Lesson #8: Character Flow
Television as a writing medium intrigues me. I love the potential to delve into a character’s life and explore in detail different themes and situations on an episode by episode basis. In order to teach myself about writing for television I completed a project during the 2011-2012 television season to further those efforts. I tried all of the pilots of any show that I could possibly be interested in. Let me tell you, it was a lot of television. There were eight of these shows that made my cut but didn’t score with the networks. In this series I’ll explore why I felt they had potential yet explain the pitfall that caused the show to stumble and die.
After the introductory show on Bones I thought The Finder had a lot of promise. My favorite scene from the episode was Walter sitting in his underwear feeling out the suspect/victim by “wearing” the guy’s apartment. The biggest misstep coming into the first season was the creation of love interest, Deputy US Marshall, wannabe lawyer, plot device Isabel Zambada. Yeah you need an easy connection to law enforcement to run information, arrest people and help you when you get on the wrong side of the law. The drawbacks were she was too easy and didn’t jive with the rest of the characters or their quirk. Perhaps it’s the actress, perhaps it’s the character. More than likely a little of both, copying what worked with Seeley in Bones just isn’t going to cut it.
The best and most lovable character by far is Leo. We lost most of his quirk coming into season one but it didn’t matter much. Perhaps it’s just my love of Michael Clarke Duncan or it could be because he was the heart of the show. The inclusion of the younger generation in the form of gypsy girl, Willa Monday, was smart and had potential (like in Leo and Willa’s relationship) but wasn’t well-developed. She attempts to steal from Walter but for really very little reason she gives up on it or rather pushes it off to another day then never re-addresses the issue. It was fun when Willa became involved in Walter’s crazy games to sift for clues so you could really see her potential. Even her Uncle Shadrick had potential to add depth to Willa but it was never used.
While it seems a murderer is really what Walter is always “finding” I’d have preferred him to be just finding random items of importance at first. Show his character, his hangups and his relationships. George Stults did carry off Walter’s quirky edge very believably and sincerely throughout the entire season though. This is a very positive thing! Build on it. Alas the writers just fell back on using Walter as your traditional detective and simply attempted to present him in unique packaging.
The biggest failure in the show was Walter. The character and protagonist had zero growth. It was a character without an arc, or even potential to arc. Even if a protagonist is, for the most part, going to remain the same (detectives at their core remain the same; it’s their center that causes them to solve cases the way they do) they do need to feel like they have places to grow, change or soften toward. Many writers utilize the protagonist’s love life and other relationships for this purpose. For example, Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent had all kinds of potential for growth; even though we never really saw any, he kept us hooked because he could have.
Due to the episode format, a television writer in particular needs to get into the flow of their characters quickly as the story starts and stops so often and must have many beginnings, middles and ends. Producers have taken on the role of keeping these consistent and directing the flow of the character arcs. For example, on NCIS – Gibb’s character arc started changing when Mark Harmon took over majority control from the original producer. The Finder was never going to make it unless the writers and producers could get a good partnership going…sadly they’ve run out of time to try.