Science Fiction TV Shows Versus SFR Novels

Last year I took up a new activity in connection with the science fiction romance genre, and did a weekly recap of CW’s “The 100” TV show for USA Today/HEA. No, I’m not saying “The 100” is primarily a romance but it does have romantic elements and subplots.  (Warning SPOILERS ahead!)

This summer season I’m recapping both SyFy’s “Killjoys,” which is one of my favorite science fiction programs, and also their “Dark Matter,” which I enjoy but not at the same level of enthusiasm I have for “Killjoys”, for USA Today/HEA . As a romance novelist, not an entertainment reporter, it’s been an interesting exercise to interview various people connected to the shows and to view these three programs at a micro level and really analyze the stories. Again, these aren’t centered on the romance but there are romantic elements present, more so in “Killjoys” with Dutch and D’avin (and maybe John and Pawter, I hear). Although the character Two has an interesting dynamic with One and Three in “Dark Matter” at different points in time…

Before going on, a brief synopsis for each show, done by me as a fan viewer, really summarizing to a high level:

“The 100” – post apocalyptic drama set on Earth in season three, after the residents of the Space Station (or Ark) crash landed in season one.  There are low tech people left on Earth, survivors of the Apocalypse, known as the Grounders, who take exception to the newcomers assuming the place is theirs for the taking. There were also high tech survivors – not a nice crowd – in a facility known as Weather Mountain, who pretty much got decimated in season two, with repercussions continuing in season three. And there was an Artificial Intelligence known as ALIE, who did a good job of turning everyone into a pod person for most of season three, in pursuit of her evil plans. Primary ongoing characters included  Clarke, Bellamy, Octavia, Raven and Murphy, all of whom got sent or came to Earth in season one.

“Killjoys” – The plot revolves around three space-going bounty hunters, featuring Dutch, the totally kickass woman who leads the team, and two brothers, John and D’Avin. In season one, a great deal of complicated and intriguing history was revealed for each of the main characters, culminating in a cliffhanger season ending, with D’Avin kidnapped and Dutch and John vowing to find and rescue him. Set in a highly detailed, mulitplanet system known as the Quad, the show also features a diverse cast of well-drawn supporting characters.

“Dark Matter” – six diverse, tough characters who started season one waking up on a ship together with no memories of who they were, turn out to be highly skilled mercenaries (well, with a few exceptions – Five is a teenager and One might not be who he seems to be). They band together trying to figure out a way through their dangerous world and who they want to be. There’s also the Android, linked to their ship the Raza, who developed a lot of personality of her own over season one. At the end of the season they’d been betrayed by one of their tight knit group and now as season two begins, they’re all having to deal with the fallout.

The first thing I discovered about doing recaps, when I was covering “The 100”  – you can’t just sit and watch the show and munch chips and then write up a synopsis and go off to bed. Or at least I couldn’t! I felt if I was going to do this, I had to bring something extra to the article, insights and details and theorizing based on a really close viewing. So I watch each program with a pad of paper and a pen and scribble notes constantly. I usually rewatch the show in whole or in part again the next morning on Amazon video, to check things I might have missed, before I post my column.

As Michelle Lovretta, creator of “Killjoys” said in a recent interview I had the pleasure of doing with her for USA Today/HEA, “Nothing is accidental.”

I always felt that a TV show is so pressed for time to tell the story, that if the camera lingers on something for a moment – Bellamy’s favorite book in “The 100” or some odd apparatus in Pawter’s medical cabinet in “Killjoys,” there’s a reason and it may either be a clue to the overall plot of the show, or a foreshadowing of things to come. With “The 100,” I’d go off and research these things after the episode because they tended to be more subtle clues than plot indicators, whereas in “Killjoys,” we have definite foreshadowing going on. I love hunting these down, kind of like Easter eggs in movies. In novels we do foreshadowing and have informal rules – if the author takes time to describe a knife in Chapter One, someone had better get stabbed with it later, you know?

I haven’t seen much of that on “Dark Matter’, although they do refer back to subplot elements in later episodes. I think part of the challenge here may be that the characters didn’t know their own backstories! And there was a necklace, for example, that had special significance in the first episode and later to the character of One.

When it comes to secondary characters, each show is different. In “The 100,” I personally felt as if the cast was there to get ‘used up’ on a specific storyline and then disappear, usually by dying. Moving on! This enabled the showrunner and writers to carry off some shocking, controversial deaths that I’m not going to discuss here, but as a viewer who’d get attached to these people and cared about them, I was ANNOYED. Extremely upset in some cases (Lincoln), beyond upset in others (Lexa). It got to where everyone but maybe Clarke and Bellamy felt disposable to me, and at risk.

“Killjoys” has a rich cast of supporting characters, who inhabit the Quad universe and add depth to the story telling.  In our interview for USA Today/HEA Michelle said ‘…in season two she’s able to “allow them a place at the table as a bigger part of the extended family.” She explained that she enjoys bringing in secondary characters and guest stars and seeing how it works out, then possibly bringing them back for later scenes or future episodes.’  The season two premiere featured a new character, Clara, a “hack mod”  with a cybernetic arm named Alice. She came and went in the course of the first show, but I’m hoping we might see her again because going by the twitter traffic (and my own reaction) Clara was crazy popular.

“Dark Matter” tends to focus pretty closely on the six crew members and the Android, although now in season two they have introduced two new supporting characters, Nyx and Devon. My understanding is that these additions will have interesting interactions with the existing people and lead to some new story twists. And other people do appear, like the agent who books the Raza crew on mercenary jobs, but not as pivotal and certainly not fleshed out with their own backstory.

In romance novels we typically have a supporting cast, not usually too unwieldy in number, because our focus is on the main characters and their journey together through the adventure and the romance to the HEA or HFN. Also, often a secondary character will end up having his or her own book in the series later. That doesn’t happen as often with TV shows, given the logistics and costs of mounting a new production, not to mention the intense competition for those scarce time slots. Maybe a supporting character will get one episode to shine extra brightly.

Looking at the television industry as an outsider, I think the main difference between what I do as a science fiction romance novelist  and what the showrunners/writers of an SF TV show do, when it comes to the story (obviously they have a whole slew of responsibilities I can’t even imagine!) is that my whole goal is to tell a complete story, beginning to end, and stop when the couple has reached their HEA or HFN. I might write a sequel later with further adventures for them, but I’m more likely to write a story centered on someone who was the sidekick or the friend in the first book. See my Star Cruise: Marooned, followed by Star Cruise: Outbreak.

For the TV show, which its creators usually hope will be on the air for years, with the same basic cast of characters, a permanent resolution of the major plot and happy ending is more of a problem than anything else, despite what we as viewers may say we want. If the adventure and the romance are finished and life has settled into daily bliss, where’s the reason to tune in every week, you know? Wouldn’t we move on to someone else’s show, where things aren’t settled and new adventures beckon?

I never got to interview anyone connected with “The 100” but I did attend their panel at WonderCon this year and here’s an excerpt from the recap on my personal blog, as far as what Jason Rothenberg, the showrunner,  shared:  ‘…he needs “to be aware of the power of the story he’s telling” and how the audience is experiencing it. He indicated that they will try to apply these thoughts to the newly approved Season 4 and mentioned more than once that he plans to “be more careful” on social media, in the context of creating fan expectations, I believe…’ His remarks that day left the distinct impression in my mind that he and the writers were so excited about the story they’d created for season 3 that they never considered (or failed to consider enough maybe?) how the viewers would react to the various character deaths.

Michelle Lovretta and I discussed that a bit in the USA Today/HEA interview, how in the old style episodic TV shows, all plot points were usually resolved in an hour and then next week’s episode moved on from there, as if the previous episode had never happened. To quote my interview: “Michelle said some elements of the “Killjoys” episodes in season two wrap up tight, vs. threads that may run the entire season. And she also shared that early in the concept stage for the first season of the show, she knew episode 10 would create a ‘story debt’ and that she felt honor bound to answer the mysteries raised in the season one finale by the end of season two. She said some of these answers will be provided in surprising ways, and new questions will arise.”

I haven’t interviewed the showrunners for “Dark Matter” but in two group interviews the actors indicated season two would have surprises at least equal to the ones seen in season one. Sounds promising!

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