I love murder mysteries. I love them in movies, I love them in books, I love them in videogames, but most of all, I love them in TV shows. I’m not talking about a simple case of the week, I’m talking about a single, significant case that permeates the season of a TV show and is given around a dozen or more episodes to develop and expand and twist and turn, all leading to the inevitable reveal of whodunit. A good season long murder mystery has led to some of the greatest TV seasons of all time, like with the first two seasons of Veronica Mars, a series I believe perfected the season long murder mystery arc. Nothing feels quite like the rush of putting together the clues and solving the case yourself, and seeing your suspicions confirmed in the electrifying murderer reveal, a moment that should always be a highlight of a show’s season. Unfortunately there are shows that don’t quite grasp this, that completely botch the killer reveal and leave you feeling deflated. Two recent shows that come to mind are Riverdale and Trial and Error. You may think, wait a minute, Trial and Error is a comedy, why does it matter if the killer reveal is good? Well, because revealing a murderer should be powerful no matter the circumstances. Murder, killing another member of your own species, is one of the most human things out there. You can draw so much emotion, and yes, even humour, from it. The taking of another life and why the mastermind of the crime chose to act the way they did should be explored on a character worthy of such exploration. Every murder is a story, and botching the murderer is like botching the protagonist. Since shows seem to be screwing this up recently, I’ve decided to write my own criteria for how to properly handle a murder mystery through the use of 5 important, absolutely correct, inarguable rules that without a doubt must be followed.
While I discussed Person of Interest and tropes before in a more serious context, I originally announced my interest in the show on this blog through a post that poked fun at a lot of the goofy cliches that cropped up frequently in the show’s earlier seasons. Since the show is ending soon I thought it would be cool to talk about all the series’ own tropes and recurring elements on this blog. Some of them I wouldn’t trade for the world, others I could do without, all are funny in their own ways.
*This article contains spoilers of the latest Person of Interest episode “The Day The World Went Away”.
Ever watch something that you know you should hate for various reasons (that usually include being the fact that it’s stupid as all hell), but you enjoy the hell out of it anyways? That’s what most would describe as a guilty pleasure, and just about everyone seems to have one in the form of a movie, TV Show, game, or book. Maybe it’s considered a “guilty” pleasure for you because it advocates an ideological stance you’re totally apposed to, maybe it’s something that people you just don’t like identify with, and perhaps it’s just stupid as mentioned earlier, but all of these guilty pleasures are comprised of guilty pleasure tropes. Things that many GP’s have in common, a way to immediately let the viewer know what they’re getting into. In this post, I’m going to highlight 3 of my favourite tropes and explain why they’re just as “right” as they are wrong.
Pandering has become quite the confusing thing these days hasn’t it? The phrase in the context of fandoms refers to when a writer forces something into their story in a hollow attempt to appeal to his or her fanbase. For example, if I’m writing a popular TV series and there is a one-off character that people found tremendously funny, me contriving that character back into the show and going against its natural flow solely to appeal to the fans is an example of pandering. It is compromising the story for the sake of a shallow appeal, but unfortunately that isn’t exactly a rigid definition. What constitutes as “compromising the story”? How much “compromising” is acceptable if the result is something everyone enjoys a great deal? Is there such a thing as good pandering? What exactly is the difference between that and “fanservice”? These questions are all important, and the distinction that pandering deals with something that directly effects a story’s quality is important, because if we were to consider any time a writer including something they think their fans would like pandering, then far too many things would be classified as such. It is in these questions that people find difficulty in answering that we find the main issue with the phrase. Today, the criticism of pandering is thrown around for just about any subplot featuring a fan favourite character, any pairing they don’t support, anything even vaguely alluding to a particular political affiliation, and essentially anything “I don’t like but other people do”. Due to these reasons, the once valid and important criticism of pandering has lost all weight.
Dirtbags in fiction have been a fixture in popular fiction for a very long time now. They come in all sorts of varieties but with the common goal of earning the ire of an audience. They are that special kind of character that exists solely to be hated. The reason writers often resort to creating dirtbags is to give the audience a reason to side with the protagonist of their story. Maybe this hypothetical hero has entered a competition but you don’t quite care about whether or not they win, but throw in a dirtbag competitor and you can’t help but want to see that smug grin of their wiped off their face. In short, the dirtbag exists for the purpose of manipulating the audience, so here are a few different types that are used to do just that.
Love triangles are essentially double-no, triple edged swords. They are tricky to begin, even harder to keep interesting, yet are incredibly easy engage the audience with. So many of these love triangles fall flat, but writers keep turning to them every chance they get. I have yet to see a single love triangle that didn’t do at least one thing wrong, but at the same time, I have yet to see a single repeated trope that gets as much as a response as these do. As terrible as they often are, people love love triangles. Everything about them just draws you in. They involve characters you care about, they incite dangerous shipping instincts in all of us, and they are so damn divisive. There is nothing in this world that unites us more than an enemy, and love triangles create them in spades. This is why when love triangles are introduced, people tend to classify their preferred choice for the fought over party with teams (Ex: Team Peeta vs Team Gale). Its that adversarial aspect that initially draws people in, but its also the ways people can relate to them in real life that strikes such a cord. Not everyone will be locked in a three-way love or death struggle, but whether you like it or not, someone’s going to end up on the wrong side of a choice between two suitors. However, even with our natural desire to be invested in romantic entanglements, they still tend to fall apart a lot for a few big reasons.
True despair awaits those who choose to “ship”. No, I am not talking about boating, I am referring to the fandom practice of “shipping” (as in relation-shipping) two characters together in hopes that they become a couple. At first it begins as innocently as anything, maybe a remark or two about how “perfect these two would be for each other”, but then it begins to creep into your thoughts. Eventually, you’ll suddenly find yourself consumed by the idea of two fictional characters falling in love with each other, pray that they will become “endgame” as the series concludes, and proudly declare them to be your OTP (One True Pairing) to anyone who is (or isn’t) listening. Conversely, you can become dedicated to the sinking of a ship, to hate one so completely that you’ll never miss a chance to insult it; since the two characters are “obviously wrong for each other” and no one else can see it. Shipping is a complex thing indeed, but perhaps the most interesting thing about it is why people enjoy doing it. The joy of having a ship of yours sail (become canon) is nothing compared to the joy you get wanting it to sail. The pain, the heartache, the despair, and the frustration are all things people truly enjoy out of the shipping experience. Like masochistic servants pleading for harsh admonishments from their master/mistress, shippers tend to flock to the most tumultuous of pairings, ones where the Will They/Won’t They dynamic doesn’t come off as a forgone conclusion.
Let’s all talk about the pregnant elephant in the room. She feels bloated, she’s insecure, she’ll be extremely rude to her man at random intervals, and her hormones are making her crazy! Say hello to every pregnancy in popculture. At some point, writers everywhere decided that a particular pregnant woman must be the funniest thing ever since they all seem to write about the exact same one, and over the years it has become problematic. It’s not as if pregnancy can’t be funny (as it comes with a lot of inherently funny things like mood swings, being bloated like a balloon, and having insatiable cravings), but we have gotten to the point when the moment a woman in fiction says “I wanna have a baby/I-I’m pregnant” I groan in frustration. I do this because I’m in for some combination of certain things shown about pregnancy being exaggerated to the extreme that I’ve seen done a million times before.
Ever find yourself annoyed with things that happen in a movie that you found to be “unrealistic”, or groan in frustration at someone who pointed out some obviously silly thing is in fact silly? Those are the conventions and consequences of nitpicking, which is basically a movie watching staple. But when is it OK, and when is it redundant? What is the line between legitimate criticism and a sad attempt to make yourself appear to be insightful? Here, I’ll briefly attempt to clear it up.