Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Story Arcs


I ran across the pilot episode of The X Files on BBC America the other day, and of course, recorded it. It was a TV show we watched fervently and yet I always had some ambivalence about it. It rested so heavily on its arc of alien invasion, which made it appear ridiculous from time to time. Duchovny's acting always seemed a bit lacking as well.

This led to a discussion of stories with arcs and what was the first one. We came up with THE FUGITIVE, which always had the FBI chase as the connecting tissue but also had individual story lines unrelated to this.

What other early TV shows had an arc. Also did THE X FILES work for you. We were amazed at how they plunged right into the alien invasion theme in the first episode. And also how smoothly that episode rolled out.

39 comments:

Chad said...

I liked the X-Files a lot. I only ever had two complaints. The first was I never thought they weaved in the standalone episodes well with the big seasonal plots--why are Mulder and Scully just bopping around Kansas like everything is okay when last episode some serious business went down?

And it ran too long. When they resolved the main alien plot and Mulder got his resolution they should have ended it right then and there.

I almost think it's worse for a show you really like to run too long than it is for it get the axe too soon.

Chad said...

Also, am I the only one who wished BBC America would air more British shows--besides marathons of Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares and Top Gear?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I was just complaining about that last night. They have really sort of given up showing us anything remotely new on British TV. Or maybe the reality show craze is even worse there. Doctor Who-I missed the boat on that one. I'd even take some of their old series over more reality shows. I'd watch LIFE ON MARS again over this.

Chad said...
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Chad said...

Yeah, I don't get it. I understand the older stuff. I'm sure the American broadcast rights are probably owned by other companies, but Kitchen Nightmares and Top Gear are it? That's all? Other than that it seems like all they have is that one block where they alternate Dr. Who, Being Human, and Primeval.

Though the Luther "mini-series" was pretty good.

Paul D. Brazill said...

I always prefered the standalone X-Files, it was easier to did in and out, but I was a really good series in the beginning.

Of the British TV stuff, I've recently seen Sherlock, which I really liked, and Mad Dogs, which was also good.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I missed Luther and am hoping the rerun it. We haven't gotten MAD DOGS.
Yes I preferred the standalones too. I got real tired of Muldaur's back story.

Evan Lewis said...

In Kung Fu, David Carradine had come to America in search of his brother. He sometimes found clues, and eventually the brother himself.

Loren Eaton said...

Some of The X-Files' episodes were amazing, such as "Eve" and "Blood." But as time went on, it became obvious that it was suffering from the same problem that Lost did: It's creators had no idea where the overarching story was going. Very sad.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, Kung Fu, yes. I loved that show.
Exactly what my husband always says, Loren. I guess writers never expect a show to last more than a year or two and write to that length. Same thing with TWIN PEAKS.

Charles Gramlich said...

I never watched the x-files until it was in reruns so I never saw the story arc really.

Anonymous said...

When we first got cable one of the main things we wanted was BBC America. Now we never watch it, other than LUTHER last year. It's almost all "reality" crap like "My Small Breasts and I" and the like.

One of my favorite story arcs was on WISEGUY - first the Sonny Steelgrave arc with Ray Sharkey, then the Mel Profitt arc with Kevin Spacey and William Russ.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I really regret missing WISE GUY. It comes up a lot.

Fleur Bradley: said...

I was a big X-Files fan, though it lost its sense of direction toward the end, I think.

I didn't watch a lot of TV growing up, so I don't have older shows to reference. But I see that shows today had better have a strong story arc and sense of direction, or they're doomed.

John McFetridge said...

The original Star Trek was on a, "five year mission," but there wasn't much of an arc until The Next Generation.

Right now it's about the biggest talking point at the broadcast networks, episodic vs. serialization. Everyone loves it when a serialized show hits big but if one misses from the start it almost never picks up more viewers along the way. Part of that may be because a network show will run 22-24 episodes and a cable show usually runs 13 episodes so the entire arc can be replayed in the same season and pick up viewers the second time around.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And shows like my three favorites JUSTIFIED and BREAKING BAD and now LIGHTS OUT begin and play every week with no interruptions. Shows with an arc should not take weeks off every few weeks. You drift away.
I am not sure I didn't fade out with X Files by the end.

Dave Zeltserman said...
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Dave Zeltserman said...

The absolute best was The Shield. The overall series had a carefully planned ARC, but so did each season, as did each show. Absolutely brilliantly written when looked as a whole.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Dave-you were right about BIG LOVE. I went back and watched the episodes. It's like some gothic horror story about now.
Breaking Bad does a pretty good job of it too.

MysterLynch said...

I grew up on shows from the 80s so WISEGUY is the first I remember.

The shows that I connect with are ones that at least have some evolution as the series goes on.

I love those with arcs that go throughout the season, but even ones that have secondary storylines slowly developing from ep to ep are solid.

Regarding X-Flies: I enjoyed the first couple of seasons, but once the alien conspiracy kicked into full gear, I lost interest.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Patti, one episode left of Big Love. It's been a terrific season, and I have to admit, I'm hoping somehow the Henrickson's get pulled from the abyss.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Have to disagree about Lost. The producers/writers clearly knew where the story was going from the beginning. Very strong overall ARC, very strong season ARCs. Absolutely riveting show. One of the best TV experiences I can recall.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I'd like to see the women survive but Bill go down big time. He is a narcissist of the first order parading as a devout man. (IMHO)Frankly I don't see much difference between Bill and Albie.

Richard R. said...

When you say ARC, do you include an over-all theme or story line that doesn't affect any individual shows much? I was thinking of Route 66, on from 1960-1964. Milner and Maharis were driving across the country in that 1960 (late a 1962) Corvette, but that was the only ARC, each show was in a different town along the way, the trip itself only figured in a few episodes.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

The Wire.

Series arc.
Season arc.
Episode arc.

Stephen

pattinase (abbott) said...

And it knew when and where to stop. The perfect TV show but the networks would never have touched it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Well, there was no problem to be solved with the trip on Route 66. For instance, in THE FUGITIVE, Richard Kimble (Kimball?) is running away from the law so that story arcs over each individual episode. Some shows really cleave to their arc (like LOST) and others ones not so much (like Justified, which has many episodes that barely deal with it).
ROUTE 66 was enormous fun. I saw an episode not long ago and it was so hip and moody. Perfectly encapsulates the time.

Anonymous said...

Since it started when we were in Florida we haven't watched this series of BIG LOVE as yet. I'm kind of in Patti's camp - Bill making them all stand up as he announced himself at the end of last season was nearly the last straw. As annoying as Nikki can be I hope they don't go down with him.

In some ways my favorite character has been Lois. She's just so out there.

One reason I liked WISEGUY is that the arcs were manageable - the first was 10 shows, the second was 12, all the others had less.

Patti, you can get them on DVD.

Jeff M.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...
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Deb said...

I'm reaching back into the memory vault, but what about "Branded" with Chuck Connors from the early-to-mid 1960s (I can't remember if it was before or after he did "Rifleman") where he was a military man in the old west who had been dishonorably discharged from the service for a crime he didn't commit ("He was innocent/Not a word was true"). Didn't he go from town to town trying to exonerate himself and getting involved with the various people he met.

And how about the old comedy "Run, Buddy, Run" based on "The Fugitive," with Buddy on the run from the mob after inadvertently overhearing some mob conversation while in the sauna. As I recall the mob code word was "chicken salad" or something like that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE has the arc of a man with only six months to live.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Well, Lois gets a lot to do this year, Jeff. What a great actress.
Those women, flawed as they may be from various things, have stuck with the jerk. He has allowed his kids, his wives and his employees to take the rap for his elevated ideals. Most of which elevate him.

Naomi Johnson said...

I loved AMERICAN GOTHIC. The overall story arc was the demonic sheriff Lucas Buck's attempt to gain control over his young son, who possessed great powers also. A couple of the episodes went off the rails, but several of them were classics in dark suspense. Gary Cole was unbeatable as that eerie sheriff.

X-Files: I hated the alien story arc, only liked the stories that were about other things. Like that one episode about the Peacock brothers.

Todd Mason said...

Deb beat me to citing BRANDED as an example which predated THE FUGITIVE...and the DesiLu series about actual historical figures, however caricatured, such as WYATT EARP and THE UNTOUCHABLES, had some story-arc elements. CORONET BLUE was on at the same time as THE FUGITIVE, iirc, but didn't get a chance to do too much with the orveraching story of the amnesiac spy. And, of course, the DISNELAND miniseries, such as DAVY CROCKETT, certainly can be said to have had arcs.

Dave, at least one or two writers who worked on LOST noted that for all their noise about having a certain outcome in mind, the series turned out to be as improvisational as TWIN PEAKS and most others. I wouldn't knwo, I bailed after the first, two-hour version of the pilot offered not enough intrigue to go with the stupidities (and the two or three later episodes I sampled didn't help matters).

I thought the first season of X-FILES rather threadbare, and didn't think it really hit its stride till the third season, and that the "mythology" episodes tended to suffer in comparison to the standalones (the recurring day, the Peter Boyle, the Charles Nelson Reilly)...with the exception of the episode in which we are lead to believe that Mulder has committed suicide, which should've been the "mythology" capper...it tied everything to that point up with devastating clarity and tragedy.

Todd Mason said...

Well, DISNEYLAND the series, anyway. THE AVENGERS, over There, managed to wrap up arcs with each female companion beginning before THE FUGITIVE as well.

Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw said...

I loved The X-FILES, although I did find Mulder's back story a bit tedious at times. The "stand-alones" were my favorites! The fact that they didn't really weave well with the seasonal plots is a big part of their "draw". Yes, The X-Files worked for me. :)

Never got around to Dr Who, but I did spend a stormy week at the Oregon Coast, watching Red Dwarf on DVD, a few years ago. OMG!!! Cheesy, campy, irreverent, immature, ridiculously off the wall, scatological, I could go on... I never laughed so much!!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I seem to have missed American Gothic and Red Dwarf. Those Disney Shows were all arc, weren't they?
Yes, I think the standalones were the best episodes. Ducovny feigning angst never worked well.

Anonymous said...

RED DWARF is a classic. At least I think so, Patti, though Jackie was more ambivalent. Depends on your sense of humor (or should I say 'humour'?) I guess.

On X-FILES I tended to prefer the stand alones too, like the "Men in Black" with Alex Trebek or the one with the bug lady and Scully as the kick-ass hero.

Jeff M.

John McFetridge said...

Have to disagree about Lost. The producers/writers clearly knew where the story was going from the beginning.

That may be true, Dave, but they didn't know how many episodes they'd have to get there. That's why it felt like it was wandering around a little in the middle.

It's very rare for network shows in the US to set a number of episodes. As long as the ratings are good they'll keep it going. It's also very rare for producers of shows on networks (that are financed by the networks) to own the shows, so even if original showrunners leave the network can continue the series.