Monday, October 19, 2009

flash forward to the death of story telling

So I've watched a bit of Flash Forward and, like its cousin Lost, it appears to have zero direction beyond the basic premise. I won't go into it, but basically everyone blacked out for a minute and a bit and had 'visions.' While almost everyone blacked out (bar the 'men in black'- sorry, X-Files did that motif to death and did it well before they killed it), the world went to crap since planes and buses crashed and kangaroos broke free. Seriously.

A premise should never be confused with good story telling. Having a lot of characters should never be confused with character development. Four episodes in and we know little about even the main characters. The biggest revelation is that the dude from Harold and Kumar is going out with the chick from Bring It On! Oh, and the dude who died in Lost is a shadowy figure, someone like, well...
this guy,

this guy

and this guy.

Which brings me back to previous shows based on a premise. The X-Files' premise of aliens among us and the governments involvement was frustratingly teased out over nine seasons. The eventual ending was actually disappointing for the sole reason that it made sense. Followers of the show could recount the characters history and intertwining plots and could recognise the connections that had been there all along. All it needed was a two hour episode to tie it together.

Lost is well beyond the point of ever actually making sense. So many characters have come and gone and so many plot devices used across seasons that anything resembling rational, authentic story telling is long gone. Having lots of characters does not make us care. By way of example, the constant 'sudden' deaths of Boone et al., actually undermine your audience and cause them to resent their emotional investment. Killing the occasional character works but the constant stream of deaths (and indeed rebirths) doesn't help the audience. You keep pulling this card out every season and eventually they stop watching.

The X-Files largely survived this thanks to the 'one off' episodes that were a self contained story. There was still the major story arch (which was as complicated as hell) but the one off investigations by Mulder and Scully allowed the audience to reconnect with their protagonists and, on occasion, explore side characters as well. The premise was not compromised but it gave a more rounded show, and allowed casual viewers (and the writers) the chance to just see some 'cool stuff.' (The Simpsons did this perfectly during their golden era, though without overarching stories). The result of showing this ability to carry and complete a story was an audience who stayed with the show. They built a faith that they would eventually reveal the truth, something neither of the more recent shows has done. All Lost has done is offer flashbacks and flash forwards, a cheap way that avoids creating moments of exposition that invite the audience to care.

Flash Forward hasn't even been interesting enough to actually use a decent (or even cheap) plot device since they are still exploring their premise. There may be one off character pieces to come but so far it has been a slow process, clouded by a weekly schedule and too many characters. It is difficult to remember who is who when you have cops, FBI, a hospital and then minor characters to follow.

The success of these shows, along with certain novels (The Da Vinci Code) and movie franchises (Clone Wars), is only inviting apathy from the audience.

The art of story telling is the one suffering most. Tell a story and make me care about it. Leave cliff hangers and unresolved threads to the unimaginative.

If you are sick of crappy story telling- go see this (out now at Nova and good cinemas) and start watching this.