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"There's no judging in the Dollhouse."
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April 01 2008

Brief but insightful essay by Jane Dark about arc plots in television references Buffy.

I don't necessarily agree that Buffy was a half measure in the way that's implied. The X-Files and The Wire are at opposite ends of intensity in the deployment of arc plots and Buffy's right slap bang in the middle. As I think Joss has said somewhere, possibly a commentary, the series had a perfectly adequate conclusion with Season Five. Then the series continued and another perfectly adequate conclusion had to be found for the next two seasons in case it wasn't renewed.

[ edited by feelinglistless on 2008-04-01 00:04 ]

This was a very savvy article, and well considered. Whether or not we posit Buffy as she does is not relevant, per se; the bigger point is. She is correct in noting that quality TV is now long-form. To this let me comment on my latest evangelical fervor, In Treatment. It is a long-form show, but with a difference compared to Buffy. There were 43 episodes broadcast over a period of just 9 weeks, amounting to 21.5 hours of programming in that period. That is like doing a full season of Buffy in just 9 weeks, rather than the 22. And the model worked for those would commit- you could watch In Treatment in 3 ways- for individual episodes, for the entire arc of a single character, or as a complete and linked show where each episode is part of creating its mythology. It resonates greatest in the latter case. I came to Buffy from the time of DVD- had watched when it was on, spottily since my kids ran cross country on Tuesdays. The DVD allowed for maximum enjoyment since I could take it in lengthy doses, remembering important developments. If the apotheosis of this kind of writing is The Wire, then the nadir is indeed Lost. Lost seems to have no fixed mythology and no real point. We know they are going somewhere, but even knowing that they have set a limit provides no guarantee that getting there will be fulfilling. In Buffy, and in In Treatment, there is a real payoff at the end (whether it is end of S5 or S7 Buffy), and a sense of completion and answer.
I'm getting the vague inkling that you may like this In Treatment show ;)
I always enjoy seeing Joss Whedon & company praised, but is it really accurate that he plotted "multiple-season trajectories of character and story development in advance?" The impression I've always gotten from Whedon in interviews and commentary tracks is that Buffy was, at least at first, arced one season at a time to insure each season would be self-contained and satisfying, since they were never entirely sure they had another season waiting around the bend.

(By contrast, Babylon 5 was pre-planned as a five-year arc from the get-go, even though the initial plan was rejiggered and evolved along the way to adapt to cast changes, changes of heart on the creator's part, etc).

(and by much earlier contrast, The Prisoner was concieved as a single arc that, at the BBCs request, was padded with extra episodes to make a season, since what McGoohan originally had in mind is what would later be called a miniseries).

I claim no expertise on any of the above matters; they're just what I've gleaned from interviews and such.
BtVS struck a brilliant balance between having meaningful self-contained episodes and over-arching story arcs, and for me this is one of the reasons it was so resonant both as a TV and later as a DVD experience. You can watch a single episode and get a good story played out to its conclusion, or watch a bunch of episodes in one sitting and appreciate the developments of the larger plotline, and get an equally good experience from both.

I agree that TV (or at least good TV) is developing increasingly towards the long form, but striking a nice balance between the short term payoff of a well-crafted single episode and the ongoing narrative of an entire season shouldn't really be construed as a half-measure. For me, this is one of the reasons why I loved BtVS far more than I did Angel, because for me Angel (at least in its 2nd, 3rd and 4th seasons) became far too reliant on large seasonal plot structures, such that often standalone episodes felt somehow lost in the bigger picture. Not that I disliked Angel, I loved the show, but watching it often felt like heavy going, whereas watching BtVS always seemed a joy.
I'm really looking forward to the end of Lost. Not because I want it over. Far from it. It's one of maybe five or six current series that I truly care about and I'm going to miss it when it's finally over.

The reason I'm looking forward to it ending is so that people might quit with all these assumptions that they know better than the writers about the show's outcome and that despite the fact many people, myself included, are very clear about what they show is doing and are happy to be kept in the dark until the time is right to reveal the answers, it's still open season on the show for anyone that simply doesn't have the patience to wait.

Yes, the writers padded things out a little during season two and the first third of season three, mainly because they had no clear idea how long they would be expected to run for. That meant they had to add a few extra mystery elements here, a couple of filler stories there, to stall for time. That isn't the same as saying they don't know where they are going or that the end will not be fulfilling to the viewer.

The way I see it, either watch and enjoy the mystery or don't watch and don't moan about a show that wasn't to your liking. Quite honestly, if you don't get something while others seem to be appreciating it perfectly well, then maybe it's not the show that's the problem. Maybe you just don't get it.

The advice I give to anyone who tells me they gave up on Lost is to just wait until the show is over and watch it at your own pace on DVD. That way you can at least judge the show it it's complete form and not just over half way through it's run. That's kinda like reading a murder mystery novel with twenty chapters and getting pissed that you haven't been told who the murderer is by chapter 12.

Lost is probably one of the most daring experiments in televised story arcs and as such it has proven difficult for a large number of it's original audience to maintain an interest. Fair enough if the wait for conclusion isn't for you but for a good many people Lost is the closest thing to perfection television has ever provided us. That being the case, it must be doing something right.
Hmmm, while I think "Buffy" is a good example of using the arc form well, I don't think of it being particularly innovative in that way. I think Joss would be the first to point to Stephen J. Cannell's 'Wiseguy' -- and other 80s shows like "Hill Street Blues" and "St. Elsewhere" -- as trailblazers in a form that 'Buffy' would later use to great effect.

And I'll honestly be surprised (though not unhappy) if we ever again see television-as-long-form executed as well as it was on "The Wire".
One of the things that always impressed me about BtVS was the way that the writers would reference forward into the future, giving the viewer tantalising clues of developments that were years away. The Mayor being mentioned a few times in season 2, as an example, or the references to Dawn in Buffy's prophetic dreams during seasons 3 and 4, among many others both obvious and subtle. These touches made the viewer feel that they were watching something that had been planned, almost like a prophecy, which of course perfectly fit the themes of the show.
I agree with Furball about AtS; I think that around the middle of S4 especially, the show was too much of advancing the larger plot, without allowing any episodes to stand on their own.

BtVS, on the other hand, balances the overarching arc (does that sound redundant to you?) and the self-contained episode structure to perfection, especially in the early seasons.

Since it was a coming of age story, and since there were so many metaphors that the BuffyVerse lent itself to, each episode could lend itself to one specific message (excepting the 2-parters) that could be explored and resolved.

Episodes such as "Go Fish" or "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" etc. etc. could explore different things that teenagers come in contact with, such as steroids, abusive boyfriends, parents' dating, etc. while still advancing the overall story toward its huge finale.

It especially worked because it was a coming of age story: teenagers' lives are very one moment or crisis at a time, with no large goal except surviving the school year, or eventual graduation.
You can notice that as Buffy and the scoobies get older, there is a little less focus on each individual episode, and more on the overall arc, like in some of S5, most of S6 and S7.
These episodes stand alone to a certain extent, but cannot really be watched for the first time out of sequence, nor do they necessarily *need* to be resolved immediately.
Highlander, you says: "The way I see it, either watch and enjoy the mystery or don't watch and don't moan about a show that wasn't to your liking. Quite honestly, if you don't get something while others seem to be appreciating it perfectly well, then maybe it's not the show that's the problem. Maybe you just don't get it."

Please. I don't like Lost. I watched for 1.5 seasons and decided that the writers were jerking me around. But don't be so patronizing as to suggest "I don't get it." Maybe I just don't like it. Maybe I think it is written poorly, and maybe I think it makes a good counterpoint to shows, like Buffy and In Treatment (I have no clue, zeitgeist, why you think I like the show........ :-)) that I think honor their watcher much more than Lost does. There is a reason Lost has lost viewers. A lot of people did stick with it, but left in S2 and 3 as a result of those poor writing decisions. I understand that because you love the show you can excuse those decisions, but they were the deal killer for me. I started out loving Lost, and at the end of S1 I just went, that's it? That's all they are going to reveal? We are in the 4th season now and some of those same mysteries still have not been answered- and according to Cruse and Lindlof never will be. I understand that for all of us, OMMV, but for me Lost failed to provide the resonance and depth I wanted in a show; it seemed perversely unwilling to answer anything, figuring that the devoted would hang with them. Well, that's so, and I was one, but no longer because they strung it out too far for too little payoff and no way to identify with any character, for me. But it sure ain't Buffy and it sure ain't perfect.
For me personally, the structure of BtVS season four is the most intriguing of the seven, since in form it seems to mirror its subject so closely. Season four, as we know, is about the gang heading off to college and the different paths that they take, which lead to them breaking apart as a group before ultimately reuniting to defeat the big bad. Echoing the college theme, the season structure almost seems to mimic the structure of an academic essay, in that it consists of an introduction, where the argument is laid out in brief, a main body, and a conclusion where the argument is repeated and distilled.

The introduction is of course the episode The Freshman, where the general theme and course of season four is mapped. The gang start college, Buffy feels out of place and isolated from her friends, gets thrashed by the big bad (in this case Sunday), but eventually at the end of the episode the gang stands united again to defeat the threat. Season four in a nutshell. The main thrust of the season follows the same theme: the gang drift apart, become divided, but ultimately unite (literally in the form of UberBuffy) to defeat Adam and his schemes. And finally that magnificent conclusion, Restless, where the gang is once again divided, in this case by their dream state, and each is forced to take stock of where they are in their lives and draw conclusions from what they have learned about themselves in the preceding year.

All of this may, of course, merely be me overanalysing the structure of season four, but I wouldn't put it past Joss to have planned it that way on purpose. He is, after all, a total genius.
I enjoyed the article for what it was, but you can't say the acting in "The X-Files" is better than that in "Lost" and just walk away. I mean, could Gillian Anderson have BEEN a poorer actress in the first few season? Thinking not. "Lost" gets a lot of hate because it's so popular, but I think that it's quite a bit closer to a Buffy quality level than "The X-Files" ever, ever was. Not to say "Lost" is even in the same ballpark, continent, or WORLD as Buffy, but it's quite closer than TXF.
I'm a bit unsure of how far ahead Joss was planning Buffy, but in "Graduation Day" he had obviously thought ahead to "The Gift." And when they brought back the show on UPN, he clearly knew that he had two more seasons. His balance of one arc per season was great, but he was certainly dropping hints about things to come.

(And, as authors often speak of characters writing themselves, Spike was jumping up and down demanding his redemption arc as early as "Lie to Me," so at least something in Joss's mind was thinking really, really far ahead.)

Babylon 5 gets no respect for the groundbreaking nature of its arc... but if anything really got the ball rolling on this, it's 24. That's the show that proved to the execs that audiences have an attention span. It pains me to say it, of course, since there were so many good arc shows that came before 24, but there you go.

The article also praises "The Wire" to the skies, and on that I cannot disagree: it is phenomenal. Not as good as Buffy as a story, I feel, but in terms of message it is the greatest thing television has ever aired.
I was a big fan of The X-Files back in its early days. Not big enough to shell out the $$ they want for the DVDs, mind, but sufficiently that I was delighted, a few years ago, to inherit some VHS tapes of the first two seasons. Unfortunately, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had come along in the interim. I was rather shocked to discover that the show I had such fond memories of had retroactively become a rather plodding and predictable affair. There was still much to enjoy, of course, including Fox and Mulder's chemistry, and the creativity of the situations and plots, but overall it really wasn't that terrific.

The deal with Lost for me is that it stands or falls on its mysteries and exposition thereof. While there are some delightful character moments, the character development and, above all, the dialogue, is pretty poor, IMO. I enjoy the show, but it doesn't whisper to me at night.
I think a five-paragraph essay on BtVS and The Wire was a bad idea to start with. Or on either, for that matter, unless you're singling out a small area. To try to discuss their overall form in that seems foolhardy, and results in overlooking that Joss's "hedging" resulted in some of the finest episodes of television, ever. And that The Wire also had smaller arcs within the larger arc and identifiable "theme" episodes.
I was a big, big fan of Lost when it started. There was much promise there and they truly had an amazing cast to work with (Terry O'Quinn alone made it worth watching) but every opportunity was squandered.

The murder of Shannon in S2 pissed me off a lot, as the reason the writers gave for killing her off was inexcusable to me (they said she was too young so there would be less to do with flashbacks) as well as the way the season finales were far too predictable.

True stories (like a million other people didn't think this also): In ep 13 of S1 when Locke and Boone were digging up the hatch I said to my viewing buddy "I really hope the finale isn't some lame 'they finally get the hatch open then reaction shots from people at the mystery of what's inside and it ends'" and that's exactly what happened. Then in the S2 premiere (the premiere!) with the whole 108 minute countdown nonsense I again said "Come on, they seriously can't stretch this out until the finale" and that's exactly what they did.

Once it became clear to me the creative "talent" behind the scenes of Lost was equivolent of listening to a 5 year old tell a story (--and then a monster eats the pilot and then these scary other people attack and then there's a weird hatch in the ground and then they see a 4 toed statue and then we flash to the future!!!!) I decided to call it a day.

Though, to be honest, it'd be a lot more impressive if someone would just admit they've got a 5 year old prodigy locked up in the basement where they get all their ideas.

I guess I was spoiled by Joss' shows and the way the writers actually thought ahead more than 3 episodes at a time.

Ugh, I miss BtVS.

[ edited by Dhoffryn on 2008-04-01 06:01 ]
S'funny, Dhoffryn, but none of the examples you give have bothered me at all. I thought the S1 ending was great. I thought the S2 premiere was great. Generally I've liked the general direction the show has taken, and many of the routes ventured to get there. And, with respect, I think you do the writing team a disservice in your description - it seems clear to me that there's a great deal of thought going on regarding the big points the creators want to make. But, still and all, Lost touches me, if at all, only on a dry abstract level, rather than on the flesh and blood and heart level that Buffy or Firefly does.
I guess if it works for you that's good, but I take offense to the predictability of its "unpredictability". I like to be engaged by a show and let it take me where it's going. I don't like shows where I can guess what's coming when I'm not even trying.

The writers of Lost insist they have some kind of "big picture" in mind, and that may even be true, but the endless filler between the start and end of the "big picture" gets frustrating.

The horrible mishandling of the characters is my biggest issue, really. If the characters were interesting and worth it then I would have no problem disregarding some of the, oh let's say..."inconsistencies" that are abundant, but they've sacrificed character for story and the story just doesn't work.

I remember how Kate was supposed to be this badass fugitive that managed to evade the law, and her very own marshall stalker, for years only to be dumbed down over and over so that hero-man-Jack could save the day.

Not to mention the itchy trigger finger the makers seem to have. All those shiny and new tail end survivors (barring Bernard, who's hardly major) introduced in S2 were dead by the beginning of S3.
Wow lots of very strong anti-lost sentiment here...
I think Lost is better than Firefly.
Dana5140, the problem I have with your position is that I hear the same things all the time about how they refuse to answer any of the mysteries or how they made poor writing choices during season two and early season three. Frankly, I disagree. As said, I do agree they padded a little during those episodes but nothing they added has disrupted the story. Some of the filler episodes were absolutely hilarious and made a welcome break from the central arc.

If I sounded patronizing in anything I said then I do apologise for that but I tend to believe it to be equally patronizing for the casual viewer (as you now appear to be) to be judging a show that you stopped watching. How can you be so quick to assume that they haven't given answers if, as you say, you watched all of 1.5 seasons before giving up? Lost isn't a show that offers anything too easily, I'll admit, but giving up only half way through the second season of a series that clearly can't begin to answer it's mysteries until it is at least starting to come to the end of it's run, and then blaming the show for your failure to maintain the interest, hardly seems fair to me.

The truth is that answers have been given, in a fashion. The pieces are starting to come together and so far I've seen nothing to suggest they won't fit into the overall story arc very nicely. This current season alone has allowed us to get a much better idea about how everything relates, if you've watched and paid attention. Lost doesn't require genius level intellect to understand it. Just the willingness to wait and listen to what you are being told.

And, Simon? I'd have to agree.

[ edited by Highlander on 2008-04-01 10:40 ]
*I* think Simon's spoon is the biggest i've ever seen ;).

Squinted through parts because i'm about to start on 'The Wire' and don't want to be spoiled but the "essay" doesn't seem to say much that's new. TV has longer to develop characters, check. Buffy's great, check. So's 'The Wire', check.

And yep, you can't talk about arcs and not mention 'Babylon 5' IMO, probably the show that really showed it could be done and done well ('X-Files' was very episodic to start with and gradually incorporated more arc/mythology elements as it went on and IIRC, mostly after B5 met with some success). Joss did great cross-season foreshadowing (and to some extent BtVS had a natural arc anyway since it was about growing up) but JMS had the entire arc in mind before he started.

I also stopped watching 'Lost' at the start of season 2, not because I came to hate it but because it became less compelling for me when I realised they were more committed to a long run than to telling a specific story (it really felt like a story that only needed 2-3 seasons to tell without padding).

I'll go back to it eventually (maybe soonish) but it's no longer must-see TV for me and when I start to re-watch it i'll have to adjust my mindset from "compelling arc-ish mystery" to "possibly ad hoc meandering character development" (not saying that's bad, just different).

That's kinda like reading a murder mystery novel with twenty chapters and getting pissed that you haven't been told who the murderer is by chapter 12.

No, it's more like reaching chapter 12 and getting the distinct impression that the author also doesn't know who the murderer is (the obvious worry being that it might end up someone that only appears in the last 5 pages ;) and that they might stick 5 unnecessary extra chapters on the end just to please the publisher.
For me, one of the major downsides with the long form story arc approach is that a new show may well get cancelled before its audience gets to appreciate the full scope of the story being presented. Broadcast TV seems to be on something of a decline, with the impact of the internet, games and DVDs etc., and networks seem quicker than ever to cancel anything that isn't an instant hit. And I think viewers are getting increasingly disenfranchised by this - I mean, who wants to commit to watching a TV show telling a story in long form only to find that the show is cancelled before the story is told. That's like reaching chapter 12 and finding out that the publisher decided not to bother printing the last eight chapters because "hey, you already bought the book anyway".
No, it's more like reaching chapter 12 and getting the distinct impression that the author also doesn't know who the murderer is (the obvious worry being that it might end up someone that only appears in the last 5 pages ;) and that they might stick 5 unnecessary extra chapters on the end just to please the publisher.

See, I've never had that impression. Other than the known fact that they have put a few extra, unplanned storylines into the show to help fill an extra episode or two I've never had reason to doubt that the writers were heading to a very definite conclusion. Actually, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the main villain is somebody we have seen very little of so far, but if that is the case I won't view it as a bad thing, as long as it makes sense.

Ultimately, we just won't know if Lost will satisy completely until we view the final episode. That's really my only point. To at least wait and see before accusing the writers of not having a clue where they are heading. If the show isn't for you then that's fair enough. It clearly isn't for everyone, but then what show is? I just tire of people who think they can predict the end of the show better than the writers can.

If it ends and it sucks, I'll be happy to agree with all the naysayers. Just at least allow it to end before you comment on how it's going to end. :)
highlander, I love TV, and I love reading about TV, so I still follow Lost be reading recaps on TWOP. It's enough to ensure I do not actually watch the show. But I really do get that we each love what we love; it is just that, though I love In Treatment, for example, I am not going to tell someone who does not that they just don't get it. Because, they don't have to. They like what they like. I really did like Lost, and then it just lost me. I also liked Desperate Housewives in S1, but gave it up for silliness. I like Pushing Daisies, but gave it up toward the end of S1 because we know Chuck will never touch Ned. And all of this is okay. Buffy resonated with me for reasons I would be hard put to explain, but I think is because there is a character- Willow- I care for. Just like I did for Sara Sidle in CSI (and with her gone, the show has lost interest for me), and with Sophie in In Treatment. There is no one in Lost I can care for. And none of those characters have been consistent in their characterstics. And I think that is really the reason I just don't care about the show any more; there is no entree into their world through a character, so all that is left is the mystery, which they simply never reveal. For me character is all.
The historical change in television duration can be coordinated by two shows.

And in some language that is English that sentence means what exactly? Is she trying to say illustrated by, demonstrated by, encapsulated by?
Dana5140, whilst I think any Lost fan would agree that it's just not possible to judge the show fairly based on recaps, I'm not actually disputing your right to dislike the show. As I said in my last comment to Saje, the show isn't for everyone and there are plenty of reasons to genuinely decide Lost is not a show you are going to enjoy. I don't agree with your opinion on the characters not being portrayed in a consistent way (and again I'd say that you have to have actually watched the show to fairly judge that) but not liking the characters is at least an opinion I can totally get behind. Your Desperate Housewives example is one where we can totally agree that it just got too silly.

My issue was always with this comment:

Lost seems to have no fixed mythology and no real point. We know they are going somewhere, but even knowing that they have set a limit provides no guarantee that getting there will be fulfilling.

It's the same negative attitude towards the show that is repeated time and time again from people who, again like your good self, haven't been watching properly and so don't really have the right to judge that. In fact even those of us who still watch every week don't really have the right to assume that there is no fixed mythology or point, or that the show won't have a fulfilling conclusion. We can judge that only when the show is over.

So it comes back to either sticking with it and waiting to see how the show concludes or stopping watching the show (regardless how legitimate the reason you have might be) and at least keeping an open mind that maybe the writers know what they are doing more than you do, until they prove otherwise. Only seems fair to me.
BUt highlander, while I completely agree with you- what you say is fair and logical- I still think that when it comes to TV, anything goes as far as viewer opinions matters. I don't have to watch to have an opinion. Now, that may seem patently unfair and even wrong, but it also does not matter. I have an opinion. It's mine. It's based on whatever I base it on, and people can respond to it or not, since I am quite honest in noting that my opinion is based in part on the fact I have stopped watching and am only reading. That does not make me right or wrong, just opinionated. :-) I think this is the beauty of TV. Now, down the road, Lostmay have a cataclysmic and heartrending finale, and I might be enticed to watch again on DVD, but then again, I might not. I really did not like House- I am enrolled in a master's program in bioethics- but after watching 3 episodes in a row, I got it, and am now hooked- and I love Cutthroat Bitch. :-) And of course I can assume anything, though I can be wrong in my assumptions. Now, I am not trying to parse your comments, just trying to say that when it comes to opinions about things like TV, people draw their thoughts on whatever they draw them on- complete information, incomplete information, no information, whatever. But they still have, and share, their opinions. Which people can listen to or not. I can honestly say I gave Lost a shot, ultimately stopped watching because I no longer liked it, and am willing to tell you why I did so. Is it possible that the reasons I gave up are no longer operative? Sure. But they were my reasons, unique to me, and enough to have me stop. I am glad you love the show and draw pleasure from watching it. Like I do with In Treatment, which I know is not going to be for everyone. And while I wish people would watch so I could talk about it, that really did not happen. But, if we go backto the original thesis, In Treatment is an arc over 43 episodes in 9 weeks; Lost is one over many seasons; Buffy did so over 7 years in part, and X-Files tried to do so but in my opnion got lost along the way- sort of how I view Lost itself.
Yeah, I have to say, no-one would ever judge anything or anyone if we all had to wait until we had complete information (laudable as an ideal though that may be).

It's fair comment that we shouldn't decide an ending will be a let down before we get there BUT deciding that we don't want to take the risk is perfectly fine (in the same way that you can't really know if a film's crap until you see it but people decide not to watch films based on incomplete information all the time).

... but after watching 3 episodes in a row, I got it ...

Man, you led with your chin that time. It's not that we don't "get it", remember ? Except, I completely agree, in 'House's case - if you don't like 'House' it really is because you don't get it ;).

(BTW Dana5140, has someone declared a moratorium on paragraph breaks and not told me ? ;-)
Oh, absolutely. We all make a choice about what we are going to do with our time and whether or not a television show is worth using some of that valuable commodity up. If you don't like Lost, you don't watch it. That's obvious.

Same goes for Saje's comment about the fact we tend to judge without a complete understanding of a given subject or, in this case, television show arc. It's human nature. And really I'm not saying that shouldn't be the case because I may as well be saying that the sky shouldn't be blue or water shouldn't be wet because nothing about that is going to ever change.

All I'm trying to say is that in this specific case the comment Dana5140 made originally is one that is thrown around all the time and one that I neither agree with or believe is a fair one to make, given the nature of the show and our lack of knowledge concerning what the writers are going to show us in the final two and a bit seasons. This particular show is simply one that is only ever going to be fairly judged after it is over and any opinion based on the first season or two would in no way be a true assessment of the show at it's conclusion.

And, gotta agree with Saje, that was one mighty, man-sized paragraph you gave there, Dana5140. ;)
Out of curiosity BTW Highlander, does that mean you don't believe in 'Jump the Shark' moments or episodes ? Or are e.g. non-arc shows able to jump but not arc shows, or at least not until we've seen the whole thing can we sort of retrospectively judge a jump point ?

(or do you ever "feel" like a show has jumped, even if you "know" intellectually that it's not really fair to judge it yet ?)
Well, it seemed to me that it was all one long thought; ergo, no break. :-) ****grrr durned grammar nazis grrr**** :-)

And to clarify, saje, with regard to House. When I say get it, what I meant was, I think I began to understand how they were trying to present him. He is not likable, but he is written to be not likeable. As an aspiring ethicist, I was upset that he violated every ethical rule there is, without ever getting into trouble, and I felt that this could mislead the public as to how doctors make decisions and what they do. But I began to see the logic in how they wrote him, so I got drawn in. Maybe, to be fair, I do not see such logic in Lost- it makes no sense to me, and as I have noted, I have no one to identify with. (In House it is Cameron).
I think Lost would be quite a satisfying journey if only it weren't for the frequently weak writing.

I think a lot of the trouble with the show was the fact that they were forced to use flashbacks to develop the characters. Maybe once or twice a season, each character gets an entire episode focused around their situation in the present and something that happened in their past.

I think this technique could have worked successfully for maybe one season, but I think it leads to lazy storytelling- I know, let's throw in a really dramatic and previously unmentioned secret from this character's past to make it interesting! In some ways it can be very heavy handed, you could almost summarise the entire flashback portions of an episode in one line, "Hurley was crazy!", "Boone and Shannon have an incestuous relationship!", "Jack betrayed his father!", "Charlie was a druggie rock star!" I know this can be too simplistic in some cases, and some of the flashbacks genuinely do flesh out some of the characters well and the parallel between the past and present is drawn beautifully, but in most cases I find it dissatisfying.

I don't have a problem so much with the mysteries surrounding the island, because it does feel like the show is slowly chugging away towards answering those at some stage, but in the meantime we have to endure a lot of the characters acting irrationally and flashbacks continually changing what the characters are about. The huge cast of characters is also problematic. It would be hard enough to make such a large ensemble cast work if the story focused on the present, never mind the flashbacks which mean that some of the most prominent characters like Jack and Kate get at least 2 or 3 episodes a season focusing on them, and usually feature heavily in the present, whereas others get much less screen time normally and fewer flashback episodes.

I think the decision to introduce the tailies in season two and then kill off all of the important ones by season three was pointless, and again suggests to me that regardless of what the writers say, they don't have the final outcome and answers all prepared. Why introduce at least three main characters (Ana Lucia, Libby and Mr Eko) and then off them? I know it may have been due to outside factors rather than a decision made for the story, but ultimately it seems like they only bothered introducing them in the first place to pad out a few extra episodes with those characters and then kill them off, with virtually no consequences, so we can get back to the other survivors having managed to provide enough episodes for that season.

The rumour about Shannon being killed off because she was too young to provide enough flashback material kind of proves my theory- they decided that killing off an established character would be dramatic and be a good way to occupy a few episodes, so why not pick one that will be less easy to milk for cheap backstory?

I think that the best thing they could have done was not have any flashbacks at all and work on developing the characters realistically through their time on the island. Surely there's as much potential to create dramatic and interesting stories on the much-discussed island rather than relying on the character's pasts? Most shows would only ever do that for an occasional episode, maybe once a season, rather than relying on such a lazy dramatic device. Firefly, for example, showed us only a few brief glimpses of our character's pasts (in Serenity, Out of Gas and War Stories), leaving the rest of the work to the writers and actors to make the characters believable people with histories and secrets without resorting to constantly showing us them.

I'm glad that Lost has apparently ditched the flashbacks in favour of flashforwards because at least it shows that they've decided to try something new and that we won't be forced to endure more flashbacks to pad out each episode. I think it will be intriguing to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together in the end, but I think the idea that one really satisfactory final episode will make anyone suddenly feel that slogging through more than 100 mediocre episodes was enjoyable, with the knowledge of how it all fits together. Surely the journey should be just as interesting, if not more interesting, than the destination.

I think Buffy was a prime example of how to deliver for the audience and entertain them with every episode and every season, rather than have them wishing desperately for the final episode to shed light on the point of it all. I think Joss was wise to plan each season as a self contained arc which also sits within the whole series as part of a coherent story. I think he always satisfied viewers and knew when to bring certain plots or characters to fruition, whilst still layering in things that could be anticipated in the future.

The show could have ended after seasons one, three or five and felt like a proper ending, yet there was always still so much potential for the future. Even after season seven's fulfilling ending everyone felt like it only opened up more potential stories for the future which we are now seeing in season eight.

I think Abrams delivered much more successfully with Alias than he has with Lost, regardless of how Lost ends up. It wasn't perfect and isn't quite the masterpiece Buffy was, but aside from a few mis-steps I think it was a great show. He had a core of at least 6 characters who featured in all 5 seasons and developed believably across that time (apart from perhaps Sloane who started to become ridiculously ambiguous and with impossible motivations in the later seasons- kinda like some of the Lost characters). I think the relationship between Sydney and Jack was one of the best on TV, much more interesting and realistic (yes, even if the show is about super-spies!) than something like the tedious love triangle between Jack, Kate and Sawyer (again where Kate seems to oscillate between love interests in an unpredictable fashion).

As much as I've insulted Lost, I think it can occasionally be very good and even at its weakest can be better than a lot of TV fare, but the amount of hype and positive attention surrounding it is completely disproportionate to quality. But I also think it has a lot of wasted potential in that there are a lot of excellent actors, amazing production values and a few good writers that are forced to serve an ill defined mythology and plot whilst ignoring the most important aspect, that the characters should be interesting and three-dimensional.
Was there another silly argument about the award winning and ratings behemoth Lost that made genre shows ok again for the general public and I missed it?

Darn.

Lost is Hawesome. That is all.
Saje, regarding the whole "jumping the shark" idea, I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of the concept. Simply because it's used every single time something happens on a show that someone happens to not like. Buffy got a new "jump the shark" moment every second episode if you are to believe what you read online. A character is discovered to be gay. The show jumped the shark. A character comes back from the dead. Jumped the shark. A whole town starts singing and dancing. Total shark jumping happening there! Or not, as the case may be. Most times you read or hear somebody claiming a show jumped the shark they are actually talking about something they personally didn't like, which has diluted the whole concept down to the point of meaninglessness.

There are occasions where a show is clearly trying any possible wild story idea to regain it's falling ratings. Obviously the Happy Days origins of jumping the shark point to the clearest example, but there are probably a lot of others. I don't really think it matters so much whether a show is non-arcy or arcy-in-the-extreme. If a show strays too far into the ludicrous then it's a fair comment. So, yeah, I do believe jumping the shark happens. I just don't think it's anywhere near as regular as it would seem to be. I've never seen it happen to any show I've been a fan of.

In the case of Lost I've certainly seen no such example, so far. Most everything we have seen fits perfectly into the central story, or at least the parts of it we have seen up to this point. If Lost did a musical episode, that would probably qualify as shark jumping, but so far I'm pretty certain none of the characters have sung a note. And I do include Charlie in that statement. That didn't count as singing to my ears. ;)
Like adding Britney Spears to HIMYM? Or having a story start on CSI and finish 2 hours later on Without a Trace? Or, having the directors of CSI and that comedy with Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer swap shows one week (it's coming soon, believe it or don't!)? Those are the kinds of stunts that scream Jump the Shark to me. Even with Lost, I do not see it jumping the shark; it just lost interest for me. Nothing more. But 12 million people do not agree with me each week. And that's okay.
TamaraC wins because she employed an extra 'H' - sorry guys, there's no coming back from that, it's the nuke of logic ;).

Simply because it's used every single time something happens on a show that someone happens to not like.

For me, 'X-Files' jumped when Samantha was "in the starlight". Jesus, I still can't think about it without cringing, even now. Though I kept watching for a while afterwards (and came back for the end) that's where I stopped being a fan I think. That said, I also don't think a huge amount of the concept in general because, as you say Highlander, it supposes that everyone agrees when a show does it or that somehow more people thinking it of a specific point makes it so (and I also agree that people usually see it as "a really bad episode" rather than "an episode so bad/off message that every future episode will be tainted by its memory, from which the show can't recover").

He is not likable, but he is written to be not likeable. As an aspiring ethicist, I was upset that he violated every ethical rule there is, without ever getting into trouble, and I felt that this could mislead the public as to how doctors make decisions and what they do. But I began to see the logic in how they wrote him, so I got drawn in.

Hmm, yes and no. Hugh Laurie has said that he was attracted to the part because House doesn't try to be liked which Laurie found very likeable and I agree. I think you're meant to like him but maybe feel guilty for doing so (mostly - sometimes he's just cruel for the sake of it rather than for a higher purpose, usually when he's Jonesing). He's often shown to be more honest (or at least, no more dishonest) than anyone else and maybe even more noble, in his own incredibly twisted fashion (he certainly sacrifices more than pretty much anyone else) and he gets nearly all the best (and funniest) lines. Basically, in fiction, I like him ;).

re: ethics, the "big question" House asks is probably, "Which is more important, ethics or being alive afterwards to question the ethics ?". It's also worth remembering that, in the context of the show, House is where people go when they've tried everything else so he's either going to win (and that's exactly how he sees it) or they're going to die. In other words, it's worth the huge risks he takes and the deeply unethical behaviour because he saves more than he kills (or rather, as the show asks, is it worth it just because his numbers are in the black ?).

Having said that, I probably identify most with Forman (which the series presents as a kind of proto-House) so i'm gonna be biased - and no, I don't really want to consider what that says about me, ta ;).
Well, I know all this. :-) In the bioethics community, there are many discussions using House as analogy- would you like a doctor who is nice and right 80% of the time, or one who is a jerk and is right nearly 100% of the time? Even ethicists opt for the latter. It just took me a while to get past my own strong beliefs, to see the issues they were raising while apparently not raising them, if you see what I am saying. Some of the shows are wrenching in their difficulties. And hey, I love Cameron, plus 13 ain't too bad either and TCB is cool beyond words. I am so glad they brought her back; I was really upset when she got dumped, essentially for being House #2. And now Wilson will have to choose! :-)
Hmm, so Sunday functioned as the Mirror Bad in S-4 like Gwendolyn Post Mrs. did in S-3 and Harmony in S-5. I may want to delve into that elsewhere.
"I think Abrams delivered much more successfully with Alias than he has with Lost, regardless of how Lost ends up."

I had to quote this because it was, literally, a jaw-dropping statement for me. I stopped watching Alias when it became very, very apparent to me that the creative staff had absolutely NO idea WHERE the hell they were going. I've never gotten that feeling with Lost. There are minor pieces of the show they've tossed in (and out, in the case of some characters) as they've gone on, but it's always seemed clear to me that they've had an overall plan which they are following. For me, the journey has been interesting, and, especially of late, significant events are happening to a satisfying degree, IMHO. (But, good for you that you found Alias fulfilling. This was just so opposite to my personal experience with both shows that I felt compelled to give my own take.)

Which still doesn't put Lost in Buffy's class - but then, nothing else is for me, except for Angel and Firefly. (Homicide: Life on the Street is pretty damned good, though, if I haven't actually added my voice to the chorus of Homicide fans on this site yet.) Joss did plan things out so that most season finales could also serve as series finales if need be, but also did have some ideas planned seasons ahead of time if the show were to last longer. Dawn, an excellent example, has already come up; I believe they've said that "Dark Willow" was in the works for a while, as well. Another example: when Kristine Sutherland told Joss that she would be in Europe housesitting during the then-upcoming season four, he replied (paraphrasing from memory) "You are coming back, right? I have to kill you off in season five!"
All else aside, I loved seeing BtS and the Wire in the same essay, two of the greatest shows ever on U.S. TV.

Furball I loved your comments about Buffy season 4, way up the thread. Season 6 is my favorite, but season 4 is a very close second, for all the reasons you cited plus a lot more.

Simon I'm assuming that was an "April Fool". If not, please just lie to me. ;-)
Thanks, I was starting to think it was just me.... :)
I had to quote this because it was, literally, a jaw-dropping statement for me.


Even if you were to disregard the final three seasons of Alias (which I know have faced controversy from fans), I think the first two seasons were two of the best on TV ever and worked as a much stronger narrative than any season of Lost has, in my opinion at least.

As to the later seasons, season 3 was certainly very dark and some people felt that the shark was jumped because of the 2 year time skip, but I thought it made for an interesting mystery and the relentless misery of the season may not have always been enjoyable but it was interesting to watch. Season 4 was something of a return to form and I think season 5 was satisfying, even though a few plots were mishandled and the season was 5 episodes shorter than it should have been.

Of course every show has missteps and directions that fans don't like. One element that annoyed me in Alias was that there were a few plotlines in later seasons which were basically rehashes of older ones, like the idea of people finding out their family members were evil moles.

But overall I think they gave us 5 years of a great central character's life and her relationships with those around her. Obviously not everyone will agree with every decision they made, for example the last few episodes of season 4 and 5 which were perhaps the furthest they ever went into sci-fi territory, and a few of the characters didn't finish the journey as satisfactorily as others did (Sloane and Irina being two examples I personally felt were mishandled) but it doesn't stop me from being very happy with Sydney's story.

I basically feel that some of the plot elements of Alias, such as the Rambaldi mythology, weren't developed as well as they could have been, but at least I always found it interesting. But really I felt that was irrelevant to finding out what happened to Sydney, Vaughan and Jack. And even if I didn't always agree with a direction they took, I can think of only a few instances when I wasn't at the least entertained by Alias.

The problem I have with Lost is that the mythology, which was ultimately quite a small part of Alias and essentially a plot device, is a much larger part of Lost, and I think there's even more pressure on them to deliver satisfactory answers after the intense speculation and the overall importance of it.

But my main criticism is reserved for the way the characters are treated. There are only a few I am interested enough in because I think they've been developed believably enough beyond mere stereotypes, such as Jack, whilst a lot of acting talent is wasted on characters who get maybe 1 episode a season to really develop at all. And I don't always find the interaction between the characters that realistic or engaging. This is not fact, just my opinion, but I felt Alias was more enjoyable and interesting that Lost has been, regardless of its mistakes and weaknesses.

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