Thursday, January 22, 2009

In My View: What you’re expecting me to have standards?

So I spent my last post talking about the nature of "good" shows, but I haven't really addressed Coburn's fundamental conundrum.

What makes a show an all-time favorite? Or put better, what measures do I use to judge a show?

Now, I'll admit this is a hard question to answer because when I watch a show, I'm reacting to the show. I'm not trying to dissect exactly what I like about the show. I don't tend to categorize my complaints when I get around to dissecting the show. All of that makes this a tough question to answer.

Expectations, Standards and Biases

Recently, I watched Tokko. Now all-in-all, I enjoyed watching it, which got me thinking. What was it about the show I liked? That answer was pretty simple, I expected the main character to get superpowers about two episodes into the show. Instead, he spent half of the series without any kind of superpowers at all. Then after spending a long time developing the characters, building suspense and creating a level of excitement, he got superpowers.

In short, Tokko exceeded my expectations. For the sake of the argument, expectations are what I expect to see either after the preview or the first episode. My expectations are usually pretty low. If I'm watching a shounen fighting show, I expect to have a young plucky hero who will eventually have to fight a menacing bad guy after discovering his hidden reserves. If I get that, I'm happy.

So if a show does something I'm not expecting it to, then it can end one of two ways. Either I liked it, and the show exceeded my expectations, or I hated it, and the show fell below my expectations. Now my expectations aren't set in stone, if a show exceeds my expectations, then I expect it to continue to exceed my expectations. (That said, I'll usually forgive a show for having a few bad episodes.)

Now standards are what I want a show to do. I want a show to have a multi-layered, character-driven plot. I want shows to have flawed heroes. I want characters to be noticeably different at the end of the show then they were at the beginning of the show. To be honest, I don't expect these things. If I expected them, then they would be, well, expectations.

On a side note, I've found a lot of long-term reviewers tend to start replacing their expectations with their standards. Honestly, I find it a bit sad because they're going to always be disappointed.

On the other hand, biases are just stuff I like. While standards apply to any show, biases don't. For instance, I like fanatics. I find them fascinating. If a show has a fanatic then I'm probably going to like it. But I don't expect a show to have a fanatic.

Now it is kind of tricky to separate biases and standards. Standards apply to any fiction. While biases are just things I like, such as fanatics or war epics or WWI-style dogfights or dark, brooding anti-heroes.

What makes an all-time favorite show for me

So how does all of this sort out? Pretty simply actually, but a lot depends on the show. In all of the cases, these shows exceeded my expectations. In most of the cases, they hit at least one or two of my standards and they all featured at least one (or in the case of Last Exile A LOT) of my biases.


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