Friday Flix: The Booth at the End

friday flix jae scribblesWoo hoo, Friday’s here! And of course that means another edition of Friday Flix. This week I’m going with another TV series. It’s what I’ve been up to lately, I can’t help it. After posting about Roswell, a few people recommended Xena to me, which I have been watching. But then my friend ninja-texted me to watch this new series The Booth at the End. If you’ve heard of it, it’s probably because you frequent Hulu. If you haven’t, well, it’s a Hulu original series.

The fact that Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are making their own original series was always good news to me. But even better to see that one of them is really, really good. Hollywood and network TV, much like the big dogs of publishing, is losing its power to disruptive technology and I’m glad. That’s not to say I dislike Hollywood completely. They still put out good movies occasionally. And network TV is still very creative. But it sometimes seems a bit stale—as if they’re afraid to take chances on anything that won’t instantly make them $100 billion or more. It’s as though artistic expression has been banished.

Anyway, I thought more about this because all this week people have been talking about Scott Turrow’s frothing-at-the-mouth rant about the old publishing system dying. Is it a really bad thing if the power is dispersed? That means more authors can have their chance at success, and no one’s forcing the change, it’s just happening. Sounds more like America to me. (You can read more about Turrow’s rant on Amal’s and Kristen’s blogs.)

Okay, enough ranting about Big Media. Let’s get back to The Booth. Each season is 5 episodes long and each episode only lasts 23 minutes, but it’s amazing how much story they pack into those 23 minutes. What’s The Booth about? Here’s the description from Hulu:

A mysterious Man sits at a booth at the end of a diner. People approach him because they’ve heard The Man has a gift. He can solve their problems: A parent with a sick child, a woman who wants to be prettier, a nun who has lost her faith. The Man can give these people what they want. For a price. The Man makes a proposition. In exchange for realizing their desires, these individuals must complete a task, return to The Man, and describe every step in detail. The trick is that these tasks are things that would normally be inconceivable to them. But The Man never forces anyone to do anything. It’s always up to the individual to start – or stop. The Booth at the End asks the question: How far would you go to get what you want?

How far would you go to get what you wanted? I have to admit, the first two episodes of this series had me questioning whether I would continue much further. It seemed much too nefarious for my tastes. It’s the third episode that finally brought in the purpose for me—and then I was hooked.

TENSION ON EVERY PAGE

It’s a phrase Donald Maass uses a lot in his How To books about novels. I think this show emulates what that means in a way. Consider the logistics.

  • There’s only one location.
  • Most of the action is recounted.
  • We don’t know the supposed protagonist’s name.
  • We don’t know who/why/what the protagonist is.
  • We only get a few minutes to build sympathy with each client.
  • All we do know is the protagonist can make things happen.

How do you keep people interested in a story like that for 23 minutes, let alone 10 episodes? Tension. Sometimes it’s a simple as will they do the task or won’t they? Often the complexity is in what they’re saying or not saying. Sometimes the tension comes from them figuring out what they want or wondering aloud the things we wonder about the mysterious protagonist.

I don’t know that this kind of story would necessarily work for a novel, at least in the way this medium approaches it. But it’s fascinating to watch, knowing that you’re never going to leave the location and seemingly the protagonist doesn’t really do anything—and yet it still works!

GET THE AUDIENCE TO THINK WITHOUT PREACHING

The show presents a lot of moral choices and the characters considering on them, but it’s not preachy. At least I never felt like it was trying to justify anything to me, just letting people be people (or characters be characters). If there’s one thing I dislike, it’s a story that is preaching to me. Just present me something and let me make up my mind about it. That’s not to say an author can’t have an opinion. An author should! But if you really want to get readers to think about your opinion, present what you believe is truth and leave the hammering preaching out of it.

It works well in The Booth because the protagonist appears to be neutral on the morality of what’s happening, yet he’s very interested in how the people themselves respond to their decisions. We’re left to interpret what we think it means for them and to us. As I watched I realized a lot of what I saw in the show was what I brought with me. As though they were presenting a mirror for me to peer into and see what I really believed about certain instances of morality.

Plus we have lots of complex characters, people who we don’t know for very long but who stay with us long after their episodes have come and gone. The writers do this by giving these characters conflicting desires—a puzzle to be solved. (Those who have read books on tension, especially Maass’ will likely recognize this right away).

I highly recommend this series as a study to those dealing with stories who have unpopular subjects or readers they wish to persuade. I think this can offer some insight on how to extend your circle beyond people who already agree with you.

SUBPLOTS TO MAIN PLOT

The big question is who is the man? But until we get more information for that answer, the writers give us the subplots of those asking the man for help in the meantime. We learn a little more about how the man’s power works and why he’s interested in doing this. Then just as it seems things are starting to get formulaic, they throw us some more clues as to who the man is. Plus they do a nice job of weaving the subplot characters story together, almost as though they’re all moving the story back to the main plot (I say that tongue-in-cheek of course. That’s what subplots should be doing.)

CONCLUSION

It’s a series well-worth watching, even if only for studying the mechanism of story it utilizes. Plus it’s free on Hulu. Also, Psych fans, special appearance by Timothy Omundson! If you watch it, I’d love to hear what you think. Also, if you do love it, spread the word. Let’s see if we can’t convince Hulu to give us a third season.

Or have you already seen The Booth? What did you think? Would you recommend this show? Gain any insights I haven’t explored here? Do you use subplots to help move your story along while the main plot is developing? Have you found excellent techniques for exploring ideas or points without preaching? Let us know below.

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30 thoughts on “Friday Flix: The Booth at the End

  1. Yup, I love Booth at the End! I watched it about a year ago and I just googled this.. they made a Season 2?!? When I watched Season 1 it seemed like they weren’t making any more. And there is going to be a Season 3! I need to go catch up. Have to tell my (former) co-worker who originally introduced it to me. Thanks Jae, you rock!

    • Really, a season 3? I hadn’t heard anything about that yet. But yeah, season 2 is good. A little more info on “the man.” Not tons, mind you. 😉 You’ll love season 2.

    • Seriously, haven’t you gotten those texts that ninja’d everything you were going to do at the time and took over? It was indeed a very sneaky ninja attack, but well worth it. 🙂

  2. The Booth at the End sounds interesting–maybe I’ll take a look if I can find 23 minutes to spare. Blogging using takes up whatever time I have left at the end of the day. As for Big Media, I agree with you. Decentralization is a good thing. It opens up avenues for creativity that wasn’t mainstream enough to get picked up before. It’s very American.

  3. Nooo…don’t recommend any more TV shows! I’m still recovering from the last one!! 😉 Still, this does look very intriguing…

    I think our minds are programmed so we have to know…no one likes a mystery unsolved, so as long as a story can present some sort of mystery in a way that makes us care even the smallest bit about it, we’ll usually keep watching/reading just to find out. I mean, I don’t know anything at all about this show but already I feel like I have to know who The Man is.

    I love subplots! I always try to include a few interwoven in the main plot. I think it’s a good way to get side characters involved in a story and make them feel like they have life outside the page and are active away from the main character, and I think it keeps tension strong during the natural ebb and flow of the main plot.

    • Bwahahaha! I will keep you stuck on Hulu forever! 😉 I love how it’s kind of breaking storytelling rules because the people are “telling” us what they did and yet it’s still very engaging.

      100% agree with subplots. Do you find you have to put them in or do you try and let your characters lead and they almost come out naturally? I’m a little more of the latter although there have been times where I had to really think about subplots to keep things moving.

  4. Good Friday Flix post! The Booth is definitely something that I’d watch, so thanks for introducing me to it. Things like Torchwood and Doctor Who often have those moral decisions and sometimes those hook me more than the main-plot about monsters – I guess ’cause it’s internal conflict playing a big part (’cause people hardly ever actually do things without considering them).

    I reckon the idea could probably work in novel-style. Perhaps. I wouldn’t write it myself (as I’ve discovered through editing, I tend to go preachy, even on the subject of one character saying eg, “love is awesome, and you’re evil for not being loving/compassionate.”), but if written well, I think it would be something I’d read.

    • Awww, Doctor Who. A new Whovian and I are just finishing up the David Tennant years. Matt Smith is a good Doctor, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still not over David. 😥

  5. Don’t forget one of the reasons this is such a great series is that it relies on great writing and performances. I really have not seen anything as consistently good for a long time. Xander Berkeley is SO good in this.

  6. Like you, two episodes in, I remember thinking… I’m going to give it one more chance to grab me and it did!!! I found myself gulping down season one (the remainder of it) in one sitting. Season two, I paced myself and enjoyed it more each time. Now I am an officially addicted the series and truly hope it continues for a while. Though I realize that this one definitely will have a shorter “shelf life” on it than most other series, due to the limited location logistics and the subject matter, but how I hope their timing on ending the series, will be as dynamic as the series itself is. As for the actions of his ‘clients’ not being shown, I find it pretty refreshing to dust off my imagination and view their narrative through my minds eye for a change.

    • Isn’t it awesome? It’s so refreshing to watch a show with such powerful writing. I, like you, hope we at least get a couple more seasons out of it. To be honest, if they keep up this style of writing, I think they could push it to 5 seasons (they’re short seasons anyhow), but I suppose we’ll see. Any word on a 3rd season?

      • I agree that they could easily get 5 seasons. I would love to see more than that, but wouldn’t want them to push it over the edge by trying to go too far with it. I have confidence that the writers won’t do that. But I must admit I will really be sorry to see this one end, however, they have paved the way for an and entirely new way of telling a great “edge of my seat, can’t wait for the next episode” series and I hope the film/TV industry is paying attention. No word on a third season that I can find, but the way they left it, I’m expecting one and I certainly hope we get some definite news soon.

        • I’ve been trying to spread the word with friends and online for everyone to watch the show. It’s all we fans can do.

  7. The writing is superb, characters Re whole although all we know about them is their quandary. No action to speak of, yet incredibly engaging. Masterful story telling indeed! Cannot wait for third season…..wonder if more of The Man will be revealed. We know so precious little about him; is he a angel, a demon, a universal messenger? Who knows And who cares? I am simp,h enthralled and dying for a new season!

    • Nobody knows. You’d think with the success of seasons 1 & 2 it’d be a no brainer for Hulu. I’m not even sure that they’ve filmed a season 3 (at least Xander Berkley’s current IMDB credits don’t list anything, even as in-production). Sorry. 😦

  8. I found this to be a thoroughly engrossing, unsettling, intriguing and superbly acted series… it’s one of best written programs that has hit the screen in a long time. Please Hulu, we want some more!

  9. I just now got hooked on this series. Its fantastic. As soon as I finished season2, I was all over looking for any scrap of news about the prospects for a third season. I did find something at:

    http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/1733356/

    ‘Regarding the prospects for a Booth Season 3, Tanz concluded, “I would love to have a Season 3 launch by next summer.”‘

    So that sounds promising!

  10. I really enjoyed this show and would love to know if they are going to keep going and make a season 3, it is a very different take on tv shows. I find it very entertaining even though it takes place soley in a diner.

    • Agreed. I’m not sure there will be a third season, especially since it’s been awhile in between seasons. They always stop producing the good shows… But we can always keep our fingers crossed something will happen. 🙂

  11. I think they had every good intention in bringing a third season, but for reasons unknown, it fell through. It happens that way. There may have been scheduling conflicts with crew or actors, they may have been a funding issue, or despite what fans are saying around the web….there just wasn’t enough to convince Hulu to air another season……

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