Watched my third and final episode of Haven tonight. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the show, but there’s nothing much right with it either. It just seems like something I’ve seen before, and while it’s not a bad show, I can’t really get into it.
The story is about a town where special people live. (Sanctuary meets Eureka). The people aren’t bad, but there was a time of “troubles” when the special people were persecuted for their specialness. (X-Men). And a pair of investigtors do their best to puzzle out the mysteries that pop up ever week. (X-Files or just about any cop show out there.)
But everything is a cliche if you take it in broad strokes. What really hurts Haven is the execution. With only three episodes, I’ve seen three stories I’ve seen elsewhere already. The first was about a woman whose emotional state controlled the weather. Saw that on the X-Files. The second was about a kid who had the unconcsious ability to manipulate reality with his dreams. Saw that in a Buffy episode and felt an awful lot like a replay of the first episode of Haven in terms of story beats. The third episode is about inexplicable rage seizing people. This was the same plot that was just on the episode of Eureka the very same night, in the hour before Haven came on.
If I’d never seen or read any urban fantasy story then maybe Haven would have something new to offer me. As it is, it’s just thoroughly unremarkable. While I don’t hate it, I can’t imagine going out of my way to see it. And in the 80′s, when viewing choices were a lot more limited, I might have even watched it. But this is the future, and I can watch pretty much anything I want when I want.
I think the problem isn’t with Haven itself, but with the entire genre. I think urban fantasy on television is a dead end. It’s hard to do anything new. All of Syfy’s original programming just seems like a variation of something I’ve seen too many times before.
I feel like the guy watching the end of the Western. It’s not that Westerns are completely dead, but there’s almost nothing new to be done. The beats have been so thoroughly explored that anyone familiar with the genre can predict nearly everything that’s going to happen.
I think urban fantasy is experiencing the same problem. It’s great that the genre is flourishing to some degree, but what was once special, seems commonplace, predictable. I love fantasy / sci fi for the unexpected and new, but the limitations of television and the tapped out nature of the genre makes this more difficult than ever. There are still interesting shows out there. True Blood comes to mind. Although I don’t know if the show really does anything that different as much as get that extra edge that comes from being on HBO and being very well produced.
(But even HBO’s brand of boobs, swearing, and gratuitious sex has become cliched to some degree.)
I’m not suggesting that the genre is dead. Not yet. It can go on a long, long time the way it is. People like predictable things. Predictable things allow people to feel smart. And we don’t necessarily watch TV shows for the stories. We watch for the characters we like, the payoff of seeing a recurring story play out, even if those stories are by-the-numbers.
(If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a show with a pair of mixed gender, unattached protagonists that you didn’t automatically assume they were going to hook up at some point? Heck, Scully and Mulder never made a damn bit of sense as a couple, but that didn’t matter because, who gives a damn about their personalities? They’re the leads. They fall in love. End of story.)
And I don’t want to act as if I have any answers, even if I turn out to be right. Because if you were to ask me how to save the genre, I’d say honestly that I don’t have a clue. And I’m not even sure the genre needs saving. I am not the audience obviously. I don’t even read much fiction, fantasy or otherwise, and I don’t watch much TV. So maybe I’m the wrong guy to bring this up.
I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong once or twice before. People do seem to enjoy their generic Twilight vampires and by the book Towns with a secret! And given the limitations of TV production, the urban fantasy genre probably isn’t going anywhere. It’s a great way to bring fantasy to the small screen on a reasonable budget. Something like John Carter of Mars might make an awesome TV show, but it’d be impossible to produce without robbing it of all the wonderful fantasy elements.
But I’ll admit that I might just be the odd man out on this one. Perhaps I’m just a crank. Or maybe I’m a prophet, a seer into the strange, inevitable future. Ignore me at your peril. Or not.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,