Readers of this blog (I trust I’m not being quixotically presumptuous by my use of the plural form) have come to expect in-depth, long-form essays here, but today I’d like to try something different: I thought I’d offer brief commentary on three unrelated pop-cultural developments that are directly relevant to articles I posted this past summer.
In my analysis of the first season of How to Get Away with Murder, I concluded by asserting that series creator Peter Nowalk left himself little choice but to reconfigure protagonist Annalise Keating’s psychological profile (yet again) on account of how carelessly he exhausted her backstory in the initial fifteen-episode run. And, boy, he did not waste any time proving me correct.
Right in the season premiere, we learned (via one of several clunky pieces of exposition) that Annalise has a “wild-child” side (who knew?), and later we saw her partying the night away under the strobe lights of a dance club—with her students, no less!
No, sorry—that doesn’t play. Here’s why: It is a complete violation of one of her core traits (and a defense mechanism, at that)—“publicly composed and guarded.”
Were you paying close attention for clues during last night’s anticipated series premiere of How to Get Away with Murder? Did you manage to catch writer/creator Peter Nowalk’s object lesson in the simple art of murder?
It was easy enough to overlook. After all, Nowalk skillfully introduced multiple characters and mysteries in short order, creating—and holding his viewers in—the kind of edge-of-your-seat suspense that is the hallmark of the Whydunit genre (so modified from “Whodunit” because who, per Blake Snyder, is merely a conventional formality and ephemeral revelation—it’s the why that gives us the lasting insight into the dark side of human nature we crave from these stories). But, for students of the craft of screenwriting, consider yourself enrolled in How to Create a Fertile, Provocative Premise 101.
Caught myself up on the first season of House of Cards this past weekend. I know, I know. But, better late than never, right? After all, isn’t that the advantage of on-demand viewing? Nowadays, a good series is always available to be discovered.
There are shows that I tune into and consciously try to like, and then there are those that win me over midway through their pilot episode without any premeditated cooperation on my part. House of Cards falls squarely in the latter category. It’s a classic Institutionalized story, which Blake Snyder defines as any tale about the “crazy” or self-destructive group dynamics of an institution—in this case, Congress. Washington is well-represented in political television drama at present, but I certainly haven’t seen a series in which power plays are an end unto themselves: The movers and shakers that populate House of Cards make no attempt to justify their self-serving agendas with hollow allegiances of fealty to the Republic. And protagonist Frank Underwood’s stylized, Shakespearean asides to camera—a tough trick to pull off (Kevin Spacey makes it look so natural, hence his consecutive Emmy nominations for the first two seasons)—lend an intimacy that endears the audience to a character with which we might not otherwise be predisposed to empathize. (He works for Congress, after all, and have you seen their approval numbers of late?) Like most serialized protagonists, Frank is comprised of five key traits; I’m eager to get on with the second season, so let’s take a quick look at them: