television

The "Twilight Zone" Reboot Has One Major Problem: Its Runtime by Keith LaFountaine

I will preface this by saying that, while The Twilight Zone is one of my favorite television shows of all time, it was not a perfect show by any means. While it had game-changing episodes, biting social commentary, and a wild imagination driven by its incredibly talented writers and directors, it also had its fair share of duds - episodes that didn’t work for one reason or another, writing that would get overly preachy, or episodes that feel astonishingly antiquated upon rewatches.

The Twilight Zone reboot, developed by Jordan Peele and Marco Ramirez and hosted by Peele, will run into this issue as well. it’s the nature of creating an anthology series. However, it has one major issue that it is currently struggling with, even just two episodes in, and it’s one that hurt the original series during its initial run: an overly long runtime.

“Death Ship”, Season 4, Episode 6

“Death Ship”, Season 4, Episode 6

The Twilight Zone, for four out of its five seasons, was a 20 minute show (excluding commercials). It was lean, and that helped spur some of its storytelling. Writers didn’t have the opportunity to spin their wheels; they had 20 script pages to set up a beginning, a middle, a twist, and a resolution. And, as I mentioned before, this worked with varying success. Some episodes, like “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” greatly benefited from this truncated runtime, while others, like “The Big Tall Wish” suffered because of it.

On the verge of cancellation after season 3, The Twilight Zone was pushed into the time slot of a show that had been cancelled — a time slot that was an hour long. Therefore, the show was amended to deliver hour-long episodes. The result, save for a few exceptions (like “Death Ship”, pictured above), was a lot of slow, plodding episodes that felt padded to fill an arbitrary runtime.

Times have changed, and audiences in 2019 are much more accustomed to 1-hour long episodes than they were in 1963. However, the Twilight Zone formula — which Peele keeps largely intact from the original series — has not progressed with the times. “The Comedian”, available to watch above, feels especially long, clocking in at a whopping 55 minutes. And while there is some especially good stuff in there (including a great performance from Kumail Nanjiani), I started checking my phone at the 20 minute mark. The concept is good, but after it’s introduced we get 25 minutes of repetition, dragging down both the quality and my enjoyment of the episode.

The second episode that has been released — “Nightmare At 30,000 Feet” — struggles in the same way. With a runtime of 37 minutes, it’s not as long as the preceding episode, but it still feels like it could have been shortened in some way. Again, it starts off with promise (starting in a similar place as the original episode, but then taking an exciting, modern turn) but then spins its wheels over the same basic conflicts to the point of mundanity.

What is the result of these longer runtimes, besides languid pacing? The twist endings don’t feel as enjoyable and mind-boggling as they should. “Nightmare At 30,000 Feet” is the perfect example of this. By the time the twist is revealed the viewer has either already guessed it or is underwhelmed by it. The same can be said of “The Comedian”, though that episode doesn’t really operate with a “twist”, more with poeticism.

As I said, there are going to be some growing pains for this reboot. It’s natural — it was a part of the original show’s lifespan, and it will be a part of this one’s, too. However, I think if this reboot sticks with its 40-60 minute runtime it is going to suffer for it. There is a reason the original series switched back to a 20-minute time slot as soon as it could: as good as the writing, direction, and acting was these concepts were conceived with more vigor and passion when under the constraints of a shorter runtime.

I could be proven wrong — maybe these two episodes were just duds, and we will see many masterpieces in the future. I hope that Peele’s reimagining sticks around; nowadays, more than ever, we need a show like The Twilight Zone. However, if there is one major barrier that the show is going to face, in my opinion, it is its runtime.

Netflix's "Queer Eye" Is the Perfect Feel-Good Reality Show for Everyone by Keith LaFountaine

I am not someone who tends to enjoy reality shows. Except for the occasional Gordon Ramsay show or old re-runs of Ghost Hunters that I watched when I was a kid, I tend not to watch any reality television simply because I don’t tend to like it. The main reason I dislike reality television is because it feels fake. As a filmmaker, I can tell when emotion is being elicited or edited in, rather than organically integrated. American television is especially guilty of this.

Yet here I am, about to praise and laud a reality show for being both honest and realistic.

Queer Eye is not the kind of show I would seek out on my own. When I was introduced to it by my girlfriend and our friends I was initially skeptical. After all, I don’t like reality television and I really don’t like makeover shows — they’re just not my thing. Yet Queer Eye approaches these genres with a fresh eye and an exciting amount of energy that makes it infectious to watch and impossible to skip. While it adheres to a specific episodic formula (as most reality television does) every episode is imbued with its own personality, often based on the subject the Fab 5 are tasked with assisting.

Most importantly, what helps set Queer Eye apart from other reality shows, and other television currently airing, is its genuine heart and the five affable men who star in the show. Whether they’re helping an older guy who likes making redneck margaritas and going to car shows, or helping a trans man become more confident after his top surgery, they approach each person with honest endearment and affable joy, so much so that it is compelling and heartwarming.

That’s a core part of what helps make Queer Eye a great show for all kinds of people, no matter where on the sexuality spectrum you find yourself. Every member of the Fab 5 brings a unique perspective to each episode and to each person, elevating the show above the typical “reality show” feel and injecting heart and engaging humor in a genre that is often lacking both of those qualities. More importantly, each member of the Fab 5 is drastically different and unique — and did I mention they are all genuinely friendly and loving? I’m actually speaking from personal experience here: I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Antoni Porowski before an event at a local college, and he is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I have ever met.

Queer Eye.jpg

I think if I was going to come to a general thesis of this blog post, it would be simple: Queer Eye and its team uses the reality television formula and aesthetic to communicate the love, joy, and happiness they want to spread into the world. That’s part of what helps separate it from other shows in its genre; it’s not trying to use misleading editing to create drama, nor is it listless and devoid of meaning — far from it. Rather, Queer Eye (which only releases 8 episodes a season) approaches every person without judgment and with the sincere desire to help. In a time where cynicism seems to be around every corner, that kind of optimism is desperately needed.

In an early interview, after the first season dropped on Netflix, the Fab 5 did an interview (which I will link below) where they discussed both the show and their approach to it. Tan, the fashion perspective on the show, brought up an interesting point that gets at the heart of what I’m trying to say (it starts at 0:53 for those who are interested in watching).

The original show was fighting for tolerance, and it was different to our show because of this: the original show, it was at a time when the audience wasn’t ready to hear about the intimate lives. They wanted the glossy version of what gays are, and that’s all that America was ready for. That’s all the world was ready for. Times have changed. We don’t want you to just think that we’re a bunch of gay guys who can make something pretty - that’s not the case anymore...We want you to accept us as your kin. We want you to accept us as the people we are. We are just men who are out to help, and do the best we can to help everybody that we meet.
— Tan, FOX 5 DC Interview

No matter what your sexual identity or orientation is, I can confidently say you should give Queer Eye a shot.

More important than that, though, I can promise you that you will not find a more enjoyable, uplifting, wholesome, or optimistic show on television right now. The lengths that this team goes to to make both the heroes (as they affectionately dub the folks they help) and the fans they meet happy and feel loved is unlike anything I have seen on television before. It’s something everyone can connect to, whether you are straight, gay, bi, trans, asexual, or anywhere in-between on the sexuality spectrum.

Give it a shot. Watch an episode or two. I have a sneaking suspicion that you won’t be able to stop, just like I wasn’t able to.

Bates Motel Is One of the Most Important Modern TV Shows Ever Made by Keith LaFountaine

Season 5 of Bates Motel recently arrived on Netflix. I had missed its original run last year and I had been eagerly awaiting its arrival on the streaming platform so I could finish up this very surprising, very good show.

I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that the fifth season of this show cements it (in my mind, at least) as one of the most important modern TV shows ever created.

For those who are unaware, Bates Motel is a prequel of sorts to the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, Psycho. It follows a young Norman Bates as he and his mother, Norma, move to the small town of White Pine Bay and establish the Bates Motel -- a rather seedy motel off the highway.

Hitchcock's original film is incredible for a number of reasons (seriously, if you haven't seen it you need to), but one of its main draws is the huge twist. Marion Crane, the main character for half of the film, is killed off in one of the most memorable sequences of all time (while it seems tame nowadays in terms of violence, this scene caused people to faint in the theater). So, as you can imagine, setting up the characters before this event is like setting a stopwatch and waiting for it to tick down to completion.

To be quite fair, I spent the better part of three seasons waiting to see how the show was going to carefully move its chess pieces to give us this incredibly pivotal scene in the film. But, much like the series itself, it sometimes does what we're expecting it to do, but not exactly how we're expecting it to do it.

This happens mainly in seasons four and five. I won't get into spoilers here, however there are a number of pivotal moments that occur differently than the backstory that was developed. At first I was confused about why these changes were made. And then it made sense.

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Bates Motel is important because it isn't connected to the Psycho universe. I mean, sure it shares some of the same characters, similar settings, and even some similar cinematography at times. However, this show is much more inspired by the original film than making a prequel of it.

The difference is important. If this were just a prequel then my stopwatch analogy would be applicable -- we would spend the entire run of the show waiting for the other shoe to drop (the other shoe here being Marion's shower scene). But with Bates Motel the plot, and even some of the characters, aren't that important. It takes its own path, taking inspiration from the source material to create something new and original from it.

Because the writers decided to do this, we got some incredible new characters: Dylan, Sheriff Romero, Emma, Chick, Caleb, etc. Not only that, I had no idea going into this final season who was going to live and who was going to die. I had my suspicions (slight spoilers: this is the season that deals with the aforementioned shower scene), but I was continually surprised again and again until the shocking ending.

Bates Motel is important because it took one of the most iconic pieces of entertainment ever created and put it aside. It took the pieces it wanted from it, but -- at the end of the day -- it became its own entity. This world of White Pine Bay, of Norman and Dylan's sibling relationship, of the Twin Peaks-esque nature of the small town paid homage to the film without dipping overboard into prequel territory. I respect that.

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In a decade where producers of film and television are more concerned with creating franchises, prequels, and sequels (and in the age of television where some producers are milking a show for everything it has -- *cough* Walking Dead *cough*) its amazing to see a show that so boldly does its own thing.

Bates Motel isn't perfect. It's first couple seasons are more interested in the town of White Pine Bay than in the Norman Bates story, but this dedication to world building and character development really pays off in the climax of the series in surprising ways. It's for this reason that I confidently say it's one of the most important modern TV shows ever created.