Should Writers and Showrunners Be Telling Us What to Think About Their Shows?
What is this strange new world? Every week, the morning after Justified airs, executive producer Graham Yost dissects the episode for us—clarifying scene by scene, and even giving us alternate writers’ room scenarios to chew on. He’s not the only one; Bryan Fuller is doing the same for Hannibal, Ryan Murphy postmortems American Horror Story, and it felt like Nic Pizzolatto snuggled right up in bed with us following each True Detective hour. Maybe all this hand-holding is good publicity for their shows, but is it good for us?
Just in case you hadn’t heard, the True Detective finale aired last Sunday. After all our individual predictions and theories were either crushed or fulfilled, most of us took to the internet highways and byways to work through our interpretations vs. the actualities of what we’d seen. As I read through many reviews and the ensuing spurred discussions, I noticed something that’s becoming a common trend (I’m guilty myself)—viewers quoting writer or showrunner interviews to solidify our opinions and influence others. Pizzolatto took great care in publicly explaining what he thought we should or shouldn’t have gotten out of his series, what was or wasn’t meant for theorizing, and basically what our takeaway was intended (by him) to be. Frankly, it’s disturbing.
When a new film I’m excited for finally hits theaters, I make it a practice to avoid reading reviews so what I see and feel is my own pure reaction. While I do truly enjoy reading reviews after a film, to hear and discuss the similarities and differences between what I and others took away, I want to form my own opinion first. I don’t want to be over-informed or influenced, either by the writer’s (or director’s) thoughts on what message I should be receiving, or by a reviewer’s interpretation. Why would anyone? Back in the day of their series, Siskel and Ebert would give a brief plot description, then amusingly argue their often completely antagonistic opinions. Nowadays, reviews are just as likely to delve deeply, not only into the reviewer’s thoughts, but often something culled from the director or writer as well (let’s not even get into the increasing tendency by some reviewers to outright spoil a plot point or two). Despite my embarrassing habit of being moved to tears (wracking sobs) by everything from paintings, music and theater, I certainly wouldn’t want my reaction altered by Dali whispering in my ear what his Burning Giraffe really means. Do we not prefer to look at art with our own eyes, or would we rather be walked through a gallery by the artist so he can tell us what to think? Are we not prodded and poked enough by the rules of everyday life that we need our opinions spoon fed? The days have grown long from where we started, gathering ‘round the coffee machines and water coolers; instead we wile away our every free moment combing virtual reality in search of what to think. We use what we find on Tumblr, Twitter, message boards, whirlpooling our way down through the nine circles of commenter hell to throw down the gauntlet of a writer’s own words; we prove we are right. His opinion is our own.
Over the past decade or so, perhaps longer, the connection between artist and consumer has grown ever closer, resulting in a strange intimacy that can overwhelm either side. The instant availability of interviews and feedback—especially via Twitter—where showrunners are now engaging with viewers live as their shows air, we have a near constant back and forth communication. People like Bryan Fuller and Ryan Murphy ask leading questions about the meaning of this scene or that character’s intent, and give us complete breakdowns of each Hannibal and American Horror Story episode. The result is an endless flow of author quotes being bandied about as factual opinion. I can’t deny I’ve enjoyed getting the extra information we do, but as time goes by, I find myself less enamored with these communiques. Whatever happened to letting art speak for itself? I can’t imagine reading a book with an author explanation at the end of each chapter; how might it change my every reading experience? Isn’t part of the enjoyment for both creator and audience to receive the myriad responses, to discuss and perhaps even be inspired by them? I respect a guy like David Chase, who essentially ran the moment The Sopranos finale aired, and has kept his promise to let us interpret the ending ourselves. If we all become influenced by creator explanations, we’re removing our own thought process and essentially replacing our ideas with one “true” vision. What a boring world that will be. It’s the glory of art that it allows us to embrace our individual nature, including the ability to reason and formulate our own opinions.