Thursday, October 15, 2015
Plots Twisting Themselves into Knots
A couple of nights ago, Joyce and I finished streaming the final episode of the most recent season of Longmire, now a Netflix series. (We'd watched the others when it was on A&E, the network that canceled it, leaving an opening for Netflix.) And we were disappointed.
And the major problem is this--a problem shared, I think, by a lot of contemporary TV shows: Because the episodes are not self-contained but part of an ongoing plot, the screenwriters are soon forced into writing stories that grow ever more bizarre (one twist after another) and eventually, for me, lose all interest as they depart the orbit of planet Plausibility.
"Back in the day" (when TV series began), most (all) shows had self-contained episodes--and this went on for decades. For an example, let's use one of my favorites, The Rockford Files (1974-1980). Occasionally, the hour-long show would have a double episode; sometimes a character from a previous episode would reappear for another (like Rita Moreno, who several times played the Hooker with a Heart, Rita Capkovic). But for the most part, each episode told its own one-hour story. Sure, relationships among the regular characters evolved and deepened, but this did not depend upon any particular plot twist.
We watched some of Dallas years ago (the series originally ran from 1978-91) but lost interest because it did what I'm complaining about: become ever more impossible to believe.
Then came the series 24 (2001-2010), a series that we didn't watch when it actually aired. But we started watching it later on DVD and--hooked!--binge-watched them all.
But the problem? Viewers knew, of course, that nothing would be truly resolved until the final episode. So the screenwriters twisted themselves into [cliche alert!] pretzels trying to keep us interested for 24 episodes. It got tiresome.
As did--for us--House of Cards, which we stopped watching after a single season. The same with Revenge.
And such has been the fate of Longmire, which this latest season veered ever more weird and implausible. I still love the characters--Sheriff Longmire himself, his daughter, his friend Henry Standing Bear, his deputies, etc.--but the situations have become so ludicrous that I found myself not really caring too much. Not a good sign. (Craig Johnson's Longmire novels, by the way, are very different--at least early ones are; I've read four or five of them.)
(One example, though, of someone who's done it successfully: David Simon (The Wire, Treme). He twists plots, sure (a season is not a wee thing), but he does so in ways that I have ever found effective.)
I'm not a big watcher of TV series, so I'm not certain how much of this is an industry-wide phenomenon. And perhaps I'm just an old-fashioned viewer (very likely), too accustomed to the self-contained to adapt.
But I do know that these new, never-ending stories (sooner, later) bore me.