Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Season of Cliffhangers

I hate cliffhangers. In all forms of media.

I deal with sort term cliffhangers. In books it doesn't really matter. I read really fast, so I can get to the next chapter easily. It was pretty annoying when I was listening to an audiobook of one the Dresden Files that my father had bought. I kept wanting it to go faster and I wasn't about to do other things while I listened. I would have missed something.

Cliffhangers in books are one thing. Most of the time they aren't that important. Television they start to piss me off. They usually come out during a bout of character derailment or just when they have made everything about the show suck as it is. Now the characters are all imprisoned, or about to be killed, or are killed. And we end the season.

It would be one thing if they ever dared to do any of those things but they won't. Within three minutes of the season opener they escape or dodge the bullet or discover that was only their body double. If someone does die, we know that before next season because we hear about whether they have a new contract.

All it turns into is writers or producers torturing characters we like. There was a book I read that pissed me off because every character you started to like got killed very quickly. Another book I read started out good, but devolved into how can we torture the main character. A lot of foreshadowing and a cliffhanger in that book.

When it comes to television I like how Bones handles cliffhangers. They do them with an extra episode in the season so we don't have a month to stew over nothing. If they kill off a character (or make them insane) they do it right in front of you. It also lets them discuss the emotions the characters are going through immediately instead of ignoring them as most shows do.

It might be something to do with new media and the internet but most people would now skip the last episode until they are closer to the new season so the torture isn't so strong. Of course, I have been known to stop watching a show if they start setting up for a large scale cliffhanger, often the cliffhanger is what makes me leave.

Cliffhangers in movies. Should not exist. It assumes that there will be multiple movies, which is not something anyone can assume and it's just bad formatting. The movie ends when the story is over, not after we add something extra so that you watch the next movie. I'm not talking about the Marvel movies with the teaser after the credits, I mean Matrix II and III. Pirates had the same problem too, but I can at least state that the story for that movie ended. A TV show gives us a cliffhanger and they are only being so optimistic that they will last until next season, if a movie does it either they know that they have another movie or they are just being a dick to you.

You may have noticed that several shows have decided to have cliffhanger endings this season. Now you know why I might not be watching them next season.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wherein I rant about things that don't seem related

I'm bored so I'm going to go on a rant.

For starters: I watched half of the first season of New Amsterdam on Hulu last night. Actually a little more than half of it. It's actually a decent show and I never realized it. The preview that Hulu gave me while I was watching last week's episode of Bones was much better than the ones that I remember when the show was on the air. In other words they created a show and then didn't advertise it properly.

Of course this shouldn't come to a surprise to anyone that Fox failed in the background work of a television show (also see Firefly)

I wonder what the secret is...
The other thing I have been doing a lot of is rereading things. I have been working on Codex Alera, which is an awesome series and you should read it. It could also be an awesome movie, but they would screw it up. If you have read it you know that they have a huge secret show up in book three and be completely revealed in book four. It's actually really obvious, to the point that the main character does a facepalm when he learns about it, because the entire point is that he's really smart and that he somehow didn't catch this is just amazing. A dozen other people figure it out before he does (including the you, because it gets to be really obvious).

Anyway, the point of rereading it is to try to catch the foreshadowing. There is a lot there, but it's very subtle. Most of it is in off-hand comments that people make, such as how his caretaker refers to her role in his life. A lot of people can read emotions in the book so if she was to outright lie, or even bend the truth, people would know that something was up, but in the context of the story it makes perfect sense.

What am I getting to? Well, I want to see this type of preparation to take place in television and movies. I like to write by the seat of my pants. I like to create as I write, not transcribe what I created earlier, but what we end up having is stories that loop around and bite itself. Stories without an end. Literally, that is how Seinfeld ends. They return to the first conversation from the first episode. We only have foreshadowing for a couple episodes at a time, maybe to the end of the current story arc. Later seasons of Buffy did have some foreshadowing in them. Dawn is foreshadowed an entire season before she shows up.

Most shows though, don't foreshadow because they don't know if they will have another season. They don't attempt to build up to something. Another problem is that they keep doing a minute by minute accounting of what the characters are doing. House, M.D. would do a time skip whenever there was a break in production, the exception was when he was in rehab (which occurred in 'real time'). Going back to books, The Dresden Files usually have a year in between. Dresden even tells us that the interior of his car is eaten out but a mold demon, because he does stuff outside of the three days of the year that he saves the world.

What we need to see in television is for the writers to stop worrying about whether they will have another season and worry about what they will be writing the next season. Showrunners need to end shows when they have run there course. They should be making milestones for what they want to accomplish.

We can totally take it on.
Most of these people played Dungeons and Dragons at one point in their life, don't they know how they build up the action? Start small and then at some point the characters find themselves fighting the big bad. Don't have them fighting the big bad once a year with us knowing that they never get to live happily ever after. Even Codex Alera ends with the the characters pretty sure they have a couple decades of peace before they need to go back to war.

I'm also totally for time jumps. Add an extra five years in between seasons. Have the characters change a bit, particularly the supporting characters. They should be changing as much as the main characters, but the main characters might go meet them and discover that they aren't nearly as big of dicks as they remember and maybe they don't mind working with them that much anymore.

And once you have that done you can save money by a dozen episodes. Use that money to make the episodes you have that much better. We don't need filler episodes, even need good television.


New AmsterdamFirefly - The Complete Series