Reality Television  

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead

My husband and I watch quite a few shows on television during the year. Most of the shows we watch are reality television. Although I know that all reality television has a patina of unreality, those people who act out for the camera, I still find that they contain more.. well, reality. I enjoy people watching, and for me television has become a voyeuristic experience.

But, I do watch some dramas as well. I remember being excited for shows like Lost, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica that seemed to be cut from a different mold than the plethora of crime dramas and relationship sit-coms that are popular. But then, somewhere along the way they lost that something that made me enjoy them. I continue to watch Lost because although I've been strung along for two season too long, I still want to know the mystery. I stopped watching Heroes part way through this season when the story began to feel forced, although I plan to catch up when the season's over. The last season of Battlestar still had an authentic feel to it, but there were times when I just wanted them to move on with it.

But one show has continued to hold my interest week after week. Maybe it's because it's just the second season and there aren't yet too many hands in the pot, messing with the story. That show is Dexter. Last week's episode had a scene where Seargent Doakes discusses a potential security job with Lieutenant LaGuerta. As the scene ended my husband said, "Wow, a real conversation." And I realized that yes, the conversation sounded just like a conversation I'd have with a co-worker or a friend.

Why was it so noticeable? A conversation that seems real should blend in, not stick out. But normal, every day conversations don't make it onto the dramas I watch very often. We're not watching every second of a person's life on television, only the important bits to the story after all. I think writers have fallen into the trap of having to make every encounter exciting instead of making the story interesting and absorbing over all.

On Dexter the co-workers spoke to each other pleasantly, agreeing on a plan. And it felt completely natural. I think that's what finally turned me off to Heroes. Every conversation is about conflict. Friends, family, even allies never agree. Even as they're working towards a common goal there's constant infighting and drama. And after a while it's not just exhausting, it defies belief.

Don't get me wrong. All of these shows require a viewer to suspend belief. All of them are based somewhat on fantasy. But when the actions of the characters lack credibility I find it hard to continue to buy into the story.

Hopefully the popularity of Dexter this season isn't its downfall and it has some influence over the the direction shows take in the future.

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