We don't just love television for the special effects or crackerjack acting, but for the writing. That's where our heroes get their cool lines and defining moments. And sometimes we wonder: what'd happen if our fave shows swapped writing staffs?
That's right — it's just like wife swappers, except it's writer swappers! So put the keys to the writers' room in a bowl, and let's get swinging...
Lost and Supernatural
In some ways these shows are opposites, even though they have so much in common — they both have long, pull-your-hair-out plots and complex characters who stray to the dark side regularly.
But Supernatural keeps it lean and mean — you pretty much just have the Winchester brothers, and one to four supporting castmembers at any given time. And Supernatural's big mysteries are relatively few, and relatively straightforward: What did the yellow-eyed demon want with baby Sam? What does Ruby want with grown-up Sam? Why did the angels pull Dean out of Hell? And we get answers to those questions on a regular basis. What's complex on Supernatural is the tangled theology of the Angel/Demon war. And few relationships on television are as barbed and complex as the troubled love between the two brothers.
Lost, meanwhile, thrives on complexity — there are easily two dozen characters you're supposed to be keeping track of at any given moment, and oftentimes, they all seem to be equally important. The show's creators have already told viewers not to expect answers to all the show's mysteries — You have to piece things together on your own, or just accept that some things are not knowable. Meanwhile, the show gives us characters whose family relationships are mostly dismal (except Hurley's, oddly) and whose relationships with each other are frequently defined somewhat straightforwardly by rivalry, love triangles, or unrequited love.
So we'd love to see the writers change places for a bit — the Supernatural writers could bring a bit of immediacy to Lost's slow-boiling storylines, and also show us a bit more of how all these people stuck on an island together have become each other's family, and have grown to love each other even as they piss each other off.
And the Lost writers could give us a world of spirits and monsters that's foggier, and weirder, than Supernatural has ever quite given us. Imagine Supernatural with more weird clues, and more of a sense that there's a massive chess game going on in which the Winchester brothers are just pawns. It could be quite a ride.
Dollhouse and Torchwood
These two shows both unkinked our brains, in different ways, last month. We finally got to see Dollhouse's unaired season finale, in which some brilliant new adaptations to the Dollhouse's business model end up destroying civilizaton itself. And Torchwood served up the shocking, twisted "Children Of Earth" miniseries, in which we find out just how valuable our children really are — and just how dark Captain Jack is prepared to get.
These shows both operate in murky waters, with heroes who have huge dark sides and make difficult (and frequently wrong) choices. They're the dark side of escapism, showing how becoming part of a secret world of amazing tech and cool fantasies can be dreadful as well as wonderful. But Dollhouse is a good deal nastier than Torchwood, giving us a for-profit venture that is bent on making people's dreams come true — but only at the expense of its "employees"' personhood. Torchwood, meanwhile, is about people who actually do try to save the world — but often as not, they make things worse.
So what would happen if Russell T. Davies and his gang started writing Dollhouse, and Joss and friends moved to Cardiff?
Well, for starters, Dollhouse would get a lot sexier. The relationship between Boyd and Whiskey/Claire Saunders would probably heat up quite a bit. (And the already-homoerotic tension between ex-cop Boyd Langton and ex-FBI agent Paul Ballard would become way more intense.) But more than that, the assignments would get a lot freakier — Just imagine what sort of missions Russell T. Davies' gnarled, twisted brain would come up with for the mindwiped "dolls" who can be anyone or anything. And if you think the Dollhouse is morally grey and disturbing now, wait until RTD wrote a few scripts. And what could RTD would do with Adelle DeWitt, the sly, wicked, frosty madam of the Dollhouse's empty-headed bordello?
As for Torchwood — sure, "Children Of Earth" was one of the best pieces of television we've seen in recent years. But just imagine Torchwood done in the style of Angel or Buffy, with more weird humor, more out-and-out struggle against the forces of evil, and more identity crisis for our heroes. Torchwood could use some more memorable villains, like the Mayor of Sunnydale or Glory. And Captain Jack needs to have a few episodes of spouting Whedonesque dialogue as he sluts around Cardiff and hits on every adult sentient being he meets. And even though Torchwood took a major leap into darkness this last time around, the show could always go darker and dirtier — especially now that the Hub and the team have both been wrecked. We can just see the story of Torchwood crawling out of the ashes and trying to figure out their role now, as told by Joss Whedon and co.? Where do they go from here?
House and Fringe
Two shows about unconventional teams who deal with weird science stuff — even as the most brilliant, curmudgeonly member of the team skirts the edge of insanity. Can't you just imagine J.J. Abrams and the rest of the Fringe team getting their claws into House's drug-addled, dysfunctional life, while the House gang goes full-throttle on Walter and the Fringe Division?
Of course, House has been on the air longer and has had more time to delve into the neuroses and relationships of its main characters. But also, one major difference between the shows is that House has romance and sexual intrigue — there's Foreteen, of course, plus the ongoing will-they, won't-they with House and Cuddy.
What the Fringe writers could bring to House: more weird science, and less weird psychology — in the most recent season, we've spent more more time figuring out the mysteries of House's mind than we have tackling medical mysteries, like weird parasites or insect-bites in unlikely spots that cause mysterious paralysis. Sure, House has been on for longer and we've been delving into the character more deeply, but the Fringe writers could pump up the show's weirdness levels satisfyingly.
Meanwhile, Fringe could use the opposite — we could use a lot more speculation about the psychology of its characters. Sure, we get hints about the weird experiments that characters like Olivia underwent as kids. But that's not psychology, it's plot development. Fringe could stand to delve a bit more into what makes its characters tick.
And think about it — this is the right time for the two shows to swap writing staffs, too — House is going into a mental institution (where we first met Walter Bishop) and Walter is going to become a lot more independent and autonomous, letting him become more like House.
True Blood and Heroes
What would happen if these two soap operas traded off writing staffs? Bringing Alan Ball and his gang to the perennially conflicted mutants might do them the world of good — and maybe Heroes' writers would get their groove back if they got to write for Lafayette, Eric and the rest.
It's weird to think that both Heroes and True Blood are soap operas, but they kind of are — the main difference is, True Blood is a lot stickier (both in the sense that people obsess a lot more about True Blood's characters, and in the sense that there are weird fluids everywhere), while Heroes often has much higher stakes and more of a comic-book, action-adventure feel.
So it's easy to think of ways that the True Blood team could revitalize Heroes. As Lauren points out, "Sylar would actually eat brains." The weird murder-flirtation between Sylar and Claire would get a lot deeper, and all of the show's relationships would suddenly be much more gothic and byzantine.
The dark, secret world of the Company, with its endless family drama going back decades, would gain a whole new layer of murkiness and detail, much like all the stuff we're learning about vampire society on True Blood. We'd get a lot more fun, quirky world-building moments on Heroes. And can you picture Alan Ball writing HRG, the tormented-but-suave-but-dorky family man? He would suddenly have a lot more layers. And he'd be naked.
But the much-maligned Heroes team could also bring some fun to True Blood. One of the things Heroes does really well is come up with out-of-left-field superpowers and then imagine how they would really work, and how they'd affect your life, in reality. If the Heroes writers ran True Blood, Jason would probably get powers similar to Sookies — except, of course, he would see the future. You might see a bit more of how the strange mixture of powers in Bon Temps actually messes with people's lives. Plus maybe the Heroes writers could cut loose and write the kind of beyond-dysfunctional, messed-up characters that they don't get to create that often. And it would be fascinating to see Heroes deal with the added theme of religion that crops up a lot in True Blood.
Breaking Bad and Eureka
These are both shows about science, and about the quirky people who make a living off science. In AMC's critically acclaimed Breaking Bad, we follow Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who's got a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy, and then he finds out he's got terminal lung cancer. His insurance won't pay for the treatments, so he decides to start making and selling methamphetamine to secure his family's future. Meanwhile, in Eureka, there's a whole town full of science geniuses who create oddball projects for fun and profit, with often disastrous (but never horrifying) results.
So they're both about people using science to get ahead, but Breaking Bad is about the dark, nasty side of science, while Eureka is happy and easy-going. Everybody's rich, or at least comfortable, in Eureka, while Walter White is barely getting by and needs to resort to drug-dealing to save his family from ruin. (Walter's drug-dealer name is "Heisenberg," and he uses mercury fulminate, an explosive, as a weapon. He also uses his chemistry-teacher knowledge to quadruple his meth production.)
So what would the writers of Eureka bring to Breaking Bad? Probably a lot more science shout-outs. In addition to using Heisenberg as his drug-dealer name, Walt would probably start finding himself experiencing things that are right out of classic science fiction movies. And the science would get a lot odder, with Walt possibly coming up with wild new additives to lace his meth with — meth that makes you start aging backwards? Maybe Walt would come up with some zanier ways of dealing with the drug lords he runs up against, like catching them in zero-gravity fields or something?
As for Eureka, the Breaking Bad writers might delve a little bit more into the underside of the little town of geniuses. Exactly how does their relationship with the Defense Dept. work? And what happens when some of their more potent inventions really do fall into drastically wrong hands?
Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Venture Bros.
These are two of the most vivid and fascinating animated shows on TV right now — so what would happen if you turned the Lucasfilm writers loose on the Venture Bros., and let the Venture staff have a crack at the Clone Wars?
The main difference between these shows, says Graeme, is that the Venture Bros. writers are deeply bitter whereas the Clone Wars' writers are, at their heart, very sincere.
So maybe if the Venture Bros. writers got to take a turn writing the Clone Wars, you'd immediately have more weird pop-culture humor. But you'd also get more investigation into the bitterness that's just under the surface of the Star Wars universe — the fact that Anakin is a jerk who's destined to become the scourge of the galaxy. Plus the fact that the clone army is made up of helpless slaves. All of the characters in Clone Wars would become a lot more neurotic, and the clones would become like the Venture Bros.' henchmen. Inevitably, the show would start pointing to more of the darkness in its premise, but also poking fun at it — and it might become like a better written version of Robot Chicken Star Wars along the way. Plus, it would be fantastic to see what the Venture Bros. scribes would do with Anakin.
Meanwhile, if the Clone Wars staff came over to Venture Bros., that show would become much more of a straightforward action-adventure show — it might become a bit like Johnny Quest, even. But we'd also suddenly see a lot more weird politics, and the show would start showing us different factions scheming and intriguing against each other. There might be less resolution in each episode — which is saying something, considering how little resolution Venture Bros. already gives us. And a revamped Venture Bros. would start giving us morals at the end of each episode, like "Remember, Brock, Sometimes violence ISN'T the answer."
Additional reporting by Graeme McMillan, Lauren Davis, Meredith Woerner and Annalee Newitz.