Six Things That May Make A Show Bad
Because of the Something’s love/hate relationship with Lost over the years, I have found that there are certain things a television show does that make me wonder whether what I’m watching is good TV or not. Every situation and show is unique, of course, and for every item on this list, there is an exception where it’s done to great effect, but if you are watching the newest thing and you can count the number of times these problems arise over two hands in the first season, it just might be that you are watching a bad show.
1. What was the answer to the question?
There is a tense moment. Heroes have just run into a room, the villain is about to reveal a key fact, a group of hackers are pouring over a computer screen you can’t see, the camera pans slowly as everybody’s face goes shocked…annnnnnnnnnnnd we’re on the next scene. Now, more often than not, this is built for tension and we can hope that the payoff will come before the credits roll, but what happens when this sequence happens every episode? What about when it’s the same secret that is always told to everyone except the audience? It can get infuriating, aren’t we good enough to know?
Sometimes, these results come and you feel satisfied, but more often than not they are only the deus ex, the big surprise at the end, that made it safe for the good guys to win the day or the bad guys to live to fight another day. It’s the secret plan they had in their back pocket all along – that you knew they had since minute 15 and have only existed to confuse everyone along the way.
2. Why didn’t they ask twice?
“So what happened to my partner?” The hero asks the knowing intelligence agent of questionable morality.
“I thought we were here to discuss my Netflix Terms of Service?” the agent turns slowly and with purpose.
The hero slams his hands on the table, “THEY DON’T REVEAL THEIR METRICS!”
Now, maybe the hero was there for legal advice about his streaming service, but they did ask a question first. Rarely in television do characters go, “That’s not what I asked.” Instead, they respond to what they’re given. It’s a bait and switch being played on the viewer.. your mystery has been addressed, but can be pushed off until later. It lets you feel like it isn’t a forgotten plot point, but adds nothing to it. It’s a mental trick that works for a little while, but when characters are jumping topic to topic, ask yourslef ‘Would I have more answers if they had only repeated the question?’
3. You waited until now to tell me?
I get that a show where we were privvy to every moment of car rides, jet rides, train trips, horseback sojourns, and rollercoaster uphills may get fairly boring. It makes sense for exposition to be dumped at times where you are visually simulated…. but… if the only time you ever get important, life-saving information is right as the characters are about to jump in the face of danger – something’s up.
“So, what do we have to worry about?” The captain asks, gun drawn, hiding behind a bunch of crates full of dolphin-safe tuna.
“Nothing other than the rocket launchers,” The monster-turn-informant says for the first time ever, shrugging with a wry smile that makes no sense since they are also in a place possibly filled with rocket launchers.
4. WHO DO YOU WORK FOR? Wait.. WHO DO I WORK FOR?!
Changing loyalties go hand in hand with action and espionage shows. Sometimes, like on Alias, the question of ‘who is who they say they are’ is done to amazing effect. Other times, in shows like Alias, it is a constant tennis match of never knowing if you are watching heroes or villains. Finding out the whole season has been the reverse of what you’ve seen can be an amazing and satisfying reveal. Finding out that the hero that was originally the villain was actually the villain, but for a different group of villains instead of the villains you learned previously were heroes… well, you get it.
5. Isn’t anyone normal!?
We pan from the protagonist to their neighbor who smiles jovially and waves while they are watering their plants. The minute the hero is out of shot the neighbor grabs their cellphone, ‘She’s on the move.’ Over their shoulder a mailman is delivering to the next person down the street and pulls a gun from the mailbox. All of this while a dog watches from across the street wearing a blinking collar made of C4, being walked by an assassin with a robotic arm.
A good show needs cool characters, fine… but is everyone in on the mystery? Is everyone a spy or a secret double reverse skip Draw +4 Mossad Cyberagent? Can’t our heroes just have one friend that aren’t in league with the Russians and just enjoys the Smiths and Scrabble night? If nobody in the show’s world is just a normal everyday schmuck, perhaps the show is relying a bit too much on that trope.
6. No, it’s not that.. it’s WAAAY more complex than that…
Chances are, if you’ve ever written a story, outline, game or otherwise – you’ve come up against your brain with a twist or reveal that, honestly, is kind of obvious. How else would any of what had happened before make sense? Or, perhaps you just never really thought out the answer so now you are continuing to complicate it to try and get yourself out of your own maze. Both of these are what happens when you aren’t trying to tell a story, but simply trying to keep your audience on their toes. The deeper your mystery gets, the more satisfying the payoff should be. So, when you get to the final chapter and all of the writers start telling you, ‘Oh it was never about the destination, it was about the people…’ you have every right to be ticked off.
I know that sounds like I’m leaning on Lost with that one, but tons of shows can’t help but over-complicate themselves to keep that seasonal advertising money rolling in. Lost, Battlestar, X-Files… of course you have no idea what happened – nobody does – not even the writers.
So there you have it – what shows have you seen that did these things well? What shows have done all of them? Let us know and we’ll see you next week!
Every week, the Somethings will be giving you a little something extra, so please check back every week for reviews, lists, cool finds, and more!