Think Economically


Maximum understanding, minimum average total cost.

I really enjoyed the show Life. I watched the entire run the way I often do–while folding laundry–and the characters were believable, complicated, and surprising; the stories generally good; and the overall feel…well, it felt like a show that was made specifically for me. Also, it had the best series ending of any series I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t overstated; it wasn’t overambitious. It closed out the series. It didn’t feel contrived, like Life On Mars (which I loved, although I have yet to see the U.K. original version). It wasn’t telegraphed and terrible, like Lost. It was surprising and fitting and clean–most of all, it was just…graceful.

It’s a show about a police detective named Charlie Crews who was falsely convicted of a multiple murder, and spent a decade or so in a maximum security prison before getting out (with a sizeable settlement) and then rejoining the force. He comes out…changed. Part of what got him through, it is revealed early on, is Zen philosophy–and he irritates a lot of people in a delightful fashion.
I was discussing this weekend how much I liked Vonnegut’s tendency to reveal key aspects of the end of his stories before they even got rolling–the painting in the barn in Bluebeard, the Tralfamadorian shenanigans in The Sirens of Titan, the chronological complications of Slaughterhouse-Five. Moreover, I generally like it when stories reveal their endings first; I like execution. I love execution, and excellence in execution, I really adore. [Spoiler Alert] David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest begins with the chronologically final chapter, and everything in between is incomprehensible and baroque and gorgeous and terrifying and so dense you can eat it with a spoon. [end Spoiler]
One of the things this means is that I like formulaic shows–Doctor Who has a general formula. So did Firefly. A lot of police procedurals/detective dramas/dramedys do, and one of my favorite shows is Psych, but I really like Lie to Me, and Monk is on the list for watching soon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer currently has Cheryl and I in its grips (we’re on Season 6 at time of writing), and it definitely follows a formula. The constraints of a formula provide an opportunity for excellence in execution. Just as the form of a sonnet permits the couplets to create something larger than fourteen lines should allow, the need to introduce the villain in Act I, but keep him from being obvious, forces some really delightful sleights of hand. Sometimes it creates something that moves you.
It also provides a skeleton upon which one drapes, these days, a season arc. And from the season arcs you get a series arc. The whole thing becomes a fugue, and if done properly, there’s a crescendo, a climax, and a close. If done really well, the close is laid out from the first note, and if done exquisitely, you can’t see it coming.
And Life did it best of all.
That doesn’t even get into my enjoyment of the show for its myriad qualities–not least, it increased my appreciation of fresh fruit.
tl; dr: just add it to your queue.

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August 2012
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