Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Five Cents: Whatever Happened To Predictability?...

I Tweeted this sentiment earlier, and it got such a widespread reaction that I felt like it should be expanded upon:

"Why is there no middle ground on TV anymore? You either want to create complicated red herrings or spell everything out w/exposition?"

It was an exclamation brought on by a return viewing of this week's Ringer followed by a first viewing of this week's The Secret Circle. If you watch either show, I think you know which part of my exclamation was about which show. But in all honesty, those are both shows designed for a very specific audience and demographic, and two shows does not an epidemic make.

Unfortunately, it's not just two shows. A number of what is currently on television, as well as the majority of pilot scripts being pushed forward into production this season, are so heavily focused on the often times gimmicky inciting incidents the writers hope will hook the networks and the networks, in turn, hope will hook the viewers. But today's audiences are jaded, entertainment savvy, and yes, rabid enough to tear your show apart and tear you down with it, if they don't feel they are receiving pay-off week to week. So shows go out of their way to try to "trick" their audiences, leading them down a road full of misdirection and misinformation. Apparently, A+B equaling C is a no-no nowadays. Apparently predictable is not just considered boring but actually the kiss of death.

Personally, I think it hurts shows when they constantly worry about pulling something "off" over the audience's eyes. The audience today is jaded, yes; it is savvy, sure. If the story is thoughtful and well executed, though, there is a sense of satisfaction that comes over the audience (at least me) in seeing the little clues all lead up to something we may have seen coming-- even if we didn't quite know the magnitude to which it would occur, or exactly how or when. Seeding little bits of information all along breeds a smarter audience because it demands you actually pay attention. The problem comes, though, when the writers aren't able to flesh arcs out too far in advance, or things change mid-way through a plan due to talent or network notes. I get it, things get in the way; there are politics to this business; shit happens. But then (again), the smart thing to do is to allow the story to naturally diverge (or pivot, if there is less time), rather than to just throw in some "fixer" lines to explain it all and catch up the audience. It's writing 101 that exposition is nobody's friend, and especially for a visual medium, it's always better to show than tell.

Whatever happened to focusing on telling solid stories, regardless of eleventh hour plot twists or "gotcha" moments at every act break? Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I much prefer to follow a character on his or her specific journey than watch plot point after plot point. It's why I gravitate towards shows like Parenthood, Life Unexpected, and Friday Night Lights. Some audiences call those shows "slower," but I call them "organic." It's even why I gravitate towards comedies like Happy Endings-- because they center on relationships instead of "punchline, punchline, punchline."

The thing is, a lot can still happen in shows that heavily rely on their character dynamics to draw the audience in. The Vampire Diaries is perhaps the absolute best example of that simply because it is one show that utilizes both visual shocks and juicy cliffhangers while carrying on the undercurrent of familial and romantic drama. The Vampire Diaries balances both sides to their storytelling in an extremely smart, mature, well-rounded way. But unfortunately it feels like The Vampire Diaries is in the minority these days.

No comments: