Sometimes my wife doesn’t like to watch TV with me. Why? Because I always know what will happen next and how it will end. At some point, and with no intention, the entire program will lay itself out to me like a perfectly set row of dominoes begging to be toppled. She can see it in my eyes. The moment I figure it out, it’s like a light bulb flashes over my head. I need to tell someone! She is the only one there, so I tell her. It pisses her off. I don’t like it. I wish I could stop, but I know I never will. Maybe it’s a result of my childhood fondness for Sherlock Holmes? I just need to solve things? I’ve been an avid Comic book collector my entire life as well. As a result, the amalgamation of picture and story comes very naturally to me, along with the compulsion to decipher what both the writer and artist are trying to convey in each image. Good complicated well-scripted TV is hard to find.

Television, at least American scripted television, over the years has fallen into a very comfortable pattern. Many shows follow a very specific sets of rules. Through the use of foreshadowing, allusion, character development, cinematography etc. scripted television can be deciphered as you watch it. You merely need to recognize the patterns and know the rules.

Lets take character development. If a character commits a particularly heinous act, that character will be called on to pay for that act in some way. Whether payment is through legal channels or is a sort of universal karmic payback is irrelevant, as long as it happens. 24 is the perfect example of this. Follow this logic, even though I kind of gave up on 24 last season. Jack Bauer is not a good man. He believes that the ends justify the means. He will beat, torture, and murder anyone that gets in the way of his mission on one of those particularly bad days he seems to have. As a character, committing these horrible violent acts necessitates that he suffer an equal or greater pain or tragedy. This adds to the depths of his character, because it allows us to rationalize his horrible acts by thinking ‘its okay that he pulled that suspected terrorist’s fingernails out, because his wife died six seasons ago at the hands of terrorists.’ The balance of tragedy and horrors committed allows the audience to perceive Jack as a hero. So, as I watch 24, if I see Jack stab a man in the leg, I expect him to be punched in the face. If he shoots someone, I can pretty much guarantee he’ll go through a window and fall a story or two. And, if he kills some one? Well, lets just say I wouldn’t want to be on his team, because that is when karma has a way of permanently removing CTU agents from the board.

SPOILER – well, an educated guess really – about Up in the Air

Another example is the film Up in the Air, which I just saw with my wife. Movies are easier for us to watch together, because I button my lip in the theater, and can’t involuntarily spout theories. I wonder if I have a cinematic Turrets Syndrome? Maybe I’m the first and can be studied and write a book about it? Digressing, I know. Anyway, Up in the Air, I knew from the moment that the character of Alex Goran (played by Vera Farmiga) was introduced, that her purpose in the script was to teach Ryan (George Clooney) a lesson. What lesson was to be determined… As the film progressed and they grew closer, I said to myself, silently, because I’m in a theater, Damnnnnnnnnn she’s a jerk. She’s married. She has to be married. That was a good hour before the big reveal that she was in fact married. His character needed to have his heart broken, and that was the only way to accomplish it. It was that, or kill her off, and a death wouldn’t have worked with the tone of the film.

In recent years, there has only been one television show that has, and with great frequency, surprised me with its many plot twists, rich characters, and brilliant performances. That show is Lost. As Lost goes into its final season, I intend to watch and attempt to decipher the show strictly through analyzing the craft of filmmaking, acting, writing, etc. I will watch and write and predict, based on what is presented to me. No spoilers, just educated guesses. It will probably drive my wife nuts, but she loves me.

“My name is Colonel Mustard. I was in the study, and that gun is not mine!”

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