I watch very little TV. I used to watch CSI, but I gave that up about four years ago. I used to go on a Law & Order kick every 3-4 years and catch up, but I haven’t done that in about twice that time. I don’t watch sit-coms anymore. In fact, I watch very little TV that is on the regular networks. From the four basic networks I pretty much watch Chuck because for a campy spy show, they do an amazing job at character development. EVERY single character on the show has gone through a growth process which the writers have balanced really well. I also like the campy product placement. They have an entire electronics store to play in and yet they sit around eating Subway subs and talk about the menu options. It’s hilarious. The only other shows I watch are the adult cartoons: The Simpsons, American Dad, and Family Guy. I check them out on Hulu when I’m too tired to write or read.
Much of the way I watch TV now is called “mainlining”. That is, I don’t waste my time watching it week to week. I wait for the season to end, and then I take a day or two on a weekend to watch the DVDs or on a friend’s DVR. A rather pleasant no commercial marathon. As implied above, I watch much more non-network TV. For example, I’ve seen: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Games of Thrones, Justified, Psych, Sons of Anarchy, Supernatural, True Blood, and Weeds, in the past year. I don’t mainline all of these. I watch Psych on Hulu. Supernatural with a friend. And actually I’m two seasons behind on Sons of Anarchy, but I enjoyed the show, so I’ll catch up eventually. I point this out to demonstrate that I only mainline TV about a dozen times a year. Maybe fifteen. I’ve never really counted.
So why go through and list all the shows I watch? To show off how little I really do watch TV. And even though I watch so little TV, I am absolutely, 100%, sick, and tired of TV writers using In Medias Res. I’m sure you’ve all seen it by now. This is when a writer starts the story out in the middle, then backtracks to show the story from the beginning.
I know they do it thinking they are creating a clever hook to keep the viewer viewing. It makes sense. They want your eyeballs. So they hook you with the excitement that’s coming up, and then hope that’s enough to keep you in the seat watching commercials for the first half of the show, and they hope you’re invested in the story enough to keep watching the latter half of the show.
So I get it. I understand why they do it so much. But quite frankly, if I’m mainlining a show, I’m already invested. I want to see what they’re offering. I don’t need the teaser. Just get on with the story, because you know what? It’s really hard to write In Medias Res properly, and watching these TV writers do it is insulting. One scene is a stupid little teaser. It gets annoying. It’s embarrassing.
If you want to see it done properly, check out Pulp Fiction again. In Medias Res works best when you’re balancing several story lines that converge or intersect. They are presented this way for effect because the stories may parallel one another. Or they may be shown in proper temporal order, but that throws things out in terms of a linear story, so things appear to be messed up. Or in the case of Pulp fiction, things are shown so the converging stories make sense while the temporal order is crazy. In Medias Res makes for an intriguing and engaging plot device when done properly and in this way.
If you have one plot-line, showing things out of order, is generally useless and certainly annoying. If these people were writing books, an editor would throw out all the “24 hours earlier” nonsense and tell the writer to fill it in as back story. You start with the hook. you move forward from there. It’s sad that this technique probably works in terms of catching viewers. I guess I’ll just have to put up with it until more people consume TV the way I do.