Two minor, unrelated pet peeves from television and the movies.
Having consumed my share (and the shares of three others) of film and TV, I have loaded thousands of plots, plot devices, hackneyed characters and dialogue in my already overcrowded brain. It is the reason why so much of everything feels so weak when I watch it. Not only have I seen it before, I remember it vividly. Again, my memory serves me well in trivia games and idle conversation only.
Sometimes there are subtle thing we take for granted in this media and I think I’ve done it so long that now when I see the clichés unfold I am taken completely out of the story.
First of all, if I hit you in the back of the head with the butt of a rifle, you may very well die. If I crack you in the forehead with a small statue…the same. What is likely to happen is that you will be writhing in pain on the ground crying like a newborn. I was reminded of this cliché recently and a lightbulb popped in my head. “Jesus! You can’t just knock someone out by whacking them in the head!” How many times have we seen that? I have to believe there are better and more original ways of subduing someone. How about good old fashioned chloroform? A tranquilizer gun or drugs in their coffee (or in their milk, a la Mr. T)?
It is a plot device that needs some trimming back. The characters in some cop shows would have more concussions than an NFL quarterback by now.
But my least favorite peeve is a classic. When you write scripts for films or TV or you are writing a novel (I’ve attempted both), one rule about character and action is “Stay off the phone.” The dialogue should happen face to face as much as possible. People inherently do not like to read phone conversations and sure as hell don’t like to watch it onscreen. All phone conversations are to be kept to a minimum or cut completely out of the story. The audience gets more character cues from personal interaction; and when people are on the phone they really aren’t doing anything unless they are running through traffic and getting hit by a bus.
(Lotta that crap going on lately too. I digress.)
So we’re in agreement that watching a phone call is lame. They can get away with phone calls in the movies because of film tempo. But on TV, it can be very distracting. It’s a strange paradox of narrative. What we are left with is a giant ball of unrealistic speed bumps. I’ll give an example. How many times have we seen this in a sitcom or a TV drama?
I remember an episode of “Smallville”, which my wife was into for a season or two. It was a one hour episode with lots of teen feelings and superpowers. Not bad. But in the denouement; during the those last two minutes the end result of the episode is resolved, young Lex Luthor shows up at Clark Kent’s barn. He stands at the door, thanks Clark for the heroics of the afternoon and for their ongoing friendship. Then he turns on his heel and walks back to his Jaguar and speeds away.
So, instead of dropping a call in to Clark at his house, the richest kid in Kansas puts on his nice clothes after showering, hops in his car and drives fifteen miles outside of town to a farm a 11:30 to say 18 words of dialogue to a guy he will most likely see the next morning...then goes straight home.
“I just wanna thank you…” That line is at the end of every show now! And, its most likely delivered in a doorway from some dude who could have spared 3 Anytime minutes in his T-Mobile Family Plan to say it into his Blackberry!
They figured out how to avoid the phone on TV years ago when they invented the wacky neighbor. No need to be on the phone because Ethel Mertz, George Jefferson, Kramer and that guy with half a face on the Tim Allen show were only fifty feet away.
I say let some more phone calls in. We’re all attached to these stupid things now anyway. Honestly, is there any actual scenario that you can think of that would put you in traffic for an hour just to say three sentences to someone you see all the time?