the principal characters from the ads, you would be able to lock in on who the “heroes” are based on their action (or positive reaction) to their predicament. I’m kicking myself for the way I just spelled it out, because it sounds like formula. It’s not. It’s good writing. Because there’s a world, a plot, a story, and real characters that hold it all together.

The moment Lt. Scott stumbles through the stargate aboard the “Destiny,” we know something is wrong. He looks around, he’s out of breath, he raises his gun. Before he can finish scanning the large dark gate-room, people are being flung through the stargate and he’s trying to help them. And the situation deteriorates from there. Same thing with Flashforward.

The reason I risk the wrath of geeks everywhere by saying the writers of both shows MIGHT have been influenced by Lost is because, well, I think they’re geeks too. Us geeks don’t always see other geeks as competitors. These guys are all fans of a) good television, b) the genre, and c) storytelling.

Goyer, and especially Braga (Star Trek, Threshold and more) have worked in TV before. So why wouldn’t they look at something like “Lost.” Both shows are not episodic, and from the looks of it so far, FF will most likely have a mythology.

The guys over at Stargate are massive geeks, and I say that with the utmost respect. If you look at any past episode of either SG-1 or Atlantis, there are all sorts of nods and winks at other stories in the sci-fi genre. Look at the 200th episode of SG-1. They’re also fans of great story and have experimented within their show’s framework to stretch out a little. The two-part SG-1 episode “Heroes” is one of my favourites. (The writer’s gave Saul Rubinek a juicy part and his speech/rant in part two was brilliant) They made it clear from the moment SGU was announced that they were gonna try something different, and while some fans had doubts, I was pumped. I trust these guys based on on what I’ve seen they’re capable of with past Stargate episodes. So did they rip off “Lost?” No. Were they inspired by it? Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re fans of the show. Could they have never watched “Lost” but still come up with a great pilot for “SGU?” Absolutely. ‘Cause great minds think alike.

All these shows grabbed the audience and didn’t let go. They SHOWED us who our heroes are at a frantic pace while establishing a very strong QUESTION that will drive the characters on a journey while planting our butts in front of the TV week after week.

(Oh… it’s been a while since I’ve watched something that made me want to sit down and write a new story or overhaul an old one. SGU did just that. Even the music is awesome. I can’t get the opening out of my head)

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