As no one has probably noticed, most of the shows in my prior “Major Influences” posts are family and teen shows. This post will be on shows that aren’t quite as family friendly, which focus on characters over the age of twenty-five and allows for much heavier drama.
For the most part, comedies influence me in a fairly obvious way: it alters the kind of jokes I make with my friends and family, and in my writing. The effects of dramas, on the other hand, aren’t so easy to notice (aside from trying not to use plots I’ve seen elsewhere—just as I try to avoid stealing comedy bits).
The best effect of any narrative, however, is the immersion into so many other lives and perspectives. You get to experience things which you might never get to experience yourself. Of course, I’m a proponent of travel and experiencing things firsthand (within reason), but you only have so much energy and funds—books, film, and television can get you places at a fraction of the time and cost and exposes you to scenarios you’d probably rather avoid in real life.
Anyway, on to the shows about characters considerably beyond their teenage years.
Once you get past the somewhat cheesy sentiments of the theme song, Friends has a lot to offer. I originally watched Friends as a teenager, but I continued to watch it (repeatedly on DVD) over the many years since the series finale aired. A lot of my TGIF-derived humor was cultivated and altered by so many viewings of the antics of the Central Perk gang (along with the other comedies mentioned below).
I picked up a lot of sarcasm, randomness, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies thanks to Friends. These things (along with my own personality, life experiences, rudimentary knowledge of psychology, history, and anthropology, and dozens/hundreds of other narratives) definitely affect the way I develop the personalities of the characters in my writing.
One thing I wish I could have picked up from Friends is Ross’ “No, no.” I can never deliver that line properly (or find an occasion to even try it—not enough people making ridiculous suggestions in real life). Whenever I hear Eric Forman on That 70’s Show say “Yes, yes,” I can’t help but think of Ross’ “No, no,” and vice versa.
How I Met Your Mother
HIMYM, the Friends of its time (I guess). I’m not going to waste time pointing out the similarities (*SPOILERS* both group of friends live on the west side of Manhattan; Ross and Ted are somewhat pretentious, often correct people, and both become university professors; Barney and Joey sleep with a ridiculous amount of women; both series have two characters get married early in the series and have issues concerning conception; both have a couple who get together early in the series, break up, develop complications for many years, and ultimately end up together *END SPOILERS*) ’cause, you know, that’d be a waste of time.
Unlike when Friends was airing, I was actually closer to the age of the characters on HIMYM the series was on television (a few years younger, but close enough). This allowed me to relate more directly to their problems: finishing law school, establishing your career, dating (long) after college, and other junk.
However, also because I was older, I think HIMYM didn’t quite affect my sense of humor as much as previous comedies. If anything, it simply coincided with my preexisting comedic sensibilities. Though the show did push the envelope for eccentric, yet lovable, womanizers. I can’t recall another character or human being from anywhere who’s as disgusting and likable as Barney Stinson (NPH magic, I guess; that dude’s adorable).
The Office (U.S.)
Constant dry humor, over-the-top characters, and a healthy dose of sympathy-evoking scenes: The Office is an awesome show. As I said in my first major influences post, I love scenes where characters who are generally jerks to each other demonstrate compassion and love for one another. The Office does this very well and somewhat consistently throughout its seasons.
I even like the post-Steve Carell episodes. Though it felt a bit off for a while, I grew to appreciate the last seasons over time. Unlike some people, I actually liked the series finale quite a bit.
This show just makes me want to gutenprank the crap out of everyone.
Yep, the time for comedies (on this post series) has apparently ended. Mad Men, though it has some humorous moments, is definitely not a comedy-based show. If it weren’t for law school, I’m not sure if I would’ve otherwise enjoyed a show about people in suits drinking during work hours and schmoozing folks.
It’s difficult to really say what it is I like about the Adventures of Don Draper. The first thing that comes to mind is that absolutely every single character has traits you like, and traits you don’t like. They’re what you might call three-dimensional.
Also, the series is set in the 60’s, the characters deal with a lot of problems that are still somewhat prevalent today (sexism in the workplace, familial pressure to succeed, homophobia, infidelity, and the general pursuit of happiness), but with awesome 1960’s style and historical context. On top of that, there’s Don Draper doing Don Draper stuff.
I like the fact that, to fully enjoy the show, the audience is required to read between the lines and make a bunch of inferences. If you want all character motivations expressly stated in dialogue, Mad Men probably won’t work for you.
People being people means sometimes you like them and sometimes you don’t. That’s something to take into consideration when writing a character. No character should be flawless and likable all the time, and it can be fun to write in a way that has them hop between the line of liked and disliked to frustrate the crap out of the reader/audience. Mad Men does that pretty well (and many of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire characters are like this as well—with his characters, even a positive trait might become a source of frustration, e.g., Ned Stark’s unyielding honor).
Oh, the tension. The tension is amazing on Breaking Bad (I would venture to say that it handily trumps Mad Men). A great combination of direction, acting, writing, and a bunch of other stuff.
In my experience, writing tense, quiet moments in a novel is incredibly difficult. With a script or screenplay, you can lean on the direction, acting, and musical score in some capacity. With a novel, it’s all about the words on the page (and maybe some white space).
I’d be pretty darn satisfied if I could write just one tension scene per novel as well as Breaking Bad delivers it (or, similarly, the dairy farm scene with Denis Menochet and bar scene with Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds).
How many shows have pushed fans to approach one of its actors and request to be called a bitch?
Sons of Anarchy
I’m not so sure the drama in Sons of Anarchy is as good as the shows I’ve listed above, but SAMCRO’s antics are gritty and definitely entertaining. Where else could I learn a bunch of (probably-inaccurate) facts concerning motorcycle clubs and spend an entire season watching an American television show set in Northern Ireland?
This show also introduced me to Charlie Hunnam. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed Pacific Rim half as much as I did if I wasn’t first exposed to Hunnam as Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy. After so many seasons of Jax, I think Hunnam would be likable even if all he does is brood and punch people. Also, his strut-walk is kind of entertaining all on its own.
In terms of influences, I think the craziness SAMCRO gets into has made it clear where to draw the line between grit and gratuity in my writing: probably just before blow-torching people’s tattoos off.
The most interesting characters in Lost are the ones in their late twenties (30+, really). What helps to make them more compelling are their somewhat fleshed out pasts—all the events that broke them before coming to the island. The show is about these broken people finding purpose, redemption, and peace of mind; and in the midst of all of that, there is some mystery and a whole lot of pathos. Fun times.
I’m aware a lot of people were into the show because of the mystery (and a lot were turned off by all the crazy plot twists because missing one episode threw them off). What I like most about Lost is its ability to get me to sympathize with the characters.
The writers’ strike hiccups aside, I enjoyed this show thoroughly and watched it multiple times. And, yes, I loved the ending (my theory is that if you were unable to sympathize with Jack Shephard, you probably don’t like the ending).
This’ll probably wrap up my “Major Influences” posts for a while (at least concerning television shows).