Alright, this one is way off-topic, but it’s my blog and I’m entitled to rant about whatever I want. So nyeh. This one’s about music and TV — and one show in particular.
I am a huge soundtrack fan. Yeah, I said it. It’s one of my favorite musical genres and my go-to playlist when I really need to focus on a brain-intensive project. This probably has something to do with my heavy exposure to classical music as a child — soundtracks are practically the next-door neighbor. My first tape that I ever dubbed from the library was the soundtrack to Star Wars: A New Hope…probably the first tape I ever listened to on my own, actually.
Through the years, I’ve amassed quite a large collection of soundtracks, and can not only name my favorite composers but identify their trademark orchestral styles. John Williams of course, as well as Nobuo Uematsu, James Horner, Howard Shore, Michael Giacchino, Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer….and so on and so forth.
But my current favorite composer would have to be Bear McCreary. Probably best known for his work on the new Battlestar Galactica series, he has also scored Caprica, Eureka, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and even the Capcom game Dark Void.
In fact (and this will demonstrate just HOW big of a soundtrack nerd I am), I started watching Human Target solely because McCreary was scoring it. His work on the show, though definitely still his bombastic, percussive style, was far more orchestral and lush than anything I’d heard from him before — in the vein of the better James Bond soundtracks or even Indiana Jones. Over the course of the first season, he began to develop a complex thematic backdrop to fit the expanding mythology of the show and its characters, and his Christopher Chance theme really gets stuck in your head!
So imagine my dismay when I heard that McCreary had not been asked to return for Human Target’s second season. Turns out showrunner Jonathan Steinberg was canned and replaced by Chuck’s showrunner, Matt Miller — who fired McCreary in favor of Chuck’s composer, Tim Jones, as a “matter of taste.”
Now, I’m a big Chuck fan, and Jones’ work on that show is a good fit for the cheesy faux-Bondian world of the Nerd Herd. But Human Target is a show about three somewhat musty dudes somehow finding their way into the line of fire every week. Yeah, there’s some cheesy actiony bits, but on the whole it’s a far more “realistic” show that skews a bit darker than Chuck, and the score should reflect that.
After watching the first episode of Season Two, all my worst fears were confirmed. Miller and Jones have shoveled a heaping helping of Chuck’s wackiness into the cast, plot, and score. Instead of a dangerous loner and his two bros, we now have a Burn Notice-style team charging into action together — plus a couple new dames that seem like unneeded pandering to broaden the demographic. Instead of handling last season’s cliffhanger in a manner that would catch new viewers up on the show’s backstory, it was resolved instantly in a brief shootout that suggested they’d paved over Season One’s story and skeletons for good. Instead of an epic, thematic, orchestrated action score that regularly lifted the characters and scenes to a higher level, we get generic synth backing meant to lighten the tone of the show — plus some “needle drops,” snippets of pop/indie songs to smack the viewer over the head and tell you THIS IS HOW YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FEELING RIGHT NOW.
For those of you who don’t watch the show and/or aren’t big soundtrack buffs, here’s a quick example that perfectly demonstrates what I’m talking about. Here are the original opening credits to Human Target Season 1 with Bear McCreary’s music:
Compare that to Season Two’s opening with Tim Jones’ score:
McCreary’s theme is not only far more epic, but actually syncs with the visuals being presented, with the jumps in animation corresponding to the big percussion hits. As a soundtrack fan and as someone who works in animation/video quite often, this is a big deal to me. In an audiovisual work, audio and visual should complement each other and punctuate each other, thereby creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Jones’ version no longer has any relation to the visuals, resulting in an opening that jumps awkwardly around to some synthesized buttrock and then sorta runs out of time and just…stops.
I will say that, had I not been familiar with the original theme, I wouldn’t have minded the new version as much. That said, why remix McCreary’s theme if it’s hardly going to be recognizable at all, and if that theme is no longer the driving force of the score? Why keep the old visuals if they don’t go with the new music? If you’re not going to have a memorable theme, why not just have a 5-second title card and then an extra commercial? See look FOX, I just made you money.
I should also point out that McCreary’s original theme was nominated for an Emmy. So can something still be a “matter of taste” if your taste is objectively wrong? Matt Miller, you’re an idiot.
As an artist myself, albeit one in a different milieu and far less prominent position, I know exactly what it feels like to do award-winning work that you are immensely proud of — and have that work rejected. It’s a great lesson to any would-be creative types about what happens when art meets commerce.
McCreary, though, has already moved on to better things (like scoring The Walking Dead for AMC) and has left his fans with a magnificent parting gift: the Human Target Season 1 soundtrack album! It’s available in multiple formats but being a completist I just had to spring for the limited edition 3-CD set. And lemme tell you — it was well worth it. If you’re a soundtrack buff, this one (and all McCreary’s music, really) is required listening.
Bear, you’ve got a fan for life here. And Human Target — that’s strike one.