Woo 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.)
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.