The Story

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So, I started watching Melrose Place. Don’t ask why, and furthermore, please don’t tell anybody! Now, I’m hooked. I might have to buy a Hulu subscription after I finish the first 32 episodes, which are on the house.

The first few episodes seem pretty tame (that is, compared to the developments in subsequent seasons). Thus far, there’s a lot of focus on character development, along with some intriguing storylines, and a handful of cultural tie-ins that capture the mood of Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

The original cast members (from left to right): Amy Locane, Grant Show, Josie Bissett, Thomas Calabro, Vanessa A. Williams, Doug Savant, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Andrew Shue

It’s a group of twentysomethings living together in an apartment complex in West Hollywood, California. Michael Mancini is a doctor. He’s married to Jane Mancini. She works at a trendy clothing boutique.

Alison Parker, at least initially, takes on the “good girl” persona. Originally from Wisconsin, she is college-educated, and is looking to land an executive position in the advertising world. Alison shares an apartment with Billy Campbell, an uninhibited, selfish, and adventurous young man. He aspires to be a writer, but for now, he’s lost. He spends time driving his cab around L.A. in search of answers.

Jake Hanson is an oft-unemployed construction worker / mechanic. He has a troubled past and commitment issues. Sandy Harling is an actress. She is very insecure. She also works as a waitress at the local hangout, Shooter’s Bar and Grill. Jake and Sandy are in love, but they can’t seem to embrace it.

Rhonda Blair is a dancer-turned-aerobics instructor. She is not quite sure what she wants out of life. Finally, Matt Fielding works at a halfway house, helping troubled youth find their way. He is also openly gay. He is brilliant at solving other peoples’ problems, yet he can’t seem to get his own life in order.

The show pushes the boundaries at times, commenting on race relations, homosexuality, abortion, and the stereotypical L.A. lifestyle. It’s trashy. It’s predictable. It’s powerful. It reflects life in general. It’s perfect.

But again, why am I watching? Why now? I’m 23 years late to the party.

Coincidentally, I just moved to L.A. about a month ago. No doubt, it’s an odd place, unlike any other city I’ve lived in (namely, San Francisco and New York). It’s a melting pot of ethnicities and personalities. It’s a highly competitive landscape. If you’re not from here, you come here to pursue your dreams. But at what cost? There are so many people out here with varying ambitions, and there’s simply not enough time to get things done.

No matter where you are going, you have to give yourself an hour to get there. You have to be patient and proactive in this town, not only in terms of your career objectives, but also while changing lanes on the 110. And, you have to embrace the culture. Everybody meets for coffee to discuss ideas. But what’s an idea without proper execution, management, and follow-through? And, oh yeah, everybody is a writer in this town. Everybody has a story to tell. The question is, can you captivate an audience with your story?

By now, you’re probably wondering, “Why the hell did you move to L.A.?” Well, I came here to find opportunity in the music industry and document my own experiences. After all, life is about our experiences, and what we learn from them.

Also, you can’t beat the weather down here. It’s sunny here just about every day. That said, you need to carry a sunny disposition with you at all times, or you won’t get very far in this town. You need to think positively, stay busy, and interact with the right folks in your industry.

So, what does it mean to actually “make it” in this business of entertainment? From the artistic side, it depends on what you want out of life. Do you want to be a celebrity, or do you want to be a niche artist and make a comfortable living doing what you love?

From the business perspective, it’s all about finding the hits? After all, it’s a hits-driven business. Shows like Fresh Off The Boat will inevitably sink. This show, in particular, is chock full of one-liners, overly dependent on stereotypes, and it focuses on a specific era in time (mid-1990s). There’s not enough flexibility for development.

Instead, think of something that people will still want to watch 25 years down the line. Think of a show that will attract viewers from different generations, a show that is independent of trends, and thereby, stands the test of time.

Presently, I’m really enjoying Better Call Saul, which is the prequel to Breaking Bad. Like Breaking Bad, the show is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Based on the characters’ use of flip phones, the show is presumably set in the early 2000s. The series follows a struggling, small-time criminal defense lawyer, Jimmy McGill (who will eventually assume an alter ego, “Saul Goodman,” or “it’s-all-good-man” in future episodes). McGill manages a fledgling solo law practice, whose main office consists of a dimly lit room in the back of a nail salon. It appears that McGill will build and represent a clientele of intelligent crooks.

Thus far, it’s highly engaging. The pace, the character development, and the narrative style (often complemented by disjointed “flashback” scenes) are reminiscent of Breaking Bad. The formula is there, now it is just a matter of finding out how and why Saul Goodman crosses paths with Heisenberg, a.k.a. Walter White.

Isn’t it ironic? Most everything is a cliché – you know, everything is predictable; yet we can’t seem to figure anything out! Most viewers know why Saul Goodman will encounter Walter White. It’s inevitable. Saul Goodman’s hands will get too dirty, he will be in too deep. Goodman will become an integral player in the local drug business. He will assume the role of “peacemaker” and “dealmaker.” He will be the “liaison,” if you will, between the criminals and the justice system. The question is, “how will this scenario unfold?” And, again, at what cost?

So, if everything is predictable, what keeps us coming back week after week? Why are we so enthralled? Why do we live vicariously through fictional characters? Furthermore, is the mundane more satisfying than the “twist,” or is it merely based on personal preference?

Look at it this way, isn’t The OC just a reincarnation of Beverly Hills 90210? Likewise, isn’t Entourage a mirror image of Sex and The City? Isn’t Friends basically the same as Seinfeld?

It’s the same story over and over again, with a different cast of characters and a different setting. Yes, times change, and technology advances different aspects of society, but trends are cyclical and the philosophical nature of our existence remains intact. We have embarked on a search for purpose and meaning, just like Walter White did in Breaking Bad. The caveat is that reality is more than five seasons in duration. It’s an ongoing struggle.

As individuals, we need a support system, a group of close friends and family in order to get by. And we need brutal honesty at times, because how else will we better ourselves?

A television series, or any form of art for that matter, is destined for greatness when it can capture this aspect of friendship, the importance of relationships, and what it means to be human. History proves that nobody can do anything solely by him/herself. Surround yourself with great people, and the ideas will come to fruition.

Remember, “The story is the foundation of all entertainment. You must have a good story, otherwise it’s just masturbation.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to catch another episode of Melrose Place. Shhh!!! 

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