Continuing with Lyttenburgh’s review of “this one Russian episode” of a particularly nail-biting episode of that prime-time American TV drama “The Brave”. Which chronicles the adventures of “Task Force Chutzpah”, under the direction of American government employee, Anne Heche, who used to date Ellen, but then switched teams and married an actual man, and with a boyfriend on the side! Well, just earning my tag of “Celebrity Gossip”.
Anyhow, where we left off, the intrepid team just finished rescuing the petite girlish handler (=Cassie) of their inside-the-Kremlin Big Mole, some muckety-muckety Russian who is a member of Putin’s inner circle. And, by the way, they stole this whole “We have a big mole” plot device directly from John le Carré!
So their helicopter is flying from Sverdlovsk, Ukraine southeast towards…. the Russian border. Everybody knows that Americans are quite weak when it comes to geography; still, inquiring minds cannot help but wonder if Anne Heche is a Russian mole in her own right, maybe she is secretly dating Nikolai Jackoff, the powerful KGB Colonel who is also secretly dating Malory Archer, who is the head of ISIS, and who is also the mother of international super-spy Sterling Archer, whose secret biological father is none other than … Nikolai Jackoff! Mirrors upon mirrors… O what a tangled web these glamorous spy agencies weave!
Whereas Archer is a great TV show, possibly even the best TV show ever, “The Brave” is … well, not very good. Nonetheless, we must finish what we started, so I will let Lyttenburgh continue and tell the rest of this story…. Oh wait! That was the end of the story? Well, then, we have no choice except to enter into the post-scriptal analysis phase… Analyze away, Sir Lyttenburgh!
The Triumphant Return Of This One Russian Episode…
Nearly a century ago, great (no irony here – he was great) Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said his famous “Of all the arts the most important for us is the cinema”. Bolsheviks knew the power of the new Media, which swept the entire world in the early 20th c. The thing is – the capitalists who created most of the new media, who owned it and benefited from it, learned about this much earlier and passed the knowledge through the generations. Ultimately, any (ANY) product of the modern Media is the endorsement of this or that set of “values”, of a “trademark” marketed by different interest groups. All Media is about propaganda.
“The Brave” TV series is one blatant, shameless, down-your-throat example of this. It is also so cheap and crappy, that one can’t stop being amazed at the misery of studio bosses. The examples of that are numerous. For one – the same ubiquitous “technicals/jihadi-mobiles” are used in future episodes, set in Mexico and Afghanistan. The one episode set in “Paris” (and filmed, actually, still in Budapest – one only has to notice the same abandoned factory used for the firefight scenes) makes the series even more “related” to the “Team America” movie. Only in this case – all of this is done un-ironically, as some sort of the Full Blooded True American Pledge of Allegiance (FIRETRACK YEAH!). Really, in essence nothing distinguishes the modern trendy “action/military” TV series from their counterparts of the Cold War peak 1980s, New World Order 1990s or Bush Era’s “We vs Axis of Evil” ones. The only thing that apparently changed was the stock of the token minorities that MUST be represented in order to garner the most appeal from the viewership, and new cinematographic techniques of shooting the series. Oh, and the Good Guys (once again) have all the shiny toys. As usual.
While “The Brave” does not “improve” and contribute anything to the common legacy-pile of the movies and TV series of this sub-genre, it in fact does it great disservice. It is simply, really, really bad. *This* is quite an achievement for this type of the visual arts, where there are already very low requirements for the characters (they ARE stereotypes) and to the plot (all common “missions” are already done numerous times – or you can just “re-fight” the one from recent history). As a form of entertainment of a particular genre, these movies must entertain and trigger the suspension of disbelief among the target audience via “wow-factor” – they must “wow” them to the brainless state of pure cerebral joy.
“The Brave” fails in that regard. Either due to the lack of talent, or because the creators are simply lazy, it fails to do the only thing it is required from such shows to be at least somehow successful. Despite all the bravado and promises that TF: CHUTZPAH would have to overcome insurmountable odds in every episode, you never ever feel that way. Every single episode instead resembles a tutorial level in the video game played on “Easy” difficulty… but the player still uses the cheat-codes in the end.
But maybe this is exactly what the target auditory of the NBC really wants? They want the ritualistic slaughter of America’s enemies whom they can’t get in real life. They want a weekly reminder that their country needs not to be made “Great Again”, as it is still a superpower that does not care about any other countries. Yet they want, they desperately want to be told – “We Are The Good Guys”. Thus, this lulls their irksome conciseness (telling them they are no different from their political opponents from across the aisle), and allows to simultaneously satisfy the desire of being rah-rah-rah jingoistic imperialists, while “knowing” that they are also very “progressive”. The Dream Factory only needs to grant them this weekly “fix” of the new opium for the “thinking” masses.
But here arises the crux of the problem I’ve been pondering unsuccessfully for a long time – why some TV series succeed and remain on the blue screen long past their expiration date, long past all reasonable arguments as to why this show must go on, while others are discontinued mid-season? As anyone could see ”The Brave” performance is abysmal. It was not quite popular to begin with and the viewership mostly slipped after each episode. Key word here – “mostly”. Because it was not a universal, constant, uninterrupted phenomenon.
As a rule of thumb, if there are more people coming to the movie theatre to watch this particular movie than on its premier week, this is a sure sign that the movie is popular among the targeted audience. When the reverse happens, well, it says how the movie is actually unpopular with the general crowd. The same is mostly true with the TV series – the performance and quality of even one episode can determine whether people will watch the next, or decide to dump the series altogether. I.e. the quality of the previous episode is what really explains the fluctuation of the viewership of the next one.
These particular series of articles are called “This One Russian Episode”, because I postulated back then when I began writing them, that sooner or later this or that TV show is bound to have a “Monster of the Week” appearance of some Russian themes. Nothing crucial – just to add some “exotic feeling”. Since then, many things happened – mainly 2016 A.D., and the Hollywoodish stars and other stellar bodies seem to be still feeling that. This exacerbated several of the previous trends, while doing nothing to improve show-makers general knowledge about Russia or, frankly, about any other topic they decide to “translate” into their imaginary worlds. They are not really that creative, having to both steal the plots from the headlines of the MSM (and what were they mostly talking about for the past year, hmm?) and dusting off some old, tried and tested troperrific techniques in the plot’s presentation which they inherited from the previous “Ages of Hollywood”.
Thus “The Brave” TV show in the first half of its first season has not one, but three “Russian Episodes” and they are just… Suffice to say – reviewing this One Russian Episode (yeah, name dropping here! :)) was half-morbid, half-torturous fun. The other two are actually worse – and this is no mean feat to achieve, if you read this review. But what is more interesting to us – did this “measure of the final resort” succeed in keeping the show afloat? Well, not pretending to be some kind of super-guru of statistics, I can only deal with the facts already affixed and then offer my own (however undeserving) commentary.
The second episode of the show (the one reviewed herein) resulted in the fact, that the next episode was watched by 300,000 less viewers than the previous – compared to the initial fall in interest from 5.96 to 5.17 mln after the premier episode, this is not really a big deal. After a long string of “falling” episodes, the next episode with a mostly Russian theme (episode 6 “The Seville Defection” – kinda self-explanatory name) resulted in an upsurge of viewership – from 4.55 to 5.18 mln. The last Russia-themed (well – in its premise, if not the whole plot) episode (№8, the deceptively named “Stealth”), which ran right before the half-season finale, resulted in the plunge of the viewership – from 5.03 to just 4.66 mln. What does it all mean? Well, maybe the lingering Russophobia of your target audience is not a justification to release utter, unwatchable, silly crap after all. That’s why the “This One Russian Episode” is actually a thing – it’s a gimmick, this one time event, that can improve things… but you can’t base everything on it. In that case, your (typical Hollywoodish) incompetence will become obvious to everyone, and you simply will run out of the pre-packaged stereotypes to throw at your ravenous audience.
At the same time – “The Brave” is just another fish in the same niche tank of similar military/espionage dramas premièring this year, or already in the run on TV. One can’t help but compare it to another similar in its theme show – the SEAL Team (on CBS). Honestly, if compared just with each other, the “SEAL Team” makes “The Brave” look like a dorky 14 y.o. acne-stricken midways through the Goth phase younger brother, who, nevertheless, wants to “hang out” with his heavy-metal biker brother friends – all for the “bragging rights” among other dorks. For one the “SEAL Team” has a real TV shows vet and superstar David Boreanaz as the lead (fans of “Buffy” and “Bones” must have squeed at these news). Next – it talks about a real military outfit, and strives to show at least plausible reality (albeit – not an absolute reality). Finally – the “SEAL Team” in its appeal, presentation and target audience chose a slightly different and larger demographic, than everything that could ever be vomited from the bowels of the NBC – they target your typical American vatniks jeansiks:
The premier episode of the “SEAL Team” dealt with exactly the same stuff as the one for “The Brave” – rescuing a damsel in distress, All-American blonde medical worker captured by the evil terrorist. The two shows premiered with a difference of two days –and the “SEAL Team” had a better lead start with 9.88 million initial viewers. After that – it was an almost uninterrupted fall in the viewership. Can’t blame the people – the show IS teeth-cringing mediocre, often boring, and its use of “show, don’t tell” technique while trying to express the characters emotions and thoughts is done so in-your-face, “ anvilicious ”, so that there is no real excuse.
Chief differences of the two shows performance so far? One – the “SEAL Team” managed to pull off a “comeback” in the viewership attendance and by now has all indications to finish the first half-season with still significant “loyal” viewership. Two – the “SEAL Team” didn’t (so far) resort to the “This One Russians Episode Trick”. Sure, there were close calls for that – in episode 2 the team operates in Syria (the CIA handlers in the show are portrayed in refreshingly cynical way and are of “I don’t give a damn” variety), and the obligatory (also – fat) asshole in the SEAL Team spoils for the fight with Russians – only to be told that no one in NATO wants to lose planes to Russian AA systems. In episode 4 the team must (illegally) kidnap a former Serbian field commander turned arm-trader implicated in war crimes committed 20+ years ago. The kidnapping must take place… in Tallinn, Estonia. The very same token team asshole says that Estonian military, police or the border guards are nobodies compared to them “super pros” – so why sweat about having some little altercation with them in the process of kidnapping? This particular “Tallinn” does not look like the real one, though there is no other “klyukva” in the episode.
But the laws of the entertainment industry and of the current zeitgeist are merciless – there is bound to be “This One Russian Episode” in the future. Moreso, I’m afraid that, in fact, it is shows like “The Brave” which are the future trendsetters. Producers might start to see/imagine a pattern, or will just try to profit from the potential “hype” and start inserting Russia-themed episodes more often, no matter how badly shot and written. But the oversaturation of one theme is not the answer and not a panacea for having a really, really crappy show. Could it result in the “One Russian Episode” becoming akin to the “Macbeth” production put on by the struggling theatres, which it does not save from the bankruptcy, and, instead acquiring a sinister reputation of the “Cursed Scottish Play”?
[The people responsible for writing the previous paragraph went too deep into baseless speculation and wishful thinking territory and were sacked. The article has been completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute]