Second Seasons: The Polished Draft

Whilst I sit here, rather hopelessly waiting for my final students to pass in their papers (I don't think it's going to happen, but you never know), I've decided to ponder on the problem of the polished draft.

What I mean by this is that I have occasionally read an old story of mine and been impressed by the energy. I write better plot-lines now and smoother paragraphs and whatnot, but that old story has more verve or wildcard ideas. The first draft, so to speak, is better than the polished, finished product.

How this applies to television: I am currently rewatching the first season of Nero Wolfe, which I love. It still makes me laugh like crazy. Now, I like the second season, I think it has a lot going for it, but the second season doesn't have the same flair or verve or huzpah or somethingness that the first season has.

It isn't that, knowing the characters, the jokes have become old because, as I have mentioned, I can rewatch season 1 and still laugh. Rather, I think Nero Wolfe is an example of the polished syndrome. Season 1 is a hoot, very stylistic, excellent period piece, great acting, snappy dialog, unusual set-up, and everyone loves it so they do season 2, thinking, "We'll give them more of the same, only better" and it kind of falls flat. And I think it's that "only better" that makes the diffference. Because the off-the-cuff, sloppy feeling of the first season (the episodes are cut in the most bizarre fashion) is part of what makes it so fun.

I think this happens quite often. The fans like X or Y or Z or whatever so the producers give them X or Y or Z only better, and it falls flat because X, Y or Z worked in conjunction with something else, not all by its lonesome. For instance, sure, Buffy fans loved Spike, but you can't just have Spike. You've got to have Spike and . . . Unfortunately, sometimes the fans don't realize that they don't really want just Spike, so they clamor for Spike and get Spike but Spike isn't enough, Spike has to be Spike with someone or for some reason. Likewise, the relationship between Archie and Nero is a blast but Archie and Nero for the sake of Archie and Nero simply doesn't work.

Which isn't to say that the second season of Nero Wolfe isn't good; it just lacks a bit of the "wow-za" of the first.

Now, Monk is a show where I think the second and third seasons improved upon the first. I get the impression (I could be wrong) that the producers (of which one if Shalhoub) run a tight ship, by which I mean that the show is meant to be about Monk and it is about Monk and nobody else; all other characters are supporting characters, and there aren't that many: the captain, his lieutenant, Monk's assistant and a kid. This extraordinarily tight casting means that no matter how much the fans like, say, Monk's brother, that doesn't mean he becomes a regular. It also keeps the episodes compact, focusing all the energy on the comedy, rather than developing characterization. It's a one-trick-pony kind of show, but it does its one-trick very, very well and better and better each season.

So I guess the answer is, Ignore the fans. Because you can't satisfy them even when you think you are going to. But don't ignore them completely because, well, they play your wages. Pay attention to them but ignore their suggestions. Something like that.


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