J.J. Abrams, Ron Moore, Tim Kring, you're killing me.
Or rather, you're killing everyone.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to rant about our favorite prime-time dramas killing and re-birthing their A-list players, especially since one of our writers already lamented this better than I ever could.
This is less about killing Starbuck than it is about believing in her demise, even though at last count she has died twice already, each time in an aggressively final manner, and is still not dead. In fact, in the final season premiere, she found her own body. Yet we're told she's not a resurrectable Cylon which would be the obvious...
Wait. Hold on. I'm being told I'm a huge nerd.
Let me back up.
The problem with these serial dramas, specifically Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroes, all of which exhibit the time shift and/or alternate universe, is that they also share the trait of taking off obscene amounts of time between chunks of episodes. Season start date, end date, and length mean absolutely nothing. Heroes will churn out a couple episodes then take a bunch of time off so we can all collectively wonder out loud how they can possibly find even lower levels of suck. Battlestar Galactica pioneered the dot season (i.e. Season 2.5) and usually takes almost an entire year between cliffs and hangers ("Screw you, fanboys, we've got networked Action Quake set up in Eick's basement!"). Lost keeps it close but always seems to start the season late, end early, take a week off for no good reason, then burn episodes during sweeps. ABC is riding Lost like NBC rode Cosby. It's just too bad NBC never gave Sondra and her husband their own spinoff, which even white people would have thought was too white.
This creates the need for huge nerds like me to have to cram all of the twists and turns back in my head before the next season starts, but not too early, or it'll get pushed out again by less important stuff like my daughter's doctor appointment or passing a steak knife handle-first or not leaving the house without pants. That means renting or buying the DVDs. ChaChing! But I'll give it up again for Battlestar Galactica, who led the way with refresher webisodes and eventually whole episodes dedicated to catch-up. Lost jumped on this boat (heh!) by running the previous season's finale with an information bar across the bottom. Heroes does something like this, but doesn't do it as well. Continuity isn't sexy. Ali Larter is.
These shows also share the phenomenon of counting down to their grand demise. Battlestar Galactica and Lost formally announced the end of their respective runs some time ago, and for Heroes, the writing is pretty much on the wall ("How can we get Hiro into a Godzilla costume and then ship him back to the Mesozoic? The hijinx would be off the charts!").
Add all this up and you've got a situation where the writers have nothing stopping them from crushing the accelerator pedal of death. Everyone's getting wacked. Often. In fact, in Battlestar Galactica's case, I'm having a hard time thinking of any one of the main characters who hasn't died, was assumed dead, or should have died but miraculously (and pretty inexplicably) didn't.
Yet almost everyone is back. Allowing me to say sentences like this:
"Charlie was hanged by the Others but he didn't die until he drowned saving Desmond, but then he popped up again to talk to Hurley, who happens to be in a state where we don't know if he's nuts or some kind of time/alternate universe communicator guy."
Wait. What? Seriously? Again with the huge nerd?
But it's a writer thing not a fanboy thing.
You'll note that the bit I gave away about Starbuck earlier in the column didn't come prefaced with a big ***SPOILER ALERT*** tag that is the traditional method of talking about television without getting tons of hate mail. This is because there's really not anything to spoil. If I ruined the moment of the gross-out button on her first/second death and you didn't see it coming, mea culpa.
The bigger button on that episode is the fact that they had finally found... oh, all right... ***SPOILER ALERT*** Earth. If you're unfamiliar with the lore of Battlestar Galactica, the whole thing revolves around them looking for Earth. So after four and a half seasons of the second try with this show (Shmalactica 1980!), they get there and it appears to have been ***SERIOUSLY*** nuked and abandoned long ago.
So they get back in their ships and leave.
But the whole time that they're there, they do precious little to determine if this is indeed Earth. No hard evidence is tossed to us, the audience. And the way they got there was kind of dicey to begin with. So this is "Earth." And Starbuck's body tells us she was "here," even though she's here "now."
I think I got it.
I have enough faith in that show to believe that there will be some awesome reveal to remove those quotes. I also have high hopes for Lost, even though that freaking island moves like a conga line at a wedding reception and they're straight-faced spitting out lines like "I believe the proper question is... 'When have I been?'" This season and the last have been much better, and it's clear that slapping an endgame on that show was the right thing to do.
Now Heroes meanders like a drunk, needy co-ed at an after hours frat party. It's all about the attention and the drama. Part of me thinks that's refreshing, as I don't need a degree in particle physics to follow the show. But I've long ago given up trying to care about which particular "here" and "now" that they're saving or destroying. I mean, Claire is hot and all, so they should save her, right? But we're on our third version of Ali Larter, and I haven't liked any of them.
Oh, whichever time/space version Maya is still dead in, save that one.
Bending space and time isn't new in fiction (Wells), or cinema ("That sucker's electrical") or even television (Do I have to go back to Voyagers? I mean, as long as I'm going full-nerd for this column... there's that Bakula thing too, which also bent faces). But we're usually done with these characters by the end of the story, and when we're not, we get Indians and a love story between Chris Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen.
Abrams, Moore, Kring, learn from that. Because if you don't you're going to be headed down the same...
Olmos and Mary McDonnell?
Dammit. Never mind.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
2.2.09 @ 12:15p
Now Heroes meanders like a drunk, needy co-ed at an after hours frat party.
2.2.09 @ 12:26p
2.2.09 @ 2:18p
Ali Larter's mouth is located somewhere back by her left ear. It's distracting.
2.2.09 @ 3:03p
I almost made a joke that was something like "...only when her mouth is open, which is always" but it seemed too mean.
2.3.09 @ 1:04a
Writers invented alternate universes, and time shifts because they were dumb enough to write themselves into a corner. I'm guessing everyone is a cylon, and like Planet of the Apes Earth was the original and they swarmed out, inhabited the universe, and did the whole time loop thing creating the cylons from whom they really descended.
I gave up on Lost when they killed the ditzy blonde.
I'm still holding out for Heroes to write out a plotline that will explain it all.
2.4.09 @ 12:44p
Well, apparently the new season? half season? of Heroes is cribbing straight from Lost. Get everyone in one place, put 'em on a plane, then crash it. It's even got Greg Grunberg for parallel continuity!
2.4.09 @ 12:47p
I gave up on Heroes and am lightly flirting with getting back into Lost after two seasons off... I still watch BSG, but the parts that aren't incomprehensible are insanely depressing. Which it always was, but not this much. When you flip the script, you risk alienating viewers. None of these are the same shows they were when they started out.
I enjoy parallel universes and whatnot but at this point I would take Friday Night Lights over any of these "OH NO WAIT NOW IT'S ALL DIFFERENT" SF serials.
2.7.09 @ 8:57a
I gave up on Lost and Heroes a long, long time ago. I won't give up on Friday Night Lights until they kill off Tim Riggins. Battlestar is um er uh sacred.
2.16.09 @ 5:23p
Then I propose a change of continent to the UK!
Dr. Who and Torchwood (Sarah Jane Cronicles if you must)