I've heard a lot of good buzz about HBO's Silicon Valley, so I decided to watch the first two seasons. The concept seems so ripe for humor and outrageous plot, it's gotten solid reviews, and since it's done by Mike Judge—it sounds like a no-brainer. It has to be great, right?
It took me several episodes to buy into the characters, which isn't uncommon. Shows tend to take a bit to find their legs. By midway into season one, I was enjoying it, to a degree.
I did feel like the first two seasons effectively dipped us into this oddball Silicon Valley culture. I never felt burdened by starting the next episode, but wasn't greatly excited about it either.
I think the biggest issue with Silicon Valley is Big Bang Theory. Big Bang is so much better written and cast, Silicon Valley has to pale in comparison.
I laugh out loud more in every single episode of Big Bang than I do in a whole season of Silicon Valley. The Big Bang characters and situations are just funnier by a large magnitude.
That being said, the large story arc of Silicon Valley is interesting, and the characters have a lot of room to develop. We'll see where the showrunners go with it. After a couple episodes of Big Bang Theory, I knew all the major character names and their defining traits. They're all household names now. After two seasons, I couldn't tell you the name of one character on Silicon Valley, and I just watched both seasons in the course of the last few days.
That's a problem.
Nerds are not only ripe for memorable, potential character attributes, they're ripe for humor as well. Silicon Valley's writers should take greater advantage of this. Hopefully, next season, they will.
BBC Culture recently polled 62 international film critics to determine a list of the best American films of all time. The entire 100 film list can be seen HERE. The top ten:
10. The Godfather Part 2 (1974)
9. Casablanca (1942)
8. Psycho (1960)
7. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
6. Sunrise (1927)
5. The Searchers (1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
3. Vertigo (1958)
2. The Godfather (1972)
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
A few interesting notes:
—The Shawshank Redemption, which tops the IMDB Top 250 list, doesn't even appear in the BBC top 100.
--Pulp Fiction only comes in at #28 and Schindler's List at #78, both surprisingly low.
—There are no David Fincher films in the top 100.
My take on the list:
—It's hard to imagine that the following films didn't make the cut: Inception, Fight Club, Se7en, Saving Private Ryan, Reservoir Dogs, Fargo, Platoon, or even Gladiator or The Departed.
—Tree of Life comes in at #79, and would easily be a top 10 film on my list. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is #59, and should be in the top 10 as well.
--The Godfather at #2 and Citizen Kane at #1 are solid choices for the top of the list. They'd both be in my top 10.
--Twelve Angry Men, perhaps the most overrated American film of all time, rightfully doesn't make the list (it currently sits at #6 at IMDB).
—I don't quite understand why so many critics think that Psycho is Hitchcock's best or second best work.
—Even at #9, Casablanca is severely underrated. Should be in the top 3.
Overall, it's a pretty solid list though. I love seeing names like David Lynch and George Romero mixed in with the likes of Wilder, Scorsese, and Welles.
The most underrated America film IMHO:
In the last two weeks, I've watched 45 episodes of 'Game of Thrones.' I've also started reading the first book. When I'm done with Season 5, I'll write a post stating what I like about the show. For now, I'd like to share my favorite scene. Playback is disabled for the embed, but click HERE to watch it, and then continue reading this post. It is the scene where King Joffrey, while sitting on the Iron Throne, asks his grandfather for a report on the meetings of the small council.
What a terrifically written and acted scene. In seven words of dialogue: "We could arrange to have you carried," Tywin Lannister establishes that he is in fact in charge King's Landing (if not all of Westeros), not his grandson, King Joffrey.
This couldn't have been more effectively stated with epic battle scenes or grotesque power plays that lasted episodes. It is powerful and concise, and I can't think of a better way to establish this most important piece of information.
In case you don't know, George R.R. Martin is a brilliant writer. It's not always about the grandness of the scene. Many of the best moments in the history of narrative have been delivered by a simple line of dialogue or description. It's coming up with those rare iconic lines of tremendous meaning that is part of what separates the good writers from the great.
I've mentioned in a previous post how the secret to great writing came into focus for me while working towards my MFA in Creative Writing. The key is that engaging characters are what separate the best narratives from the rest. They're more important than plot or style. It is the characters that we remember.
Recently, I finished the main campaign in Grand Theft Auto 5. The game is one of the most highly rated games of all time and has sold tens of millions of copies, bringing in hundreds of millions in revenue to Rockstar Games. This was expected, as Rockstar has a long history of producing high-quality sandbox games that resonate strongly with gamers.
I really enjoyed the campaign but was struck by something about it. Storywise, it was pretty weak. The plot was simple, unbelievable (which fits the genre), and actually forgettable. But where Rockstar knocked it out of the park was with the characters.
In GTAV, you play three different characters: Michael, Franklin, and Trevor. Each is well developed, unique, and a joy to play. Trevor is one of the most outrageously over-the-top characters in the history of video games. The 45 million or so players that have played GTAV have had enormous fun through these characters, not even realizing or caring that the story was subpar. They will easily forget the plot, but few will ever forget Trevor.
Compare this to Ubisoft's first foray into the genre: Watch Dogs. The game was good, especially for a series launch-game. The story was exceptionally intriguing, but the characters were nominally interesting. Now granted, Rockstar has been doing these types of games for much longer than Ubisoft, and has much bigger budgets to play with. Watch Dogs, at 8.5 million in sales, was a hit. But it wasn't as quite fun as its chief competitor, even though the story was far superior. Part of this was game mechanics, but the majority of it was the difference in character quality.
Characters make all the difference in the world. This goes for writing a novel, a feature film, or a video game campaign. The quality and engagement of the characters is what separates the good from the great. Hence, it is the character creation that should receive the most focus.
This may be the most important writing lesson there is to learn.
(p.s. both games are well worth playing)
I finally released my debut novel, The Wicked Trees, (the Kindle version) on Amazon. It was a long journey to get it finished. You can buy it HERE.
As part of the MFA program that I went through, I had to write the first draft of a thesis novel. I chose to do a coming-of-age ghost story that happened in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan because I felt that writing something familiar would be the way to go with my first novel. I've always been a big fan of theme, and having a teenage adventure story happening in the deep woods naturally lent itself to bigger life issues.
Within the story, the Yooper kids meet a downstate girl and take her on an adventure in search of a rumored haunted mansion deep in the woods. Since there's such a stark difference between the downstate city culture and rural upstate culture in Michigan, it naturally lent itself to a lot of culture-clash drama.
I've been working on rewriting the novel on-and-off for a couple years, and finally finished it a few months ago. After many re-reads and going through the torturous process of formatting it, it was a relief to finally release it. The paperback version will come out soon.
I think that people looking for a good summer adventure read will enjoy it. It certainly was fun writing it. I hope it's the first of many novels to come.