Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Just one story line...

When I was a kid-

Not to grow nostalgic, the shows on the three channels we had were complete each week.  There was only one that I can recall that was continuous, The Fugitive. Still every week Dr. Kimble would help someone as he tried to find the one-armed man and hide from the police.  You didn't feel that if you missed an episode that you would miss an important piece of the plot.  Unlike Lost you could have watched the The Fugitive at any given point and still get it.  If you came in on Lost even two or three episodes in, you were like its title, LOST, forget about trying to pick up on the second season.  In all honesty from what I've heard about the finale of Lost, I think I am glad I didn't watch it's six seasons.

The rest of the shows back then were pretty much the same: one episode each week, one story each week, same characters. Every week, Marshal Dillon got the bad guy and McGarrett saved Hawaii and even eventually captured his nemesis, Wo Fat, who by the way was not the controlling plot of the show.  Even in the episodes he was in, McGarrett would foil his current plan in a single episode.

And now-

There are many shows that when you watch them, you can expect them to have a long running "to be continued" story line . There are a bunch of them: soap operas, some anime, mini series like Dexter or Game of Thrones, un-reality television, and the occasional show like Revolution or Lost or episodic shows like Doctor Who.  And then there are shows that have a back story or the occasional through line.  The problem is that too many of them have forgotten that back story is NOT the story and through line is a story that ties, NOT the story.  And then there are the shows that have a continuous plot without enough plot to carry it, which I suppose is a sign of having to come up with a show when there are hundreds of channels.
Back Story...

Back story is something that gives the reason for the show's premise.  In The Mentalist, the back story is Patrick Jane, an accomplished conman, becomes a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation.  The reason for this is that Jane's family was murdered by a serial killer named Red John.  Jane uses his abilities to solve crimes. He wants vengeance on Red John.  While the back story has an element to it where Jane should occasionally comes across Red John, it is a lose thread to keep the story going.  A book end of sorts.  Ideally, when the series draws to an end, Jane should find Red John and bring him to justice just as Dr. Kimble did with the one-armed man. Problem is that the back story has become the story and it has moved past believable, not that a conman joining the CBI is believable.  Red John is  a serial killer who is apparently of wealthy means and has the abilities of a cult leader, complete with followers and is able to keep his identity hidden.  It lacks truth within the framework of the story.

The consulting detective is after all an old plot nugget ranging from Sherlock Holmes and Auguste Dupin to Monk and Castle. The back story should bookend.  It should never take over the plot. Monk too had such a back story.  Monk searched occasionally for his wife's killer.  The difference here is that the back story did book end.  It was never the story.  If only it were true for the Mentalist. Grimm, another show I watch, is going down the Mentalist path too.  Too bad.  So many episodes and creatures for him to catch and only a single plot seeming to take over the entire show.
Through Lines...

Through lines come in a variety of ways.  They can involve a continuing story like Castle's sexual tension story line or a plot that is carefully an almost imperceptibly done in the background which is done so masterfully in NCIS.  Problem: for the shows of sexual tension the moment that love story become "real" the show is probably done.  It is called the Moonlighting Effect, so named for the show Moonlighting that fell apart as soon as its two main characters became an item.  House died a horrible death as a show when it became about his love life and less about curing the sick.  Castle has violated the rule and so has Bones.  Too bad.  I like these shows too, but that interplay between characters is gone.  The writers, I don't care how clever they think they are, will never get it back.

NCIS is the show that sneaks a continuous story line in culminating every season with it and then finishing it at the beginning of the next.  It is clever, but what is more important, is they still solve a single crime most every week.   The through line story is not the story. There are also shows like Warehouse 13 and Alphas. Both have through line stories. Warehouse is on the edge of crossing the find a bizarre artifacts each week, while the through line works in the background to the show that has a continuous plot that is the story and the through line is the sole plot.  Alphas has already crossed that line.

This is key.  When a show  that you don't expect to become continuous does, it's time to call it a night and wish it well in re-run syndication and Netflix
Thin Plotted...

I don't need nor want everything to be continued.  When it becomes that, I quit watching. I do have a few such shows I follow, but I usually DVR all the episodes so I can watch them at my leisure or all at once. Generally speaking such shows are short-lived.  I will start a few of them and if they don't catch on, then I quit.  One such show was Once Upon a Time.  Great premise but a plot that never seemed to move forward and so ::yawn:: it left my DVR list.  I is in its second season and a few fans will disagree with me, but to me the show just goes nowhere. Number of seasons does not mean impact or quality, by the way. I have the feeling that Revolution will go that way too. It has what seems to be The Hunger Games meets The Fugitive. It just seems to me that whoever makes the show doesn't get it. A plot has to go somewhere.  It cannot just roam aimlessly with no real explanation.  Sorry Alcatraz, Falling Skies, and Terra Nova you just lack plot and interesting characters. 
Mystery shows need to solve a crime most every episode and do so without the interference of its back story or through line.  Medical shows need to diagnose and cure their obscure disease most every episode. A western should end with a good old fashioned justice for the bad guy most weeks.  A scifi should solve what ever its futuristic or fantastical problem is.

I just don't get it.  The most successful show on TV right now is NCIS.  It is clear the writers and producers are determined to build good continuous characters that solve an interesting crime each week and yet show after show thinks they should go the other way to get and keep ratings.  Guess who has lasted longer...

Good shows do so with out characters that are over-used and trite.  I am so sick of mouthy, angst ridden teens on TV I, will quit watching a show simply based on that.  I know it's another topic...maybe I will blog about it. Now if the show just don't run out of reasonable plots. I'm looking at you CSI..really how many serial killers and corrupt officials can one city have?