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TV Smart Guys Should Be Written By The Same…

One of the breakout series of the just finished television season is Castle. One of the breakout series of the last few seasons of television is Burn Notice. What’s the difference between the two?

Castle is the story of a celebrity mystery writer that tags along on real police cases under the guise of doing research for a series of books. It has some fine character work and relies on some black humor and a Moonlighting-like romantic chemestry between the leads. What it doesn’t have is smart plots or mysteries that stump the audience. (Even for a moment.) The smartest guy in the room really doesn’t appear to earn that title.

Burn Notice features an ex-covert-op stuck in Miami for reasons unknown, kinda like The Prisoner. While he tries to unravel the increasingly intricate story behind his situation he helps people in trouble, kinda like The Equalizer. His narration dispenses knowledge of how to do covert-ops type stuff with readily available materials. Kinda like updated versions of The Poor Man’s James Bond or The Anarchist’s Cookbook. These asides make him definitely feel like the man for any particular job.

While Burn Notice is not the pinnacle of smart writing, it’s at least a consistent example of how not to let your characters become embarassed. For whatever reason, TV characters that should know better, don’t.

This is disheartening in that television is the last bastion for most clever writers. Here they are the movers and shakers and constantly rise to positions such as show runner. (Just the opposite of how they’re treated in film.) Apparently forever gone are the days when you could watch a battle of intellects on something like Columbo. (Hell, at this point I’d settle for any Mystery Movie characters, even McCloud.)

So really, if you’re not prepared to do the research of at least Burn Notice level, then don’t make your characters some kind of borderline geniuses. (And stop casting people we’ve seen in countless shows in some bit part and expect us to be surprised when the reveal is that they’re the baddie.) It’s just depressing to figure things out by the first or second commercial break.

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