Thursday, May 25, 2006

TV Writing and Gift-Giving

Watching the incredible, gripping, satisfying, tantalizing finale of Lost last night, I couldn't help but contrast it with the stultifying finale of Desperate Housewives, and I had a bit of an epiphany:

I think TV writing is a lot like gift-giving.

I love giving gifts, but I can't keep a secret. If I've bought a friend a great gift, I can't wait until the occasion to give it to them. I want to give it to them right away, to see their reaction.

The writers of Lost or 24 (or, back in the day, Buffy) are great gift-givers. They have wonderful surprises in lots of beautiful packages, and just when you think they've run out, they open the trunk of their car and pull out more boxes they've been excitedly holding back. Inside are more boxes inside boxes, like Russian nesting dolls. But they don't let you gorge yourself. They know just when to stop, so it feels like you've been treated.

A great plot twist is a surprise present you weren't expecting.

But the writers of Desperate Housewives think a great plot twist is to give you a beautifully wrapped present, tell you it's what you always wanted... but when you open it up, it's empty. Then they apologize and give you your real present: another beautifully-wrapped box, also empty.

It's not a "plot twist" to keep bringing Susan and Mike together and then at the last minute yanking them apart. That's not a gift to your audience. It's like unwrapping a big empty box. The same one we've been unwrapping since the show started.

Invasion and Surface did a lot of this. Oh, they're going to discover-- Oh, wait, they didn't. Oh, he's going to tell her-- Oh... no, he didn't.

Lots of empty boxes.

Then there's another kind of bad gift-giving, one also used by DH, as well as by a certain crime family drama I stopped watching ages ago. It's the Drugstore Gift Phenomenon.

You are at home waiting for your birthday celebration, and when your loved one arrives, it's with a drugstore gift. You know the kind: one hastily bought on the way home, clearly not what you wanted to get. More convenient for the giver to give, though. (Oh, and by the way, you won't get another birthday for two years.)

If the writers of The Sopranos wrote 24, the entire season would have been about Michelle Dessler's maiden aunt coping with the bad news. Sorry if you don't like it. The Michelle's Aunt story is the gift they wanted to give, and screw you.

Same with DH: "I brought you more of the Applewhites arguing, and Bree and her son glaring at each other. Where's the cake?"

As always, YMMV, but my suggestion? Follow my lead. Stop taking gifts from these people until they learn to be better shoppers and better friends.

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