June 03, 2013

The negative aesthetic

As Eric Samuelsen observes in his review, Granite Flats seems

defined by what's essentially a negative aesthetic. By insisting on creating an entertainment that doesn't have certain elements, they haven't really defined what they want to do instead.

One reason Granite Flats is a period piece set in the early 1960s, we're told in the "making of" segment, is because back then there wasn't all that nasty sex and swearing. But having donned heavy-duty blinders to shield us from such social misdemeanors, they left the barn doors wide open for a herd of felonies to stampede down Main Street.

There is a wholesome story buried in Granite Flats, about inventive kids working together to solve a puzzle using science and brain power.

But instead we're shown (repeatedly) that small town America is full of drunks, jerks, bullies, and thieves, everybody lies, the FBI can steal stuff from you without a warrant, the military can't be trusted (and certainly not when it comes to criminal due process), and the CIA wants to fry your brain. Not exactly "seeing the good in the world."

Even when it comes to "traditional family values," Granite Flats turns into a weird outlier.

Police Chief John Sanders is the only principal character with a "traditional" family. Arthur's dad is dead. Wallace's mother either divorced his dad or ran off (or both). Madeline's wackadoodle parents (a 1960's version of Sheldon and Amy from Big Bang Theory) both work and let her do whatever she wants so as not to "stifle her creativity."

These two characters could have been a lot of fun, but Madeline's parents present the same moral conundrum as the incompetent JAG lawyer previously mentioned: as hard as they are to take seriously, it's more difficult to see the point of the humor. Because in-between the sit-com moments, they engage in pointedly unethical behavior.

To give him credit, the pastor only lies once. Or twice. He's just ineffectual. He isn't married either, and I'd swear that in every scene with Beth, he's two seconds away from hitting on her.

I don't doubt that, aside from Jay Leno, Clint Eastwood, Roger L. Simon and a few others, Hollywood is a hotbed of knee-jerk liberalism. But the left-leaning plots you see on the screen are, more often than not, less a reflection of political bias than the need to feed television's insatiable story machine.

Putting "traditional values" under stress and holding them up for ridicule is the quickest, easiest (and the laziest) way to generate conflict and drama.

If BYU-TV can't script eight hours of television without resorting to malevolent government conspiracies, broken families, and milquetoast religious figures, how do they expect anybody outside the reddest state in the country to do so?

When they set out to make Granite Flats, BYU-TV clearly got caught up in the effect they'd imagined it'd have, how it was going to be Touched by an Angel redux, and didn't bother to nail down the script. Busy counting their eggs before they hatched, they forgot to turn on the incubator.

That rotten smell is the result.

Related posts

Granite Flats
Fixing Granite Flats

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
6/04/2013 9:17 AM   
Wow--in a "it must be in the air" moment, I just posted about the failure of dystopian fictions to deliver; unfortunately, they are both easier to write and easier to pontificate about than something like the "ordinary" wonderful classic The Sandlot.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
6/06/2013 9:15 AM   
I'm off topic but I wanted to thank you again for the translation of the Twelve Kingdoms you've made. As I like that story a lot, I'm very grateful.

# posted by Blogger Joe
6/14/2015 4:51 PM   
Finally got around to watching this. I'm now on episode four and continuing on out of shear stubbornness since it isn't very good.

The production quality, especially cinematography*, editing and music, is pretty good. The acting a mixed bag, the kids being better than most of the adults. The writing, though, never rises to average and is often quite horrible and, even worse, dumb. Above all, it's really, really boring. In short, you have a three episode story stretched to eight.

I'll give a pass to most of the anachronisms, but some of the kid slang was irritating and using "comet" bugged the hell out of me.

I'd say that one big mistake was having the military/government involved. My pitch would have been really simple: Encyclopedia Brown meets Stand By Me, the Andy Griffith Show and Eureka.

(By the way, Eureka has less violence than this show, which is rather weird when you think about it.)

*The lighting is pretty good, though the outside scenes tend to have too much contrast and inside/night scenes too little. On the other hand, the camera work is all over the place--a few times, the camera literally drifts and then snaps back into place.

PS. I get the feeling that everyone above-the-line was making a different show and that fairly late in the production someone at the church/BYU stuck their nose in.
# posted by Blogger Joe
6/14/2015 8:39 PM   
Wow, this show doesn't just jump the rails, it tears them, melts them down, burns the ties and fills in the roadbed.

Characters are introduced out-of-the-blue and then disappear. We're told a character has siblings, but they are seen only once. There are several scenes of adults talking about kids. Who the hell cares?

Then you have a very creepy nurse/surrogate mother who makes up idiotic stories (seriously; the stories are so obviously contrived, you have to wonder where the writers learned their craft--mainly, in TV and movies, show, don't tell. Second, the back stories of secondary characters DON'T MATTER. Hell, the back stories of main characters only matter based on what they do.)