Now this show is now defunct... but let's think about it again- shall we?
Looking at a single crime from at least seven different viewpoints is a clever working of the postmodernist theory of no master narrative, yet Must See Sunday on NBC might not be the tableau in which to paint this particular masterpiece. The outstanding ensemble cast and brilliant concept of Boomtown may get lost in the very gimmick that makes this show interesting.
The audience is guided through a crime from the point of view of it’s seven major characters: two detectives, two cops, a paramedic, a district attorney, and a reporter. That’s brilliant. “Sometimes the best way to tell the whole story about something is not to try to tell the whole story, but to tell all the little stories and let the viewers put it together themselves,” according to Graham Yost, series co-creator, executive producer, and writer. In addition to the regular cast, the story is also told through the eyes of the victims and perpetrators of the crimes (and sometimes quirky passersby). The vignettes are woven together by white titles (telling the audience who they are now) on a black screen. During this half season every situation has neatly been handled. It’s not always pretty, but there are no pesky questions lurking around on Monday morning.
Let’s stop for a moment. This is a show that’s daring enough to allow an American TV audience to believe they are experiencing life through the characters eyes, yet heavy handedly guiding them the most obvious choices. Boomtown needs the leash taken off. It wants a smart audience but doesn’t trust itself or the audience enough to give them the freedom to make up their own minds. The audience, according to the commercials, are people: who travel, shop by computer, drive luxury cars (as well as small foreign and beefy American ones), eat chicken and beef, use wireless phones and digital cameras, vote, have health insurance and families, care about wrinkles, and wear underwear. That sounds like a broad sampling of America. That sounds like people who can be trusted. Boomtown should trust these people and not treat them like idiots while telling them their “smart”.
Watching this show feels like having a crush. You see the person. You like them. You kind of follow them around, and you learn about them through other people. Just enough to make you want to know more. You start having small conversations with them and then you discover- all they have is small conversation. There’s nothing else. No depth. Some interesting, even alluring, detail is mentioned, then it’s back to the weather.
It’s not that the characters on Boomtown don’t have depth. That’s what’s infuriating. There’s more story there. We’re given glimpses of who these people are. Wonderful glimpses. But everything feels like a shadow. As soon as we’re getting some understanding we’re somewhere else being someone else. On commercial series television- there must be some master narrative. Even Twin Peaks had central question. Something to make an audience care. In the midst of solving a crime, the audience also has to sympathize with these characters. The viewers experience is experiential, yet we never really get a chance to experience.
The strength of the performances keeps it alive. Actors Donnie Wahlberg (Detective Joel Stevens) and Neal McDonough (Deputy D.A. David McNorris)- both from Graham Yost’s “Band of Brothers”- lead a superb ensemble. These actors are fighting to give the audience what they need to hold their attention. But as soon as the door cracks open to understanding… there’s a commercial, or a cut, or a little piece of business that destroys the moment. It screams “CABLE!!!”.
So at mid-season I leave you with these questions: Will Boomtown trust itself enough to not rely on it’s flashy editing style to show the characters development? Will Boomtown trust it’s audience enough to know that flashy editing and titles won’t be necessary when the characters and their motivations are clear? If not… we might have to see what the mid-season replacements have in store.