14 January 2014

Bitten (2014 TV series)

Canadian Kelley Armstrong is a proven contemporary fantasy novelist with thirteen "Women of the Otherworld" novels, six young adult novels set in the same world, a number of short stories in that world, and a separate (so far) series about a female assassin for hire. I've read almost all of her published work until the last year or so, subscribe to her fan newsletter, and have provided copy editing suggests to her on several draft short stories that later appeared in print in the profits for charity "Men of the Otherworld" short story collection.

It all started while I was looking for entertainment during lunch breaks while working as an associate attorney with a mixed transaction an litigation practice at a medium sized law firm in Wheat Ridge, Colorado in the early 2000s. I had left my prior employer where my work consisted overwhelmingly of drafting estate plans one after the other for affluent individuals, a specialty in which I was highly competent, but bored to death. I left a few years later to pursue a brief career as a law professor in the master's degree at a for profit college for financial planners (one of my favorite jobs ever, despite the fact that it involved a modest pay cut).

My lunch breaks in those days were fruitful times for me creatively. I wrote almost half of a science fiction novel. I listened to the first Harry Potter book on audiotape. And, one day, on a whim, a bought Kelley Armstrong's third Women of the Otherword book "Dime Store Magic" at a local book story as entertaining, fluffy, sexy entertainment.

A few weeks and a few novels later, I had backtracked to the first book in the series "Bitten". The setting, in upstate New York not far from my wife's hometown, where I lived for about fifteen months while my wife was getting her graduate degree there, and familiar Toronto which I often stopped off at en route to her from Ann Arbor, Michigan and back while I was finishing my law degree, was a familiar one.

Yesterday, that story, original produced by a Canadian movie studio and then picked up by the American SyFy network aired the first TV episode of the series. If this story works well, a dozens more seasons could follow before the material dried up.

Armstrong's literary take on the werewolves, and later witches, half-demons, necromancers, ghosts, shamans, vampires and other supernatural mythical beings, is the superposition of these myths into ordinary daily American and Canadian lives. Her supernaturals are ordinary people with one more nuance in their life living out their supernatural lives in the shadows of ordinary society, but not on its fringes. Most of them work ordinary day jobs. They are not embroiled in epic, centuries old, struggles between good and evil. They want better lives for themselves and their loved ones. Their conspiracies are more like office politics and less like grand conspiracies involving the fate of civilization. Rather than being gothic horror stories, they are stories of romance, banal murders, big business power plays and diverse people living lives more like homosexuals trying to live in the closet than like monsters who exist to prey on the good people of the world. They have bad apples that they try to self-police, like murders of innocent humans by mutts. Their little world has its own injustices. The have to deal with wrongs, like the involuntary conversion of heroine Elana to a werewolf, that have consequences that must be worked through by their small community. But, Armstrong's stories are not driven by epic struggles between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the world, and the supernatural community's capacity to govern itself is hardly perfect. These stories are driven by the impulsive misjudgments and failings of ordinary people who can love and support each other, or hurt each other, based upon their own sense of duty and choices made one day at a time.

The television premier of "Bitten" shows potential to be good, but isn't a masterpiece so far either.

Wisely, the television narrative beings in the middle, leaving back stories and complex relationships from the novels unexplained at this point. But, sometimes this goes overboard. A brief definitive statement at some point in the premier that than man with whom Elena has such a prickly relationship is an ex-boyfriend who is not ready to let go of her (without, of course, a full rehashing of that relationship) could have clarified many of the scenes in the premier for someone who has not read the books. The production values and special effects are tolerable of a made for TV series in the speculative fiction genre, although a little iconic Toronto and upstate New York scenery for a few more seconds in each case would have more firmly grounded the story in the real world - a key point since they books decidedly do take place in something very like the real world.

Stonehaven is a reasonable approximation of the locality in the book, as is its relationship with the local community. Jeremy Danvers lacks some of the gravitas he has in the books in the television premier. An increased importance for the role of Elena's boyfriend and family are valuable improvements to the story that help illustrate Elena's complex motives. The risque sex and nudity scenes suitably capture the seamy feel of the original series, even if the details vary a bit. The Elena of the TV series is more sophisticated and strong minded than the original, but in general, this is an improvement on the original and leaves room for interesting plot developments going forward. The Elena of the TV series has a bit more of an edge to her which makes her more interesting.

The cinematography and background music in the TV series give off a bit more of a horror vibe than is really appropriate for this story whose overall feel is closer to a romantic police procedural or dyfunctional family story than a story that primarily preys on primal fears of the unknown. Bitten is not, at its root, a horror story or even a thriller.  It is not a close cousin of superficially similar series like Hemlock Grove.  It is more like Haven before the deeper plot lines of that series become apparent.  It is a story about people who are different, who have to handle their problems on their own before the authorities do, and can't risk being exposed. It is also not deeply multi-generational or a story in which the fate of the world is at stake in the way that a similar story, the Vampire Diaries, is and is not really even a conspiracy theory tale either.

Probably the most serious flaw of the first episode, plot-wise, is the confusion readers are left with over who kills the girl.  It plays almost as if Elena rather than the Mutt did it, although this doesn't seem to be the intended story.  Others have questioned casting decisions, but mostly, it is too early to tell with so many of the characters introduced for just moments.

Still, fan that I am, I look forward to seeing how the series continues to develop in future episodes this season.

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