Archive for the ‘Scene Analysis’ Category

Constructs of normality and unreality in Supernatural

December 20, 2009

Reality is rather subjective. In TV, it’s carefully constructed using sound and image. The audience sees something different from the characters, but they’re closely linked. The differences probably aren’t noticed by the people of the show, but with just a few techniques, those watching can experience the sense of altered reality along with the characters. 

To start off, here’s a fan-made video that shows how easy it really is to change the tone of a show. Some basic video editing and a bit of music, and Supernatural becomes something else.



Mentors and whatnot in The Wire

December 7, 2009

“My question for you is: A) Who arrived in Philly first, Andre or Eman? And B) By how much time? And C) Who gives a rat’s ass?”

The second episode of season 4 of The Wire, ‘Soft Eyes,’ largely concerns itself with the issue of who’s teaching kids lessons and which in fact do give a rat’s ass (though the above is actually from episode 3, ‘Home Room.’ I considered using my favorite line from ‘Soft Eyes’ instead, spoken by the state senator when he’s served a subpoena: “Major crimes? Sheeeeeeee-it.”) This is especially obvious in the episode’s conclusion, which features the long-awaited mayoral debate interspersed with people’s reaction to it, but also seems to have been a motif throughout the entire episode. The Wire is rarely very heavy handed when it comes to themes and symbolism, but “Soft Eyes” more than anything is about the people that serve as leaders and mentors in the world of the show and how people react to them.

At around 19:00, Dennis is approached at the gym by Sharon Johnson, who wants to thank him for coaching her son and the other neighborhood boys by ‘throwing down in the kitchen, among other places.’ At 19:09, towards the beginning of the conversation, there’s a shot of three other women in the gym looking on at Sharon and Dennis, followed immediately by a shot of one of the boys in the gym following along while jump roping. Every time the camera pans to Sharon during the season, the three women are right over Sharon’s shoulder, out of focus but visible in every shot. This caught my eye because it seemed completely unnecessary to have them in the shot (or at all), but later on at 40:41, when Dennis has instructed Michael (the seemingly most morally complex out of the neighborhood boys) to work the heavy bag, one of the three women (Gail, the one with short hair) approaches Dennis with some peach cobbler. Gail, for the record, doesn’t even have any sons. While two of them flirt, the camera cuts back to Michael working the bag. At 41:14, even Dennis’s assistant makes a motion for Dennis to refocus his attention on Michael. When we come back to the gym at around 49:00, the camera pans across the gym and we see Dennis receiving food from another one of the girls before settling on Michael and Naymond, who note that the coach is ‘working it.’ While they’re unsupervised, two other kids try to force Michael off the heavy bag and a fight almost breaks out.

I’m also interested in the storyline with Bubbles (the guy selling crap from the shopping cart) and Sherrod (the kid who sucks at math). Over the break I accidentally watched episodes from the first season, not the fourth, so I was surprised to see that Bubbles (a crackhead in the beginning of the series) had cleaned his act up and had a protege. Then he was shooting up later in the episode and I was less surprised. Also surprising was how well he cleans up for a junkie: he has no furniture and makes his living out of a shopping cart, but somehow has a shirt and tie lying around.

“If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would watch ‘The Wire,’ unless, that is, he was already writing for it.”

December 1, 2009

The Wire is unlike any other, successful television show I have seen yet.   After all, most television shows have dominant love story arcs that keep viewers interested and engaged season to season.  However, The Wire is not like that that, for instead of planting a hook here and a twist there whilst intertwining a love story throughout, The Wire seems to capture the raw and “de-glamourized” existence of cops and drug dealers of everyday life on the Baltimore streets.

In shows like Castle for example, the bickering love saga between Richard Castle and Detective Beckett keeps viewers interested.  In The Wire when McNulty has sex with Rhoda Pearlman, no viewer would care to see more from that relationship.  After all, the relationship has not been drawn out over seasons like that of The Office’s Jim and Pam or Castle’s Castle and Beckett.  Instead, sex is closer to a transaction than a romantic engagement.  As unromantic as that scene was, the following frame mimics those sex moans when a young boy is shot in the leg and is groaning in pain.  Thus, it seems like the writers instantly bring the viewers back to the dark realities of the Baltimore streets, as if to say, “Cops don’t have time for anything semi-romantic, because they are constantly consumed by the jobs they do.”

This “unromanticized” realness separates The Wire from all other shows on television.  In fact, the intricate web of characters that make up their Baltimore, from the look out kids to the drug dealers to the flawed cops caught in the mix, make The Wire a real “slice of life” series.  As Nicholas Kulish of The New York Times stated, “if Charles Dickens were alive today, he would watch ‘The Wire,’ unless, that is, he was already writing for it” [1].  And I think Kulish is right in saying so.  After all, it’s not too hard to imagine a modern day Pip, a young and naïve orphan boy being raised by his brother-in-law and older sister, being part of The Wire’s complex web of characters.

Thus The Wire may be off-putting for those expecting a Jim and Pam story arc throughout the series; however, the realness, that has been left almost untouched by Hollywood glitz and glamour, somehow provides answers “even when it offers no solutions.”[2]



[2] Ibid.

Sound in Television: Music, Sound Effects, & Proximity

November 10, 2009

In Karen Lury’s Interpreting Television, she states that television is “often seen and not heard…In bars, cafés, urinals, in shopping malls and on large screens in city centers, television is often visible without being audible (although it can be both)” (Lury, 96).  Can television’s images stand on their own though?  And if so, what exactly is sound’s role in television?

In both the pilot episode of Mad Men and in Breaking Bad’s episode “Peekaboo,” sound is absolutely necessary and is depicted in very different, yet distinct ways that should be examined.  In “Peekaboo” the episode opens with Jesse intently watching a house-sized beetle crawl around on the sidewalk.  Jesse goes to far as to let the beetle crawl on his hand, and consequently the viewer is subject to listening to all of the insect’s legs clanking about as it moves from one finger to the next.  However, when one of Jesse’s drug dealers comes by, the dealer squishes it the making a disgusting squirting noise as he drags the bug’s debris across the sidewalk.  This sound is echoed later on in the episode when the addict husband is squished like a bug as his wife drops the ATM machine onto him.  Thus, by having such nauseating sound effects, the visceral impact is able to “generate an audible proximity…Sound’s ability to suggest touch can make the programme thrilling in a way that visual spectacle alone might not: for while we can see the hyenas eating, we will ‘feel’ the sound of a slurp or a squelch in a much more intimate manner” (Lury, 82).  Thus, by having such sound effects in Breaking Bad we are able to foster a closer relationship with Jesse, for even though the sounds might make us cringe they also make us feel like we too experienced the same events.

In Mad Men sound is portrayed very differently, for the chosen musical ballads depict the complexities in the characters’ personalities.  For example in the closing scene of the pilot episode, Don Draper comes home to his wife and child.  While sitting on the edge of his child’s bed with tears in his eyes, one can see how empty this character really feels.  His melancholic actions are put to the sound of a romantic show tune ballad in which the singer boldly proclaims that he has, “often walked on this street before, but the pavement has always stayed beneath my feet before.”  Thus, the song that is pregnant with fervently felt emotions contrasts to Don Draper’s character who believes love is a mere product of the ad world created and used to sell nylons to women.  As a result, the irony in the music portrays Draper’s jaded character as one that has everything by societal standards, yet has nothing by his own.

Thus, sound is used very differently in these two episodes, but in both instances sound fosters a closer relationship between the characters and viewers.

Will You Dance With Me?

November 10, 2009

“I was wondering… did… uh…uh…do you want to go to the homecoming dance with me?” As the camera frames Sam’s innocent face, the viewer lingers on to his each and every stutter instantly reminding one’s self of one’s own battles with schoolyard insecurities.  The viewer is instantly brought back to the days of fanciful crushes and the hallway hellos, but as the silence between Sam and Cindy becomes more deafening, the viewer also remembers the times that those crushes crashed and those hellos went unsaid.  As Sam’s hopeful eyes gaze into the possibility of acceptance, we too painfully remember those same feelings of desperation.  After all, the viewers know all too well that Sam is not really looking to go to the dance per-se, for what he is really looking for is confirmation of his existence in the social hell some deem to call high school.  Sam is looking for acceptance, belonging, love, and self-confidence, but he is fruitlessly searching for a happiness that is simply out of his league, and as a result it does not come as a shock to anyone (except perhaps to Sam) that Cindy already has a date to the dance.  In other words, it does not come as a shock that Cindy, the popular cheerleader, has in fact been confirmed within the social order.  But why must we watch this same sad tale over and over again?  This story of unrequited teenage love is not only prevalent in Freaks and Geeks, but also in My So-Called Life and Skins as well.  Moreover if it is so painful for one to watch (and I do not think I am the only one that cringed at Sam’s question) why do we keep on watching the same sad woe in coming of age stories?

As we watch stories like this unfold, we like to see ourselves as the sage and superior onlookers, but are we actually sage or superior to little Sam?  Moreover, do we ever actually come of age or do we perpetually remain underdogs?  Perhaps we continue to watch the same sad story of the defeated, because we will always associate with the underdog, and thus we watch for the day that David actually does defeat Goliath.  This hope that love will indeed conquer all, even for the weak, is what permits us watch Brian Krakow, of My So-Called Life, make as ass of himself in front of his neighbor and crush, Angela Chase.  This hope is what draws us to sickly, lonely Cassie as she approaches Sid longing to find someone that actually cares about her.  Thus, we see Cassie, Brian, and Sam as character extensions of ourselves, and consequently these fictional victories in the battlefield of love are internalized as our own as well.  As Jason Mittell states in his essay on “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television,” one the chief pleasures in shows like Lost “is the show’s ability to create sincere emotional connections to characters” no matter what kind of outlandish activities or predicaments the characters may have gotten themselves into (Mittell, 38).  This is the type of emotional appeal that connects viewers to the show and has them coming back season after season, for the viewers genuinely want to see characters like Sam land his first date and finally have someone to dance his slow dance with prevailing over the social order.

It’s OK, You’re Allowed.

November 10, 2009

Although it is not an American television show, Skins season 1 exemplifies the complex narrative structure that Jason Mittell describes in his article Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television.  Although I have not seen the entire season, I think that episode 2, “Cassie,” is a perfect example of the blend between the “episodic plotlines” and “multi episode arcs” (Mittell 32) that was a key feature in shows like The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and The Sopranos. Like these other shows, “Cassie” “advances the season’s arc while still offering episodic coherence and miniresolutions” (Mittell 33). To illustrate this point, I would like to call too attention three scenes: group of friends outside by a picnic table contemplating Sid’s impending doom, and the final two scenes of Cassie back at home, and then at the roadside bar.

An overwhelming majority of this episode is dedicated to Cassie’s story, but what makes this show (and episode) part of the complex narrative form are the short scenes that illustrate Cassie’s environment, while moving forward general narrative arcs. In this scene, the group of friends meets at a picnic table outside of their school, self-identifies themselves as friends, and agrees that Sid’s issue with the creepy drug dealer turned substitute teacher is a mutual problem. Then, when no solutions come readily to mind, the group slowly leaves Sid to go back to class, promising to continue to help him brainstorm. This scene, other than demonstrating Sid’s distressed mental state, has no other purpose than to set up a situation that will arise in later episodes: comradery between friends in solving a problem.

Then, in two following scenes, we see a minnie encapsulation of the arc of the entire episode, which is deeply informed by the 40 minutes of scenes which preceded it. In one scene, we watch Cassie watch a scene which illustrates to both parties her main issue: her parents celebrate some occasion with champagne, feed her little brother while showering him with undivided attention and love, while ultimately turning their backs and ignoring him in his distress, escaping to a selfish world that is only their own. This is not real love, this is not real caring, and this is not real parenting. Instead, in the final scene of the show, we see a man who does deserves Cassie’s love. Meeting at a roadside bar, Alan tells her, honestly and truly and for the first genuine time in the episode, “I’m listening.” He is able to give her the love and support that she really needs to start getting over her problem, and it is as simple as just keeping one’s face turned toward her. Thus, as she takes a bite into the hamburger and the episode ends, we feel satisfied at the week’s resolution, but still look forward to tuning in again and following Cassie and Sid through both of their “probs.”

“I hate high school.”

November 10, 2009

High school is all about trying to fit in despite the constant judgment and stereotyping by others.  This is a concept that is present in almost every television portrayal of this tumultuous time in the lives of youth, and is the core of Freaks and Geeks.  As the title suggests, every student fits into a certain predetermined category, and the show focuses on the freaks and the geeks.  

Lindsay is struggling to find out who she is and where she belongs, and in this search for herself she is transitioning from the geek group to the freak group.  Even though she is unsure of whom she is, the rest of the school seems to be pretty sure that she is a geek and nothing else.  Her struggle to depart from the constructed image that everyone has of her is really introduced when she first goes out on the “smoking patio” with Daniel.

Daniel and Lindsay walk out onto the patio as some rebellious rock tune plays in the background, and Lindsay hesitates.  Daniel doesn’t seem to notice and walks towards his friends, leaving Lindsay behind and alone.  She looks unsure of herself, but seems to get a small burst of confidence and walks towards “the freaks.”  The music fades as Daniel introduces Lindsay to Ken and Nick who remain reclined on the bleachers.  The first thing that Nick says to Lindsay is “you were in my English class last year right?  You’re that chick that got an A.”  This establishes the fact that Lindsay is stereotyped as a geek; that when people look at her all they see is the smart girl.  Lindsay tries to downplay her nerdiness and jokingly replies “yeah well, what are you gonna do?”  Ken looks at her judgmentally and responds “I don’t know, what are you gonna do?”  Will Lindsay be able to part with her geek image and prove to them that she is a freak?  Nick and Daniel seem to laugh the comment off but Lindsay looks a bit disturbed by it.  She realizes the comment is a challenge.

Lindsay brings up the dance and the guys jokingly attack her for it.  They obviously disapprove of such a lame suggestion of going to the dance.  Daniel looks down at his feet as if he is embarrassed for her, and then sits down with the other two guys.  There is now a visual separation between Lindsay, who is standing, and “the freaks,” who are all sitting on the bleachers.  She is once again isolated, just like when she entered onto the patio.  

Then Millie shows up, and Lindsay is literally in between the freaks and the geeks.  As she turns to look at Millie, I’d like to think that she’s remembering Ken’s comment asking her what she’s going to do.  She makes a choice in this moment, and she chooses the freaks.  As the camera switches between shots of Millie, and shots of Lindsay standing with “the freaks”, each seem distant from each other.  There is a widening gap between Lindsay’s old life as a geek and her new life as a freak.  This scene is the moment where she makes the decision to reinvent and prove herself as a freak, and sets up Lindsay’s dilemma for the rest of the series.  Unfortunately for Lindsay, due to shallow high school stereotyping, she has to conform to one or the other, and can never really be herself.

Cassie’s Character

November 10, 2009

In Poetics, Aristotle says that four things are necessary in the creation of a good character: goodness, appropriateness, likeness, and consistency. The scene in Skins, then, that establishes Cassie as a “good” character is when she is at the clinic getting checked out.

1.) Goodness: Cassie clearly has an eating disorder, but the clinic seems no place for her. In the scene, we watch the money-hungry clinic director carelessly check off boxes to sign Cassie out in between shots of a crazy man running naked across the lawn. The viewer gets the sense that Cassie isn’t as crazy as that man and that she’s not being taken care of at the clinic the way she should be; her deeper issue seems to be feelings of neglect (her parents are in love with each other more than they care about Cassie), and Cassie is clearly being neglected at the clinic.

2.) Appropriateness: Like most anorexics, Cassie is clever at hiding her weight loss–we see her being clever when she stuffs weights into her clothes so that she seems heavier than she is before her final weigh-in; this character trait marks her appropriateness at a clinic, but not necessarily this clinic. 

3.) Likeness (Likeability?): Cassie has a big smile and is kind to everyone she meets. She kisses the clinic director on the way out of the clinic–which is a strange thing to do, but sweet nonetheless. She is a pretty girl, who attempts to establish meaningful relationships with those around her.

4.) Consistency: One of the dead giveaways that Cassie is lying is when she opens her eyes really wide and we see the top white part. The clinic director would know that Cassie was lying about being fine if she looked at Cassie closely, or with concern, during the meeting.