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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Series characters in novels or TV - any recommendations?

   
Author Topic: Series characters in novels or TV - any recommendations?
robertq
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A friend recommended the 'new' Battlestar Galactica as being an exemplar of series characters that are engaging and change during the series. Before I shell out $100 for the complete DVD set, I thought I might get some other recommendations
(both in novel series and TV series.)

Thanks!!


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Osiris
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Lost is a good one, I would say more so than BSG, and I am a huge BSG fan.
I actually think there is a lot to be learned about writing in general from Lost. They've got the narrative hook down pat in that show, each main character changes significantly throughout the six seasons, and they execute what Ben Bova calls the 'chain of promises' quite well (Basically, stringing together narrative hooks and introducing new ones before resolving old ones).

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genevive42
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Osiris, you're right about the hooks in Lost, but beware the bad side effect. They 'lost' me as a viewer somewhere in the second season because I got tired of nothing ever getting resolved. Watching started to seem pointless if they weren't going to answer any of the questions they'd raised. I know some people love Lost and that's great. I just wanted to point out the potential downside of that technique. There needs to be some satisfying resolution along the way.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Babylon 5
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Angel

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goldhawk
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I have to agree with Merlion-Emrys; Babylon 5 shows has characters that change. However, B5 was originally written as a five-year series. This allowed them to maintain continuity unlike, say, Star Trek, which has only one season written at a time.
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Osiris
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Genevieve, I think I didn't experience the problem you mentioned because I hadn't started watching the series until Season 6, so I could watch one episode after the other at my leisure. They do resolve their hooks, they just took a long time to do it.

You are absolutely right though, if you do not resolve your hooks, you are in fact breaking your promise to the reader (hence not following the chain of promises concept). Similarly, if you take too long to satisfy the reader/viewer, you can lose them. What I am trying to do in the novel I'm working on is have several 'chains of promises' in which some hooks get resolved within the same chapter, some span several, and some take the whole novel to get resolved.


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Dark Warrior
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Ive thought that Firefly/Serenity had well developed characters with established and varied voices. Probably two profane for most audiences but Deadwood had extremely complex characters that were well developed.
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InarticulateBabbler
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In novels, the first that comes to mind is George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, those characters are always growing and changing. If you have the stomach for the verbose, Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time shows a lot of character growth. Robert R. McCammon's Speaks the Nightbird, The Queen of Bedlam, and Mister Slaughter show great changes in the Mathew Corbett character. Bernard Cornwell's "Warlord" trilogy (Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur), Grail Quest series (Harelquin/The Archer's Tale--different names for UK and USA--Vagabond and Heretic) and Saxon Stories (The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, Sword Song and The Burning Land) all show character growth.
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coralm
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Firefly (as already mentioned) has fantastic characters. Veronica Mars has good characters too, but it's a little more campy.

BSG had some good characters, but I also think there were some terrible characters. Personally, I absolutely hated the ending and that ruined the whole thing for me. I watched the series on DVR, I don't think I'd spend $100 on it, but that's just one opinion.

Edited to add support for Deadwood as well. If you don't mind swearing, violence and sex, it's a really terrific show. If you do mind any of those things, stay far away.

[This message has been edited by coralm (edited November 20, 2010).]


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Pyre Dynasty
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I'll add an extra vote for Babylon 5, it has the rare quality of being plotted entirely (as in they knew what was going to happen in season five as they were writing season one, there are some fantastic time-bombs character-wise).

And another vote for Angel/Buffy (both of them together).

Also Sliders is a good one for characters, the worlds change but the characters stay the same.

Pushing Daisies does some serious justice to it's characters.

(I'd say Heroes, but they tended to treat their character in a pro-wrestling way, so it's a what not to do sort of thing.)

As to novels, off the top of my head I think of the DragonLance novels, particularly the "Twins" books.


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Osiris
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It has been a while since I read it, but I think there was some good character change in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson.

I believe all 6 seasons of lost were written at once as well.

[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited November 21, 2010).]


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EP Kaplan
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Not a huge fan of SF on TV, but for what it's worth, B5 was fantastic. Eureka, for all its silliness and absurdity, is pretty character-centric, and more than a few have some manner of arc, particularly Zoe and Henry. But, yeah, watch B5.
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philocinemas
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Read comic books - especially The Amazing Spiderman or Batman, depending on whether you prefer Marvel or DC.

I didn't particularly like Babylon 5, but I do agree on Lost - most of the characters underwent significant change throughout the series. Alias and Buffy are two other good shows with strong character development.


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robertq
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Hey, thanks to everyone for the info!!
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MAP
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I've only seen seasons 1 and 2 of the new BSG, but I think it does have some really good characters with interesting character development.

I loved Lost. Fantastic characters IMO, but I do agree with Genevieve that season 2 was a little slow. In fact I didn't watch half of it and picked up just fine in season three. But over the five (or six?) seasons, there was a lot of character growth. Lost had it's faults (like everything else), but it had awesome characters and everyone of them showed growth.


ETA: Have you looked into signing up for netflix rather than buying the series? I think they have at least a few seasons of BSG and other series on instant watch. Worth looking in to.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited November 21, 2010).]


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Osiris
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Netflix is a good suggestion, I watched all of Lost on Netflix, and you can often get the shows streamed in HD. I know Babylon 5 is one of the shows that you can get via stream.

I love netflix so much that I've actually cancelled my cable service.


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JamieFord
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Dexter.
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Gan
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Six Feet Under is pretty fantastic in regards to character change, though I haven't seen the entirety of it so I can't comment on the entire show as a whole.


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Dark Warrior
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A couple of nods on here to Joss Wheden characters from Angel, Firefly, and Buffy.

I just found out he is writing and directing the upcoming movie The Avengers. Cant wait to see what he does with that. We might actually have a super hero movie with character depth!


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Elan
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Firefly gets my vote for good characterizations of people you love to learn more about, and intrigue as the show unfolds. A darned shame they didn't give the show a fighting chance and it ran for only a single season.

Battlestar Galactica had great character development, with enough time to do it justice. Two years ago I bought a copy of Season 1 as part of my boyfriend's Christmas present since he hadn't ever seen it before. He sucked the DVDs down in one sitting, finishing it about 10:30 p.m. As soon as it was over, he jumped to his feet, put on his coat and headed for the door. "Where are you going?" I asked. "I have to go to the store to get the next one!" he said. "Right now!" That present cost him a couple hundred bucks by the time it was done. He didn't have the patience to wait for another "gift" occasion.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited November 27, 2010).]


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Lissa
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Just to add my 2 cents:

BSG is also my recommendation. The richly drawn characters are unbelievably engrossing and mesmerizing. So many character flaws...yet such nobility! A fantastic series and a perfect illustration of defining richly textured and believeable characters!

Lis


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shimiqua
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Doctor Who.

Do I have to say it again? Okay I will. Doctor Who. David Tennett is my personal Doctor, although Matt Smith is growing on me and Chris what's his name was pretty terrific.

Also Primeval,(a British Sci fi with the best romantic tension since, well... since ever. Connor and Abby. Hmm....) You can watch both series instantly through Netflix on the Wii.


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MikeL
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Doctor Who is awesome. It's like 1950s sci-fi set in the modern world.

Cliche done right!


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Robert Nowall
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Look, I think you all may be looking in the wrong place for character development. One of the notions of episodic TV is that people who watch it like coming back to the same characters each and every week---and if the characters do change, the viewers will desert it.

You get a certain amount of growth and understanding of characters within any single episode...and you get a certain amount of depth and breadth by having seen characters behave over a period of time...but, usually, whatever the characters look like they've learned in one episode, the next time out they're all back at Square One, doing the same thing.


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MAP
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Robert,

Have you seen the shows people are suggesting? More than an episode here and there?

The ones I have seen that have been mentioned (BSG, Lost, Buffy, etc.) are not like what you described. The characters do change and evolve from episode to episode and season to season.

A lot of shows are moving away from the episodic return to statis quo after every episode, and I think it has made TV better. I don't like stagnant characters.


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Robert Nowall
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There's a certain amount of characters coming into focus as the writers and actors come to grips with who they are---but I wouldn't call that "changing," at least not in the sense it's been discussed here. You can have a Man Who Learns Better in just about anything---but, in episodic TV, do they demonstrate they've Learned Better? Does a guy in Season Five of a show get into a messy situation just like he did in Season One, remember what happened, and avoid the mess this time around?

Of the shows named, of those I did see, I didn't much like what I saw...I've heard a lot of recommendations for, say, "Buffy" over the years, so I assume there's some value to be found in it...but the episodes I saw, I didn't like.

As I recall, "Doctor Who" has run, off-and-on, on the BBC since 1963...with different actors playing the Doctor along the way. Naturally the character will be different---but did he ever change or grow in the sense we're talking about? (I really liked the Tom Baker era of "Doctor Who," cheesy effects and hammy acting and all...the current version, with the bigger budget and better effects, seemed okay in the couple of episodes I saw, but nothing special.)


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philocinemas
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Robert, I will say that in the cases of Lost and Battlestar Galactic there were characters who do not respond to situations in later episodes the same as they would have in earlier ones. I would argue that this is also true for Buffy and even somewhat for Star Trek: TNG, which I believe you did watch.
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InarticulateBabbler
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Robert, Firefly (the series) is the perfect example of what you're talking about. Each episode clings to the residuals of the one before, and a few episodes later they'll deal with someone again, but be prepared in a different way. Yes, there are "life goes on" static elements to every character--which there is in life, too--but they do remember, and use those memories to make decisions.

It was the same for many episodes of BSG--though I did lose track when I began to work the long hours again, and never watched the end--I did see growth in a few characters.

Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Eames and Goren have grown. Goren is constantly learning and applying it. He and Eames have gone through changes, too. She's gone from requesting a new partner, to developing a closer-than-partner rapport where Alex Eames calles Goren "Bobby" to calm him, to friction and not-full trustworthiness. And then she fired him.


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MAP
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quote:
There's a certain amount of characters coming into focus as the writers and actors come to grips with who they are---but I wouldn't call that "changing," at least not in the sense it's been discussed here. You can have a Man Who Learns Better in just about anything---but, in episodic TV, do they demonstrate they've Learned Better? Does a guy in Season Five of a show get into a messy situation just like he did in Season One, remember what happened, and avoid the mess this time around?

This really is not the case in the shows I mentioned. BSG, Lost, ad Buffy really did show real character development in that when the series is over they weren't the same people that started the series.

I think Lost is the best show in terms of character development. All of the characters showed realistic changes throughout the series, some more than others. Jack probably showed the biggest change.

Seriously at the end of the series, Jack did things he would have never done in season one. And so did Sawyer and Jin and many others. You really have to watch it to see it, but there were many obvious character arcs throughout the series. Just amazing character development IMO.

[This message has been edited by MAP (edited November 30, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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Maybe the characters of "Lost" or "Buffy" or "Rattletrap Galactica" did change and grow...but they didn't appeal to me much bang-off in the brief glances I got of them.

As for "Law and Order"---any incarnation of it---with, what is it, twenty-some years of episodes now, of which I've sampled some at every point...it seems to me that the story in front of the viewer is the point of the exercise, the characters in the story are incidental and often interchangeable---and character growth, if it happens at all, is incidental.

My point is that, if character growth is what you're looking for, find something that has a definite-and-conceived beginning-middle-and-ending. A novel. A three- or four-part book series. A stand-alone movie. (Avoid endless and open-ended series franchises.) But don't look to episodic television.


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Osiris
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Robert I think what you are really getting at is it is easier to experience the change of a character if that characters changes happen in the context of a single 'unit' of writing.

Whether it is an episodic TV series or a single novel, both need to show character change if they want character to be a compelling aspect of the fiction they present. The difference is a movie which can be experienced in a single setting will show the change happening more quickly than a six season episodic series like Lost will. But make no mistake, characters in both BSG and Lost are completely different from beginning to end.

For those who watched Lost, can anyone say that Sawyer was the same person in season 1 as season 6? Not a chance.


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Robert Nowall
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"Lost" was, I gathered, conceived to have a beginning-middle-and-end as I've described it above---and, I also gathered, let down a lot of its fans by not explaining everything that went on. I didn't care for it much---but it strikes me as the kind of creative situation that could layer depth on in a number of ways, and make for interesting viewing---but character growth is not one of them.
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Osiris
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quote:

-but character growth is not one of them.

I'll have to respectfully disagree. I thought you hadn't watched the whole series?

The first thing anyone asks in a group discussion about Lost, either in my family or at work, is "Who is your favorite character?"

The answer is most often the two characters in Lost that experience the most character growth; Sawyer or John Locke. You might not like Lost, but character growth is not one of its faults.

You are right on Lost being conceived to have a beginning-middle-end structure, unlike some episodic series like Star Trek in which each new episode largely stands on its own.


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DRaney
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Not really a TV watcher... haven't had it in over a decade (blissfully so), so I cast my lot with philo in recommending the Batman comic series for some cool plot/character development. Particularly during the Azreal/Bane period (10 - 15 years back). Even more especially the Frank Miller renderings of the beginning 'Year One' and Frank's phenominal story of Bruce Waynes return to being Batman after 10 years of retirement; 'The Dark Night Returns'.

[This message has been edited by DRaney (edited December 01, 2010).]


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MAP
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quote:
---but character growth is not one of them.

LOL Robert. You said you did not watch Lost. How can you really argue this?


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Wordcaster
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I always said Lost had potential to be the best or the worst show of all time. Unfortunately, I categorize it more towards the latter. Much of the events and subplots are purely random and have no relation to the overall story.

I vote for Dexter. Fantastic show. MC evolves from a non-emotional serial killer who only follows rules for self-preservation into a loving human. Each season builds off the last, but also stands alone.


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
You said you did not watch Lost. How can you really argue this?

One does not have to eat all of the egg to know it's rotten.


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sojoyful
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I think Osiris hit the nail on the head by stating that it is easier to sense character growth when the story is told in a shorter period of time.

However, Robert Nowall also has a point that open-ended stories, such as ongoing television series, tend to have less character growth because they need to prolong their existance to stay on the air. That is accomplished by holding on to existing viewers, which requires that you maintain whatever attracted them in the first place...to a degree. Even average viewers will get bored eventually if there's NO growth.

Take a look at Seinfeld. No character growth there. What made the characters so funny was that they never seemed to learn anything. I think the show made a smart decision by choosing to end at the height of popularity, rather than waiting for interest to eventually wane.

Lost was indeed outlined from beginning to end before it began. I think I read somewhere that it was originally intended to be 4 seasons, but the network's pressure to have 6 seasons necessitated the inclusion of filler. A Request: PLEASE no season 6 spoilers! I haven't seen that season yet and am waiting for the DVDs to come to the library.

One show I'd like to add to the list is M*A*S*H. Yes, the series ran for 11 seasons, so the growth is paced, but it's undeniably there.

[This message has been edited by sojoyful (edited December 01, 2010).]


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philocinemas
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quote:
One does not have to eat all of the egg to know it's rotten.

...but often one has to at least crack the shell and at times even remove it.


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Robert Nowall
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As far as "MASH" went---I thought it was a case of show degeneration, where the product at the end was inferior to what was at the beginning. Only a couple of characters from beginning to end...and those who were there from start to finish seemed less than they could have been when they started. (Also it went from being extremely funny to being horribly sanctimonious---always a downcheck in my book.)

Never took much to "Seinfeld"---one joke in, oh, six, struck me as funny, and that last episode was just awful---though it embodies my point in a nutshell: the characters never changed and never learned.


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shimiqua
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In Seinfield the characters never changed, and that is partly what is so interesting to me about these characters. They're obnoxious, and original, but if Jerry grew up and got married, or Kramer became an accountant, then the magic of the show would go away.

I don't think a character has to change in order to be interesting, or or worth investing your time in. Sometimes a lack of change even... no, especially... when change should have happened, can tell you something true about a character.

I think characters that are true are engaging. And change, growth isn't always true.


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Dark Warrior
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quote:
You get a certain amount of growth and understanding of characters within any single episode...and you get a certain amount of depth and breadth by having seen characters behave over a period of time...but, usually, whatever the characters look like they've learned in one episode, the next time out they're all back at Square One, doing the same thing.

Good point Robert Nowall,
I mentioned Firefly but because it was episodic there wasn't as much character growth episode to episode. I would chalk up the great characters to a top notch example of character diversity as well as excellent dialogue.

However, I think you point shows exactly why Deadwood IS a great example of character growth. Because the plot is series long and not episodic they show amazing growth. The show isnt about any one character, Bullock or Swearengen, but about the entire Deadwood camp as a whole. Every character grows from its interactions with the others. They learn how to deal with the other characters, learn their strengths and weaknesses and adapt their own character traits as a result.

If anyone has a chance to get the box set they have in depth interviews with the cast where they talk about the character growth and there is a feature called "The Education of Bullock and Swearengen that focuses on how, throughout three season, they realize they are two sides of the same coin and grow from that realization.

***But again, as was warned earlier, the show is 60 straight minutes of swearing, nudity, and violence***

HBO Trailer for Deadwood (Rated PG)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0bQdXgUKLo&feature=related


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Lyrajean
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Most people ahve been talking TV so I'm going to mention a book.

Prince Crowin in Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. It is essentially Machievelli's Prince reassessing his life choices, and the series fell flat when he did books 6-10 about his son. But the characer does evolve quite a bit.

I'm a big fan of Dr. Who. I think the charcter development when they revived the series with Eccleston was great, they had a lot at stake and were doing thoughtful script writing up till season three. Now they are simply rehashing the same bits about him being the last of his kind and alternating between being a good samaritan and an angry god. They learned the wrong lessons from hollywood: too big budgets for action sequences and special effects and not enough time nor thought into script writing.

You could also make the argument that the writers have 'moved on' to other prokects. The charcter development in the new BBC Sherlock series is promising (and done by 2 Dr.Who writers) although I was a tad dissappointed by the choice of Moriarty, a bit too cartoonish and not scary enough when he actually appears.


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aspirit
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Add my recommendations to the list for Firefly and Babylon 5.

I'll also recommend Nickelodeon's Avatar: the Last Airbender--assuming you don't mind animation and jokes aimed at children.

For novels, my first thought is Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series (epic urban fantasy / mystery) published by Roc.


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