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It's a creativity problem, not a budgetary one
sanctuary. helen/nikola. {emily_reich}
palmaceae wrote in dear_damian
We've had a string of IMO four bad episodes in a row (Pax Romana, Hangover, One Night, Metamorphosis), ranging from downright-terrible-I-will-never-watch-this-again to that-was-kind-of-boring-yet-had-a-few-hilarious-moments. This post was originally titled "Budgetary and Creative Constraints" and started out as a discussion of how budgetary constraints could affect creativity. When I started writing this post, I thought that a great deal of the problems with some of these episodes stemmed from the fact that they were bottle episodes and it was hard to come up with a good story when that severely constrained. However, after finishing this post I've completely changed my mind on the issue.



"The term bottle episode is used in episodic television to refer to episodes which are produced using the least money, and restricted in their scope to use as few new - or no - non-regular cast members, effects and sets as possible. Most bottle episodes are shot on sets already built for other episodes, frequently the main interior sets for a series, and they consist largely of dialogue or scenes for which no special preparations are needed."
[Wikipedia]

Hangover, One Night and Metamorphosis all, to some extent, appear to be bottle episodes or at the very least, episodes with small budgets. Hangover was shot completely within preexisting sets with one guest star in scenes that could be shot quickly. One Night was shot largely within one or two rooms and within preexisting sets, albeit with several guest stars (Declan!). Metamorphosis was shot primarily within preexisting sets with some CGI, no guest stars.

I’m sitting there falling asleep during One Night, rolling my eyes during Metamorphosis and ranting that I could so come up with a more interesting story than “Will gets turned into an Abnormal. Again.” I reasoned to myself that there were probably budgetary issues behind the scenes affecting the writing, because I try to make excuses for the writers – usually to no avail. I said to myself “Let’s see if it’s really that difficult to write a bottle episode.” So I challenged myself to come up with some story ideas, attempting to have them take place entirely within the Sanctuary and featuring few to no guest stars and CGI. I came up with a few ideas, although not all of them work for bottle episodes necessarily:

Idea #1 – After Kate snaps during [INSERT REASON HERE], Magnus forces her to have a therapy session with Will that fills the audience in regarding her past criminal activities. (budgetary issues: calls for flashbacks that would require additional locations, guest stars and some CGI. Not a bottle episode).

Idea #2 – Magnus and company are forced to make a hard decision when an Abnormal who is dangerous due to no fault of its own comes in and they need to euthanize it for everyone’s safety. Angsty moral dilemmas ftw. (budgetary issues: requires at least one guest star and some CGI, but would probably qualify as a bottle episode. Additional problem: probably way to dark for this show after they toned it down from the webisodes, but that’s not the point)

Idea #3 – Bigfoot’s mother/aunt/cousin comes to visit/persuade Bigfoot to come back home/ask for a favor/whatever. Xenophobia ftw as Will, Kate and Henry don’t quite get along with the relative who isn’t as used to humans as Bigfoot is. Played with equal parts comedy and seriousness. (budgetary issues: requires at least one guest star. Could pass for a bottle episode)

Idea #4 – A day in the life of the Sanctuary. (budgetary issues: well, let’s see, CGI like woah, additional cast that demonstrates that there aren’t just five people running in the place. This could be a problem).

Idea #5 – In the Dark: A brutal thunderstorm knocks out the electricity, plunging everyone into darkness. While Henry tries to fix the power, Helen and the rest of the team find out that the power outage wasn’t the result of the storm, but rather some pretty clever thieves. (budgetary issues: guest stars, it might cost more to shoot in the dark, idk shoot me I’m not a producer).

After I came up with two-three good ideas within ten minutes… I take back everything I thought about them having budgetary issues. No, their only problem is bad writing, pure and simple. I would so rather watch Team Sanctuary outwit a group of thieves than Will going on another date with Abby McAnnoying (oh I can’t wait for next week) or turning into a lizard (Will they save him? I DON’T KNOW!!) Sanctuary has done good bottle episodes before (Haunted is a fantastic example) so there’s really no excuse.

In general, the lack of extras is really getting to me. They’re losing out on so many stories they could tell with extras and recurring cast, both other people working at the Sanctuary and the residents. More characters would flesh out the feeling of the Sanctuary, plus it just makes sense that there are more than five people running the place and where are the residents?

So basically if I have to conclude anything it’s that yes, budgetary issues make it harder to come up with good stories, but I just sat down for twenty minutes and came up with this stuff and I think it’s more original than Will turns into a lizard. And there is never an excuse for bugs that make people go crazy because they're ugly.

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Good television writers can tell amazing stories on tiny budgets--I'm a huge fan of old sf shows like Blake's 7 and classic Doctor Who, where the sets wobble if you touch them and the monsters' costumes are made of bubble wrap and the writing, often, is pure gold.

I don't know what's going on with this streak of mediocre-to-bad episodes. I was going to put all the blame on the writers, but Alan McCullough, who wrote "Metamorphosis," has written awesome episodes like "Veritas," "Penance" and "Hero"; James Thorpe ("Hangover") wrote "Bank Job" and "Sleepers." Kindler himself is the weak link among the writers--I know it's his show and everything, but he generally writes terrible dialogue with huge info-dumps. I don't think it's coincidence that the two worst of the last four eps, in my opinion, were written by him.

What I wonder is whether they got orders from above (e.g. SyFy execs) to make the show less arc-y than it was in the first half of S3. That would explain why "Pax Romana" tried to wrap up all the Hollow Earth stuff so ridiculously fast, and why it feels like the show has stopped doing character development apart from "Will has a girlfriend." Execs tend to do that when they're trying to build a new audience for a show--I think it's a terrible idea.

Execs tend to do that when they're trying to build a new audience for a show--I think it's a terrible idea. I don't understand how that builds a new audience because if I tuned in now I'd never tune in again.

Yeah, exactly. But it happens. The example that comes to mind is Angel: the Series during its last season--it was "promoted" to a new time slot, and in order to bring in a new audience, the showrunners were told to be less arc-y. Everything suffered as a result and the show got cancelled.

Yes, Angel S5 did suffer, but I'd say it never reached the same levels of badness as Sanctuary is hitting right now. Still don't know why Angel got the axe but they kept Charmed. I'm still not over that one.

Even though I didn't flinch so much during Metamorphosis as I did while watching the previous eps, I agree. The show spun from the original idea a lot, they are producing episodes that dont have any emotional deep that we were so used to with this.

Maybe the answer to all this is simple, they dont have enough good ideas, maybe Damian is in some kind of "i am not creative enough phase" or something.

But I had this feeling for a very long time as a not particular fan of arch-stories but at least we had Bank Job and For King and Country in the first half of the season, but please, if you cant write a good episode, dont write any. This show is loosing its viewers/fans with a speed that they came to love this show.

I am staying and hoping, but mostly just from nostalgia.


Edited at 2011-05-05 09:53 am (UTC)

Maybe the answer to all this is simple, they dont have enough good ideas, maybe Damian is in some kind of "i am not creative enough phase" or something. I took ten minute to come up with some ideas. Damian and co. have no excuses, they're professionals.

but please, if you cant write a good episode, dont write any. yeah, i was all like, if this is what we can expect from a season expanded from 13 to 20, i'd rather go back to 13.

I am staying and hoping, but mostly just from nostalgia. me too.

They are, but there are some shows that ended because there was lack of ideas. Idea is one thing, but writing is completely another. When the topic is overused, it still can be saved with good writing. I think we can found fics work with my theory.

Exactly, rather 13 good episodes than...well, you know.

Good god I thought "Pax Romana" was terrible, and "Hangover" isn't even all that funny. It might be because of the flail I witnessed over the internet when the episodes aired and I was expecting so much more.

Don't even get me started on Kate's dialogues in "Pax Romana". And "Undead-ing?" Honestly? To borrow one of their lines, "You're a genius and that's the best you can come up with?"

Of the four episodes, I actually enjoyed "One Night" the most. Perhaps it's because I thought the way the plot goes gives a bit of the Stargate feel. xD

But all in all, I wasn't impressed. The story lines in the previous episodes were so much better and these 4 just fell flat, and I rarely spot stuff that are terrible. Hopefully the rest of the episodes be back to how things before.

"Hangover" and "Metamorphosis" were the worst for me (and the Will POV cam, only serving to make me feel queasy, didn't help).

And there is never an excuse for bugs that make people go crazy because they're ugly.

+1

And while I loved seeing Declan in "One Night", I can't help wondering why he was here when he should be running the London Sanctuary.

And while I loved seeing Declan in "One Night", I can't help wondering why he was here when he should be running the London Sanctuary.
I *always* wonder that when I see Declan, unless he's actually in the London Sanctuary.

I didn't wonder for "Firewall" because Helen wasn't officially reinstated then. But still who runs London when Declan's away?

We Brits don't need anyone to run out Sanctuary.

If some scary shit goes down, then ANYONE with a British passport is qualified to Put The Kettle On For A Cuppa!

LOL! I was thinking "just close shop and wait for Declan to come back" but obviously, I'm showing where I come from with that line of thinking. ;)

Maybe Declan is the best at getting the Tea/Milk balance just right... but we British are an extremely resilient and resourceful species.

In times of crisis we 'Make Do and Mend' as the famous World War saying goes.

No doubt Declan has a dedicated team of high class operatives who are EXTREMELY adept at pouring just the right amount of milk into the tea cups when bad things happen.

I agree with this. I have to say that as a new fan, if I'd just started watching current episodes instead of starting at the beginning, I wouldn't have bothered to continue watching.

I wonder if they are struggling to fill out a normal 22 episode season. Seasons 1 and 2 were all 13 episodes, so I wonder if having more episodes is making them have to tell more non-arc stories that maybe they aren't as good as.

I also wonder if they are trying to have more Will-centric since the first half of the season was a little short on him. I think that if they had taken these episodes and interspersed them in the first half of the season, they might not seem so bad. It is just that strung together, they seem weaker.

Although I will say I don't think that Pax Romana was horribly weak. It wasn't the best episode, but it okay and not nearly as bad as the last three have been.

I fucking hated "Pax Romana." I thought it was the best example of terrible storytelling I'd seen in a very, very long time. And I paid money to see "The Expendables." So I'm really glad I'm not the only one who wasn't exploding with flail about that episode.

But to actually address your post. I think part of the problem may be that they had two 13-episode seasons and got used to the rhythm and pacing of that: two-part opener, a couple of episodes showing The Sanctuary Life, one episode that kind of annoys everyone, some backstory episodes, leave it on a cliffhanger, repeat. Whereas with a 22-episode season, they suddenly had 9 additional episodes to write that didn't quite fit with the flow they'd developed in the first two seasons. So the "Hey! I think it would be fun to turn Will into a lizard because he joked that he always assumes lizards and we can do this obnoxious blinky POV cam to save some money on the CGI and makeup" idea that would've been a throwaway in the two earlier seasons suddenly becomes a legit concept.

It seems to be somewhat lazy writing lately. I'll grant that, done properly, Will becoming a lizard might have been a good idea. But it seemed like they couldn't be bothered to come up with a genuinely creative solution to the problem, so they fell back on Ranna and Helen being super smart to figure out that a damn underscore in cuneiform has Sekrit Meaning. And the fourteen plot twists in "One Night" just confused me, which may have been the point.

And, while we're at it, can the "Helen Magnus is a genius so even if she doesn't know the solution she can concoct one in a fifteen-second montage or contact two people who each know a third of the solution and she'll figure out the rest on her own" phenomenon just stop? It worked fine in S1 and S2 when it wasn't a factor in every.damn.episode, but now it's like they're using that as a solution for everything. And it's lazy and doesn't make me feel like there's any peril whatsoever anymore. Not like there was any question that Will was going to stay a lizard, but I would've been way more thrilled with the ending had Bigfoot found the cure in a bottle of whiskey or something.

I'm glad they're going back to 13 episodes. It forces them to really make the most of what they have rather than flop about with every idea that comes to their minds. With the notable exception of "Hero," (and even that was kind of cute and funny) I can't think of any episode from the first two seasons that I thought was unnecessary. And I have three in S3 already, with next week not looking so great (I would like to have done without "Pax Romana," but that was a storyline that truly needed to wrap the hell up; and I kind of liked "Hangover," minus the Helen Saves The Day With Totally Random Knowledge phenom).


And there is never an excuse for bugs that make people go crazy because they're ugly. +10

I fucking hated "Pax Romana." oh you are SO not the only one. i'm never watching that episode again. I mean, HOW CAN YOU HAVE DRUITT FOR THE EP AND SHOW HIM FOR JUST TWO SECONDS? what a waste of the character.

And the fourteen plot twists in "One Night" just confused me, which may have been the point. I think they focused on the wrong part of the story. The story should have been about the slave ship and how they rescued the slaves and took the bad guys down, not Will and Abby namby pambying around in a basement with a mafia girl with bizarrely long arms. It's like they started and ended the story way too early. The only problem with that is that it probably would have cost more money to show that storyline, but it would have been so much more interesting.

I would've been way more thrilled with the ending had Bigfoot found the cure in a bottle of whiskey or something. UM YES A THOUSAND YESSES. THAT WAS THE BEST PART OF THE EPISODE.

I can't think of any episode from the first two seasons that I thought was unnecessary not even Warriors?

I generally skip "Warriors" when I'm doing any sort of rewatch (because all I can think of is That Awful Episode Where Will Turns Into The Hulk), but it did introduce Gregory Magnus. In kind of an awkward way that really makes me scratch my head about his timeline, but that's the first time he showed up. And without him, I don't think they wouldn't have had the Hollow Earth storyline (which I liked until "Pax Romana" came along and ruined it for me)...or at least it might have been a little weird to get the storyline without him.

Oh man, I really thought I was the only one feeling this way about the last couple of episodes...
Thank you for this post!

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