When people say they don’t understand what the show means, or ask what it means, I’ve never understood why that’s an obligation that art has—to be understood.
Going back to that Newsweek interview with creator David Milch, I was struck by how many times he referred to himself as an artist, or his work as art. Can television be art? Does art belong in television? I suppose there's an artistic element in everything that qualifies as a creative endeavor, but "F*** art, let's shoot..." was what I always heard when it came to making TV.
And I realize it's HBO, so it doesn't really count (as in it's not the TV normal), but I asked myself: what can new television writers (or experienced TV writers for that matter) learn from or try to emulate from JFC.
And my answer is...not much.
It's a special treat --- a wonderful and unique viewing experience...but it's doesn't follow any of the rules and requirements of most network drama, or even cable drama for that matter. And its obtuse serialized story arc makes it damn near impossible to parachute in to sample the show and have any idea what is going on --- a problem that generally leads to early cancellation.
So what can you take away...how to write quirky yet complex characters? How to pen cryptic yet colourful dialogue? Theme over plot as driving force? Perhaps...but can you use that knowledge in crafting your new spec of Numbers or Criminal Minds or Bones? In your original pilot maybe, but keeping in mind how noncommercial JFC is, I'd be cautious about how much to to use it as any sort of template.
JFC also appears to be a limited series (10 episodes I think), though I keep hearing it is waiting to find out if it will get picked up for more. But if it is limited (and it does seem 'limited' in that once we find out who John is and what his mission is, the hook is no more...much like who killed Laura Palmer), this is another reason to avoid using it as a model if you're looking to create a long-running series.
Jill at Running With My Eyes Closed likes to analyze TV pilots, and she made this comment about the UK series 'Jekyl':
For that reason it's quite different than many of the other pilots I've posted about. No, it doesn't apply to what most Canadian writers are doing to respond to the demand (?) from our broadcasters. Our marketplace wants stand alone episodes of unarced series. Miniseries are out of fashion here.
But maybe this is what we should be doing. Maybe an intense six part series is exactly what we should be doing. It seems to me that our audience could commit to a whole six hours of programming. And it's certainly the kind of event television that would fulfill cultural mandates (if those still exist under the current government); drawing the audience into a shared experience.
Sort of like Durham County? Or perhaps Across The River To Motor City? These limited series have aired or are about to air here in Canada, and Durham certainly received an enthusiastic reception. But they're both on Movie Central/Movie Network, and aren't targeting the masses. As good as they are (or will be), they either weren't designed or didn't have the premise to support a long successful run.
I'm not advocating creating simplistic twaddle, but network and cable TV series need to be accessible and have legs. Intelligence or The Best Years (or the upcoming The Border) seem more practical and realistic Canadian TV one hour series models to be studying and emulating.
Anyway, I'd be curious to see what Jill has to say about Milch's series (apparently she's working up a post).
John From Cincinnati...fun to watch, wouldn't suggest writing it.
And on a sort of related (but not exactly) note, Lisa Klink at What It's Like took my comment that nobody sets out to make a bad tv show and ran with it. Go. Read. She's good.