What Writers Can Learn from Saving Hope (Part II)

Kathy Fuller returns with more about the good that can come from a bad TV show. Talk about an optimist!

by Kathy Fuller

Mistake #2: Don’t just stand there, do something!

One of the main characters on Saving Hope is Charlie, played by Michael Shanks. He’s the charming, confident chief of surgery. In the pilot episode he and his fiancée (another surgeon) are heading for their wedding when wham! Car accident. After saving the driver of the other car with an emergency procedure I’ve already forgotten about, Charlie passes out from his head wound and is in a coma. The twist is that he’s suspended between the conscious and unconscious and roams the hospital still wearing his tux and dangling bow tie.

So far so good. Conscious Charlie is a hero. We’re sympathetic to him because he’s comatose and trapped, unable to bridge the gap between life and death. Not to mention he could probably use a change of underwear. Then—

Then nothing. Seriously. NOTHING. Charlie barely tries to communicate with the living. He intersects with the mostly dead and the deader-than-dead, but he doesn’t have anything but fleeting interaction with them. The most emotion we get is Shanks’ furrowed brow and his tepid voice-overs, loaded with forty-ton platitudes that do nothing but drag the show down. The only glimpses into his character are in flashbacks, which really have more to do with his fiancée, Alex. than with him.

Questions abound—questions Charlie should be posing to himself, to the ethereal beings around him, even to his comatose body. Why won’t I wake up? Why haven’t I died? Why am I stuck roaming around the hospital? How do I FIX this? 

Charlie is a prime example of a passive character. Passive characters are awkward, pointless, and above all, snooze-inducing. All the characters in a story need to be doing something—saving the day, solving a problem, being an obstacle to another character’s goal, providing important advice and insight, serving as comic relief, and in Charlie’s case, maybe helping the deader-than dead pass over and the mostly dead start living again. Even if he’s unable to do any of those things, he should be frustrated, confused, angry. Instead, he’s bored, thus I’m bored and searching for my remote.

Characters should always be active. They’re doing things, not having things done to them. Their reactions to environments and predicaments should be visceral to the point where the audience is right there with them, feeling both their pain and their triumph. When that doesn’t happen you have a character like Charlie—pathetic and forgettable.

Next: Mistake #3: Get real, already.

2 thoughts on “What Writers Can Learn from Saving Hope (Part II)

  1. GoingtheDistance says:

    You make a great point about Michael Shanks character on Saving Hope. He had a much more active role in a twilight zone scene like this when he was on Stargate SG-1. Nonetheless I think I’m going to keep watching and see if the producers catch the mistakes and improve the show. I’m at work when this show comes on so I made it a point to set the timer on my DVR. I recently upgraded to the Hopper and a Dish co-worker mentioned that it comes with the Prime Time Any Time feature which records the four big networks seven days a week and saves them up to eight days after they’ve been aired. That’s fantastic because I know I’d like to watch the newest episode tomorrow but things come up. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to rush to watch the show and that it’s automatically recorded.

  2. kathyfuller says:

    The series also airs on Hulu–that’s where I watched it. I’ve been watching SG-1 eps on Netflix just to remind myself that Shanks can act when given a chance. It will be great if the show improves–I just don’t have the patience to sit through it anymore.

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