Podzilla 1985

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Do First-Person Shooters and Multi-Camera Sitcoms Have In Common?


Oh it’s something, man. Don’t say it’s nothing because it’s something.
Both of these are relatively old genres in their respective mediums. Both of these are accessible and popular genres in their respective mediums. But there's more to it.

There’s a commonly held belief, a belief that I can only cite through hearsay but common nonetheless, that both first person shooters and multi-camera sitcoms have become stale and formulaic. I’m of course speaking about cynics on the internet, which tend to be a loud minority, but they’re loud enough to be heard nonetheless.  

Some might not see “formulaic” as a bad thing. Does it really hinder one’s enjoyment of an installment of one of these things? Not necessarily.
For example, the formula for multi-camera sitcoms tends to revolve around a conflict arising causing the main character(s) to have to find a creative solution or scheme their way around it. Fake laughs sometimes ensue. But the genre tends to recycle situations and jokes. Is this bad? Not necessarily, unless you partake so regularly that you get tired of the same ol’ same ol’.

Just spend some time on Tvtropes.com and you’ll see.

As for FPSs, the complaints tend to stem from the idea that for the most part, the average FPS doesn’t let you do anything but run around, point your crosshairs and shoot lots of enemies. Also that the stories are cookie cutter and shallow, merely existing to take your crosshairs from point A to point B.

I mentioned earlier that they are accessible and popular genres. It’s very true. Some might say, the cynic on the internet of course,  they appeal to the lowest common denominator, and that’s what makes them popular. The idea that you don’t have to think, either you point your gun and shoot or you laugh when you hear the laughs out of your TV box. 

That’s a very simplistic, condescending view IMO, but I’ve heard it often either way. 
I don’t think it’s the genres themselves that are to blame for any staleness. I mean, just because a game is in first-person doesn’t mean you can’t play around with the mechanics. 
Just because a show is a traditional sitcom, doesn’t mean the writing has to be cliché. It seems like the critiques are about genres that are viewed from a specific perspective. 
For example, Mirror’s Edge is a game in first-person, yet it takes an original approach by changing the mechanics, letting the shooting take a backseat, and focusing on free-running. 

If I had a huge arsenal, I wouldn't have to run away from everything.


Bioshock played around with the mechanics and gave you some special abilities that you could use in combination, like firing lighting at someone standing in water then shooting them to finish them off.
I SO wanna shoot lighting at that Bizzaro Donnie Darko rabbit
The Resistance series got creative with your arsenal and even went “old-school” by making you use health packs to regain life, thus setting itself apart from the average shooter that gives you regenerating health.  
If only had a weapon that could fire through walls...HEY, wait a minute!
In other words, with FPSs, playing around with the mechanics can set you apart.

With multi-camera sitcoms, the examples are of a more subtle nature as it’s not about action but rather writing and attempting originality. Seinfeld was considered groundbreaking at the time for doing away with what was considered the clichés of the genre. The characters didn’t learn lessons at the end of an episode, multiple stories at a time, that kind of thing. They were playing with the format and it changed the way sitcoms were approached.

Look at Michael Richards then. Blissfully unaware of his future.

The show King Of Queens, while still very traditional in it’s approach, didn’t quite FEEL “been there done that” to me. Yes it had a scheming, bumbling, fat husband married to a clearly out-of-his-league woman a la’ The Honeymooners, but it’s stories and jokes didn’t seem cliche’.
Nice work Doug!
A more recent and current example, How I Met Your Mother, does some fantastic things with continuity to reward longtime viewers and to me feels like a pretty decent blending of multi-camera and single-camera comedies. It also seems to feel relatively original in it’s story telling.
"The writers are over there, let's just go ask why present Ted doesn't voice future Ted"

Let’s look at two examples of current, popular sitcoms that are often criticized by the cynical internet army for being shallow appeals to the lowest common denominator. And they’re both from the same creator, Chuck Lorre. Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

Two and a Half Men, while I’ve enjoyed on occasion, seems to easily be the more formulaic of the two. I haven’t seen in since Ashton Kutcher joined, but when Charlie Sheen was there, you could always count on easy sex jokes. Sure, I’m being very simplistic about it but speaking in general, it’s an example of the accessibility approach to sitcoms. The characters don’t really change. It’s a show for people who don’t necessarily want to invest and can jump in when they get off work for some laughs to wind down. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you understand what the show-runners want. Just don’t expect much in way of awards other than performance awards. (Interestingly enough, in the first season it seemed like they were setting up some character change for Charlie having to spend time with his nephew…of course they threw that out the window quickly)
"Charlie, you can't have sex with this bowl of fruit." "I already did." MEEENNN

Then there’s The Big Bang Theory. Admittedly, I enjoy this show much more than Two and a Half Men, if only for the more likeable characters and occasional truly geeky reference. I say “truly” because the show is somewhat marketed as a show for “nerds” or “geeks”. But it’s more of a show ABOUT “nerds” or “geeks” for a mainstream audience. The references tend to be relatively shallow as to not polarize the mainstream audience. “They’re talking about Mario, I know what that is!” It’s not quite the “show for geeks” they might want you to think it is.  It’s formulaic in a different way than Men is. You can count on jokes about social awkwardness as opposed to sex and the larger main cast keeps it from harping on the same jokes in a small window of time. But again, very little if any character change and easy to just turn on and watch one evening. 
You'd think a show in which the cast all dress as The Flash would be my favorite, but it's not.

The point is, those are two examples that are cited regularly as stale and formulaic.
The guy seems to make shows that follow the traditional sitcom formula and not necessarily thinking outside the box.
Accessibility obviously leads to popularity. More people CAN partake and enjoy. Whether or not you see this as an appeal to the lowest common denominator is a matter of perspective. Whether or not you personally see something as stale or formulaic seems to depend on how MUCH of something in a genre you partake in. If you play every Call Of Duty, you may get tired of it and want to see change. If you play one Madden(Not a FPS I know) game, you may very well be ready for another a couple years later regardless of whether they’ve made changes.

Now I’m thinking real hard about whether I had a point here or whether I was just writing to write.
I guess you have to ask yourself, do you believe something being formulaic is a bad thing? Is this all really about perspective? I understand the point of easily accessible things. To get viewers, buyers, make money, etc. Just because something is part of “the arts”, doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be a service to a wide audience. Some things are made with an artistic vision in mind, others are pure entertainment. A lot of people get home from work and enjoy episodes of Two And A Half Men to relax. I may do the same thing with Seinfeld. One may be more critically acclaimed, but they both served the same purpose to the viewer.(though I’m not going to specifically defend your guffawing at sophomoric sex jokes all the time)
Maybe I’m more understanding of it then some angry internet guy because I “get it”.

So let’s all pretend my point here was that “formulaic” isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that not every existing thing in the entertainment industry is aimed at you…ya self-centered jerk!
(There, now these chumps will think I had this planned out ALL along.)
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