I watch a lot of stuff, from documentaries and films to anime and live action TV series. I’ve often said that as long as there’s a good story and good characters, I’ll watch and play anything. But one thing that makes me fall out of love with the series I like is repetitiveness. It’s a reason why I’ve grown to dislike the Police Procedurals, for example. Every episode is the same repeating patterns, with only the season finales actually shifting it. But for me, worse still is repetitiveness in the storytelling, the tricks the writers fall back on during each season to pace their stories.
Today, I’m going to talk about a few series I’ve seen in the past few months and talk about some of their issues, some of the shortcuts I wish they stopped using, as they no longer contribute anything to the narrative, becoming dull tools.
I’m going to assume you know these series, and not explain any of them.
Warning: there is ONE graphic violence image in this article. Yes, it’s from Game of Thrones.
Teen Wolf: Everyone ignores Stiles | Scott is underpowered
One of the recurring things happening in Teen Wolf seasons is there’s a mystery. There’s a conspiracy, or a band of evil bastards coming to town or all of the above. There are friends, enemies and people you’re not sure about until the last moment. That is, unless you’re Stiles. He’s the investigative character, and as the only human, he’s the guy actually thinking about things and following the threads of information, making plans and mapping it all out to find out who’s trustworthy and who’s behind it all. He often figures it out by the third episode of the season and then spends the rest trying to convince everyone that he’s right. And even after a ton of story arcs where he proved to be right about everything, they still doubt him.
If you have a friend who’s right about everything or at least the last few major life-and-death situations, you stop second-guessing him. You take his word at face value and run with it, because even if he’s wrong, you’re probably safer following him anyway.
The other issue with the series is the protagonist’s power level. He’s gone from a simple werewolf—the Eddie Munster kind—to a full-blown Alpha and yet he’s the weakest character in the show. Every villain that shows up overpowers him by several levels and even his companions seem more capable at fighting them off. The writers keep him weak until the season finale when he does something amazing but it just makes you wonder: couldn’t you have done that in the first place? Did all this nonsense really have to happen before you did just that, even though you had tons of opportunities do so over the season?
As the seasons go by, this unexplained weakness in Scott becomes ludicrous and is just a dull tool to pace the story, so the main party is always one step behind the bad guys. But it diminishes the protagonist and it robs the audience of the payoff they’ve been waiting for since the start of the series, since they saw the original Alpha, Peter, transform into a giant hairy Werewolf. Why hasn’t Scott shapeshifted yet? I leave that to you to consider.
Once Upon A Time: The Dark Curse
Counting the sins of Once Upon a Time would take ages, so I’m just going to focus on a single one. This is the recurring plot mechanic the show uses every single damn season.
In the world of Once Upon a Time the Dark Curse takes all magical folk from their world and dumps them in Storybrooke, Maine, without their memories. During the first season, it made sense as that was the premise of the story and breaking it was the goal of our heroine.
But as the seasons go by, having those memory-wipes just feels lazy. They writers need to do it for pacing and to have something to show in those patented flashback moments, telling you what exactly happened in bits and pieces. But you know what? You can do so much more, you can use the flashbacks to fill out the holes in your backstory, the pieces of information that don’t fit anywhere else.
Stop robbing these people of their memories, at this point in time with so many wipes they’re bound to have brain damage. It would explain some of their ridiculous decisions and some of the story choices…but I’m not going into those or we’ll be here all day.
I like Once Upon a Time, but the writing can be dumb and lazy sometimes.
Supernatural: Protective Lying
Supernatural has run for quite a while now and you’d think that at this point the characters—and by that I mean their writers—would have learned to stop keeping mortal secrets from each other. It’s the way all seasons have run and I’m getting quite tired of it. Either of the brothers does something profoundly stupid to save the other or themselves and then spends three-quarters of the season trying to keep a lid on it. Until it blows up in their faces.
I would love for other things to blow up in their faces, like the villains’ plans for example. But it’s usually the Winchesters who are their worst enemies. And I get it. It’s one of the things the show tries to point out, that their love for one another and their protective instincts will cause the most trouble. But you can find other venues to explore the same points. And there’s magic and celestial—or infernal—influence in the series, so you can do a lot in terms of studying the Winchester psyche.
Having the brothers, who are smarter than they look and have proved so plenty of times, repeat this same mistake so many times feels unnatural. It’s almost as if they’d swapped places with someone from Once Upon a Time just enough to have their memories wiped and don’t remember the crap storm they just went through for keeping those secrets of theirs.
Sleepy Hollow: Crane’s War Stories
One of the key elements of Sleepy Hollow is the “man out of his time” aspect of Crane’s character. He came from the American Revolutionary war to the 21st century to battle evil and to fulfill his destiny. He is old-fashioned, quite old in fact and has stories of the Founding Fathers…that always have something to do with the incoming supernatural threat.
I love the stories, you know. I love how they flesh out the alternate history of Sleepy Hollow, I really do. I like hearing how Betsy Ross wasn’t just the Flag Lady but also a spy and one of Washington’s top agents. I like to hear about Ben Franklyn’s quirks and Crane’s grievances with him.
But I’m tired of Crane remembering something from his past that just happens to work in the episode, or finding a letter or journal of one of this friends and have them tell something of the current threat. At first it seemed like a nice coincidence but now it’s ludicrous and just feels lazy, as if the writers couldn’t come up with something different and just went to, “Crane will remember something” by default.
Game of Thrones: Explicit Violence
Here’s the big one. Game of Thrones has way too much violence and I don’t just mean blood and guts but also sexual violence and the writers use it as a storytelling tool more often than not. Scenes that in the books weren’t entirely violent or had conversations, or in the case of intimacy, were consensual, become violent in the TV series.
And even if it were a faithful adaptation of a novel, do you need that much graphic violence to tell your story? The book is open to your imagination, to your ability to conceive gruesome sights but you can do without them. Sometimes subtlety goes a long way, a single scream and some sound effects off-screen do a lot more to shock a person than having a character’s head smashed open by the real-world Thor. The death of Shireen Baratheon at the stake proves that.
The TV series has come under fire since last season for exactly this reason and while they’ve stated they’re going to change things, I know it’ll be exactly the same. And that’s because the Game of Thrones writers don’t know any better way to describe how much of a crapsack world this is than by killing, maiming and raping. Even if it’s a minor character, something appalling will happen to them on-screen so you know just how terrible a place this is.
But it’s not just the shock value or the graphicness of it, but also the fact they focus too much on brining misery to the screen. I have trouble remembering the last episode with a somewhat happy ending. There are so many bad things happening in this series that as part of the audience I just don’t care anymore. The characters can all die in the episode and the only thing that I will care about is how unnecessarily graphic it is. This is a series that has already taught us that everyone is going to die in horrific ways, and that they’ll show their pseudo snuff productions to us, so why should the audience care?
The Originals: Status Quo | The Originals
The Originals tries very hard to be a series about supernatural family intrigue, with the Originals and the various factions of New Orleans. But the problem is that the showrunners desperately keep the status quo intact. Klaus is always the paranoid monster even if there has been plenty of proof that he can be a decent person and he has sometimes even acknowledged that he’s wrong. But it all reverts back to square one by the next episode, let alone the next season. The other siblings follow the same trend but theirs is in regards with following or betraying their brother.
By the second half of the first season—which would be like the second season we’ve seen the Originals on TV thanks to the parent series and major TV offender The Vampire Diaries—you already know how the wheel will turn because there is no intrigue. Things will revert to how they were at the start. No one major will die and nothing will change because The Originals exists in an eternal time-bubble.
Yet, when the show really goes out of their way to do something different the results are amazing. Hayley’s pregnancy was proof of that. They changed Klaus’ character in profound ways thanks to parenthood, the knowledge that he was no longer alone in the world, no longer the only hybrid out there…but then they had to take that away—and not in the way you think—so as to return him to the status quo. The new season has just begun and I already know how things will play out. I know how the filial relationship will work, because they just keep doing the same things. And it’s the same with the secondary characters and factions. There will be double-crossings and you’ll predict all of them.
The second issue this series has is The Original family itself and it’s an issue they inherited from the parent series. It’s the inability to let go of characters, to kill them off or just get rid of them. The members of the Original family have been staked, daggered, killed, revived, put into other bodies or all of the above. It’s become completely ridiculous. If you get rid of a character, let them rest, please. The entire storyline with the Original family in witch bodies showed how lazy these writers can be as it was a complete recycle of characters no one wanted to have back on screen.
Writers for TV, no matter what network, need to learn to take risks. From fear of killing off major characters—except Game of Thrones for the most part—to keeping a status quo or using things that have worked before, writers keep the series in an endless cycle of rehashing old ideas. After all, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. The problem is that playing it safe hinders the storytelling potential of their setting and eventually makes it all very dull and predictable.
Are there any TV series that you feel should make some changes to freshen things up, or at least stop retreading familiar ground?