Hey, where’d the apes go? They escaped from today’s post!
So I watched the “Alcatraz”: pilot and it’s…okay. Fun idea, some good actors (not counting the too-cute lead), zippy execution… but it doesn’t add up to anything. Whenever I find myself watching something like this and wondering why it’s not as interesting as it should be, I take a step back and ask myself, “Okay, what exactly is the metaphor here?”
“Alcatraz,” I suspect, will never work because it’s not really a metaphor for anything. Compare this to the previous J.J. Abrams Jorge Garcia show about an island, “Lost”, where the “island as redemption” metaphor was quickly established.
Now let me be the first to admit: not every fan feels this way about genre shows. Some just enjoy the genre trappings and they could care less what it all means. I was a big fan of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” but quickly lost interest in its spin-off “Angel”. “Buffy” created an extremely rich and flexible metaphor for high-school, coming-of-age, sex, betrayal, empowerment… and almost any other topic the creators wanted to cover, but “Angel” never found its metaphor...At first, it seemed like it might be a metaphor for addiction and recovery, which might have worked, but “Buffy” had already given Angel an epic relapse and redemption arc, which pretty must used up that material, leaving the spinoff with nowhere to go. Ultimately, “Angel” was about a vampire private detective fighting the minions of a vampire law-firm. Huh? What does that mean?
But many fans loved “Angel” anyway. The show had some fun horror plots and charming characters. Why nitpick it? The problem, to my mind, was the law of diminishing returns. Once “Angel” de-coupled itself from the rich vein of meaning that underlay “Buffy”, it could keep pleasing old fans, but it wasn’t likely to earn any new fans.
Fans don’t need a lot of metaphorical meaning in order to keep watching, but they do need it to fall in love in the first place. “Angel” was a perfectly-acceptable continuation of the “Buffy” universe, but it never found its own metaphor, so it could only be a moon reflecting the light of Buffy’s sun.
To work on its own, “Angel” would have had to start over from scratch with a new metaphor. We’ll get to how to do that tomorrow... (Can you guess which movie will be our example?)