Wednesday, September 10, 2014

LEGENDS: "Pilot" -- Story vs. Character

There's a reason my personal tagline as a writer is: "Write Time. Write Place. Write Story." These days many of the TV and filmmakers in Hollywood become so lost making sure their scenes are action-packed that they neglect to tell a story worth watching.

With the new Sean Bean starrer, LEGENDS, I've spotted a new problem -- one in which story takes precedence over all... including character development. 

An even bigger problem is that the story being told in LEGENDS doesn't feel even remotely new or original. The scenes feel canned, as if they could've been lifted out of any action script. Because no character in the show has any real depth -- even Sean Bean's leading role. 

Now on one level that's perfectly understandable. The show's premise is based on the idea that Bean's Martin Odum doesn't know who he is. So, it stands to reason that his character should feel slippery, indistinct. 

But it doesn't. It feels flat, and that has nothing to do with Bean's acting, which is stellar. 

It's because he's got nothing to work with. The scenes are all just a flat telling of story and back story. There's no depth in them designed to reveal character. 

Not even the settings do anything to reveal character, they seem arbitrary. Like Odum's brief foray into Chinatown for groceries or the random piano in his barren apartment -- they don't seem to do anything to reveal his character, the scenes could've taken place in any setting.

What little we get to develop the characters is actually told to us, rather than shown. For example, in the pilot we meet Tina Majorino's character Maggie Harris, but her introduction serves only to reveal the back story explaining away Bean's British accent since he's playing an American agent.

The only character that IS fully developed is Bean's cover ID Lincoln Dittmann, who's again revealed through telling as he fills his team in on the character he's playing so that they can create a paper trail for him.

The whole pilot episode suffers from being too Sean Bean-centric. True, he's the star and the intended (but not achieved) complexity of his character needs careful attention as the multiple IDs could potentially get confusing, but this episode just hammers you over the head with it.

This is especially evident in the command center scenes. The other characters just sit back and watch Sean Bean play through the script's minimal action on their big screen. This detail is particularly irritating, because the whole premise of the story is that Bean's Martin Odum is an especially talented deep cover agent. And it makes no sense that a deep cover agent would have that heavy of surveillance on him and not get caught/found out.

Watching the episode, it feels like it's still in the first draft stage, where they're still hammering out what to reveal when, and it seems the writers had such a hard time figuring that out, they didn't have time to add the layers to the script that make a story worth following.

To add further insult to injury, the writers do nothing more with the Crystal McGuire character (played by the talented Ali Larter), other than have her pretend to be a stripper just to pass Odum some information while he's out in the field. A concept that makes no sense because if he's wearing the equipment that makes it possible for his watching surveillance team to hear him, then why wouldn't he be wearing something that allowed him to hear them?

All in all, I still have hopes for the show, as the cast is of the highest quality. If only they had some fully-developed characters to work with... and the scripts didn't feel quite so amateur. 

Perhaps they should get some writing lessons from those who craft the scripts for the network-equivalent SUITS or GRACELAND. Even the frothy, risqué FRANKLIN & BASH scripts are better than the LEGENDS pilot and those episodes are meant to be simple, lighthearted fun.

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