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May 31 2013

Audiences demand story arcs. Buffy is used as an example of the growing demand for overarching story arcs in genre TV and film.

Your mileage may vary about some of the judgements - in particular that S6 "jumped the shark".

I hate how they imply Joss was only involved/creatively invested in one episode of Season 6 ("Once More, With Feeling"). He planned the entire season with Marti Noxon and co. He was also juggling 2 shows and planning for FIREFLY at the time.

Season 6 gets a lot of hate, and yes the tone of the season is a bit uneven. But it explores some really dark themes and a general sense of confusion that all young adults go through when they're first entering adulthood (see: quarterlife crisis). It's one of my favorite seasons of the show because of how relatable it is on a psychological/humanistic level.
Well said, libradude. Season 6 has a pretty powerful story arc.
The author is wrong about S6 of Buffy, but totally right about Doctor Who being an inherently flawed show.
I don't think the audience knows what it wants.
Wasn't story Arcs a complaint about Angel from the network?
I guess things have changed.
Although this writer's wrong opinions about Buffy taint the article for me.
Buffy ALWAYS had story arcs. Season 1-5 included. And I realize it's only his opinion that 1-5 were the best but he states it like a well known fact, and it isn't.
My feeling is that heavily serialised shows tend to collapse under their own weight eventually. Buffy avoided this for so long by resetting itself every season. I would have liked to see the author explore this point rather than simply bashing Season 6 (which is personally one of my favorite seasons).
No, actually, they don't - they just demand for well-told stories (to which the presence of episode spanning story arcs is often, but not always the case.)


Writers have two choices: an episodic format which hits the reset button at the end of every story; or a larger story filled with smaller puzzle pieces which contribute to the whole yet are almost self-contained in their own right. These are not mix and match solutions, either, and a great deal of the upset caused among fan communities actually stems from attempting to smoosh these two approaches together.

Pardon me while I quote MYSELF:

I wouldn't call anything with strong inter-episode or seasonal archs a pocedural.

And therein lies the rub - whether or not a show is written to present a complete narrative on a per-installment basis says absolutely nothing about whether or not it is also capable of sustaining a story over a broader scope (ie. serial form.) Yes, the prospect of maintaining multiple levels/scopes of storytelling in a tv show can be quite daunting (ergo why you see so many examples of writers playing it safe by resorting to just single-layer stories that, to some, the word "procedural" has itself become a derogatory term,) but there is nothing inherently exclusive about having multiple, simultaneous scopes of storytelling. Imo the best of the best in television are those shows which are written to function narratively on both the short-term 'procedural' and the long-term 'serial' levels, and also prove to be enjoyable when viewed in either context.

To put it another way, the 'serial' elements of a tv show are like the roof and walls of a house while the 'procedural' elements are like a foundation. Foundations stay around for a long time (...) but leave you cold and exposed, while a roof and walls will keep the weather at bay but tend not to last very long (...) without something under them. For a good house you need both - it's the same way with tv shows. Imo every great 'serialized' tv show is just a lonely 'procedural' taken to the next level.

Like libradude and most of you here I strongly disagree about the season 6 assessment.

allthingsaverage also makes a great point about the manner in which Buffy was taken into a new direction each season. Although it could be disappointing initially when the show departed from a way of storytelling that I dearly loved, over time the willingness of Joss and co. to keep doing new things with Buffy has become one of my favorite things about the show.

And I think brinderwalt is exactly right about the possibility to successfully mix procedural and serial aspects. Almost all of my all-time favorite shows (e.g. The West Wing, Arrested Development, Veronica Mars) very clearly combine aspects of both. So do many of my favorite shows currently on the air: e.g. The Good Wife, Suits, The Newsroom and Elementary - which BTW is far better than I had ever expected, possibly even superior to the BBC's Sherlock.

I don't think it's impossible to do a great show that does not combine both procedural and serial aspects. Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are also among my favorite shows currently on the air and both (and especially Thrones) often lack self-contained stories for the individual episodes. But I do think combining both usually is the straightest path to success rather than the certain recipe for disaster the author of the article makes it out to be.

Moreover I think the tension between the established rules of a series or franchise and little forays into serialized storytelling that threaten to break the mold (I'm thinking mostly of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine here) do not have to be only frustrating (as they supposedly were for old fans fond of these rules) but can be also very exciting (for the part of the audience that was annoyed by these restrictions) and make these little baby steps seem very daring and special.

I also don't think the concept for Doctor Who is inherently flawed. The Sandman is quite similar and manages to combine an overarching arc and stand-alone stories in a brilliant manner. (I also don't agree the Doc should never be allowed to change, I think The Sandman also shows that, if it is done well, there is very little that's more powerful than showing the capacity of an ancient being to change).

The point about the danger of escalating increases in power levels is a valid one, but I am not sure if it's an inherent trap of the serial format (I think all of my favorite shows managed to avoid it) nor if it cannot plague procedural series as well (I love the manner in which the outlandishness of Psych episodes keep escalating over the seasons, but it essentially is quite similar case of an escalating use of storytelling tools that might be difficult to keep up indefinitely).

[ edited by the Groosalugg on 2013-06-01 12:03 ]
I, for one, especially liked season six because it dealt with the issues of Willow. If you followed along the previous seasons, it was clear Willow was having problems following Buffy's lead. Furthermore, the "face" Willow was showing wasn't her true self. Rather, she was becoming a very angry girl and that's what Joss showed of her character. IMO, I think he did very well.

'Course, the beauty of a piece of Joss' work is your interpretation of such work. Which, I guess, is the reason why we're here! For the record, I think season six was awesome!

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