People speak of the New Golden Era for TV.
Well, it has a backside.
You do not need to watch many TV shows before that numbing feeling that you have seen this before comes creeping along.
I have two problems with TV mystery/sci fi dramas today:
A) The Formula itself.
B) The character driven story.
A) The Golden Formula is basic = 1) Solve one (story) plot per episode. 2) Solve one arc plot per season. Usually 22 episodes.
Only 3-4 episodes connects directly to the arc plot, so a season contains mostly of one-offs. Usually, there is at least 2×2 episodes that follows the ‘to be continued’ rule, either around mid-season and/or season finale.
B) It is completed with character driven plot (character hooks) instead of story hooks. It is no longer the story that keeps us coming back for more. It is the characters.
You can’t have one without the other, you say?
Start making good story hooks then!
Every episode begins with up to 5 minutes of character development, a tiny bit of information gathered through lines or actions.
It then continues to easily solving the story. Which is the same one, only changing the backdrop, character name and the actors that play them. In some cases, not even that.
In the last minutes of each episode, we are again treated to some tiny bit of character info, only enough to keep us hanging on (hook), tuning into the next episode.
I have touched the subject earlier, as in my rant on Arrow and in the plea about Intruders.
This New Golden Era Formula has become more obvious with the current binge-watching epidemic. You can actually time the scenes and hooks in every episode!
Advertisements must take some of the blame. A show needs hooks before going to break, usually 2-3 times during a 40-45 minute episode, but ads cannot take the blame for character driven plots.
I clearly see who is at fault.
It is J. J. Abrams.
Alias (2001-2006) is the show that stands out to me as the one first perfecting this formula.
It is a rollercoaster of hooks and plot twists heavily character driven. Sidney solves the same case every episode, the only change is with which wig. It is her relationships, her friends, her parents and employers, all summed up as ever-changing allies and enemies that moves the story forward. One minute at a time.
In 2004, Lost added flashbacks to the mix. A narrative device I now only think of as the Mother of all Evil.
The only way to escape boredom is if you find the characters interesting, lovable or not. If sucked in, you are trapped in a maze of hope.
Will they fall in love? Will he ever trust again? What happened to make him so cold-hearted? Which is all questions about the character.
Person of Interest (2011-) comes highly recommended by fans but it follows the Formula to the point of it being ridiculous. Sorry folks, Reese and Finch are just not that interesting for me to get an addiction. #StillNotAFan
However, in the shadows of the Formulistic Maze there is hope lurking.
Shows like The Lottery and The Strain, had they only been better!
I firmly believe that the successes (critical acclaim) of shows like Fargo, The Leftovers, True Detective and (not surprisingly) Intruders, partly is because they dare to break free of the Formula.