Friday, July 27, 2012

Ryan Murphy Factor

Sometime in the recent past I saw a beautiful thing on television. The show was The Glee Project and since I'm in New Zealand and we import our TV from all the way across the Pacific I couldn't tell you the original air date. I'm pretty sure it wasn't before 1979. Also, by "television" I mean "my computer screen," since TVs are hard to come by and New Zealand has only two channels and it's just a whole lot less hassle to download stuff.

This beautiful thing consisted of two parts. The first was a series of Last Chance Performances by three contestants fighting to keep their spot on the show in order, ultimately, to win a spot on Glee itself. These three young singer/actors had given the weakest performances in that week's challenge and so had to sing before the show's judges to save their hides. One of the three would be going home. Them's the rules.

The best of the three performances was Charlie Lubeck's wonderful off-melody arrangement of Coldplay's "Fix You,"but there was no clear loser, no one who didn't seem to deserve a chance to continue.

The second part of the beautiful TV thing was an amazing performance by the show's creator and executive producer, Ryan Murphy. And by "performance" I mean "decision," as he opted to call back not two but all three contestants. No one was sent home that week. And it's that discretion, that wonderfully unexpected breaking-the-rules deus ex machina that I have come to call the Ryan Murphy Factor.

Yes, Ryan Murphy has the right to run his show the way he wants, has the authority to "violate" the rules established. Yes, a twist at the show's climax makes for good ratings. And, yes, The Glee Project is not Thunderdome. But there's something else at work here.

Ryan Murphy saw undeniable talent and creativity and most of all heart; and, following the larger intentions of the show (presumably, to find and nurture talent), made an allowance. (The first instance of the Ryan Murphy Factor occurred in the finale of Season 1, when he decided there would be not one winner but two, as well as two runners-up.)

No one working to break in, break through, create something of artistic value, start a business, save a relationship--in short, no one taking a risk in this world--knows how they're going to pull it off. They have plans fueled by intention and hard work . . . and then something happens. Or not.

It happened again, "last night," on MasterChef Australia. (Others will say that The Wire or Mad Men or possibly even Downton Abbey is the best television in the history of ever. And they might be right. Except they aren't, at least not entirely. Because there's one hell of a reality cooking show going on right now, just across the ditch.) Anyway, these two Aussie blokes are duking it out in the elimination round, each cooking their hearts out, digging deep, and it comes to decision time, and . . . the judges call it a tie. They go nuts, their fellow competitors go nuts, we at home go nuts. For the next week, at least, they are safe.

And, again, it was a beautiful thing.

I'm not quite sure why the Ryan Murphy Factor gets me so much. Sure, there's probably a twinge of hope that the skies will open up and some Olympian--nay, Odinic--Producer will fall in love with my material and give me lots of cash money. But I think there's more to it than that. It's the idea that we can plan, intend, work hard, and acquire technical virtuosity in a perfect linear fashion--and still the culmination of all this activity happens just as it does in a good movie: in a way that's familiar but perfectly unexpected.

It's the idea that randomness, chaos, and perhaps even destiny have something to do with the work we're called to. That while we absolutely have to take the reins and put in the hours, there's some indefinable thing out there that's watching out for us, willing to meet us halfway, perhaps even more than halfway. We can earn our second chances.

So, thank you, Ryan Murphy. Thank you, Gary and George and Matt. Time to get cooking.

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