Client: Television writers of the world.
Job: Explain why if it’s not essential, you should leave it out.
Have you ever experienced this? You come home from a long day at the office. You’re tired. You warm up some two-day-old Chinese food and pour yourself a drink and decide that the thing to do is turn on the television and indulge in a bit of mindless relaxation. You sit down in innocent joy; your favourite show just came on. You won’t lose your appetite in the face of blood and gore. You won’t get all hot and bothered over some less-than-subtle political agenda. You won’t be groaning over the terrible dialogue and lamenting over the sub-par acting. You are prepared for effortless enjoyment, little suspecting that in exactly twenty-seven minutes you will shriek:
OH MY GOSH. NO.
Then you will repeat it with a slight variation:
THEY DID NOT. NO.
And then to make sure you have it covered, you will add,
NO THEY DI-IN’T.
You say these things because your favourite show just went outside the realm of the acceptable. They just killed the main character. They just made a twelve-year-old have an abortion without telling her parents. They just had democrats pretending to be republicans make fun of democrats.
Oh, wait. That’s kind of funny.
But it sucks when you have watched a show for several seasons and (if you’re me) you think, “I could never feature this on my blog, because it’s so absolutely perfect!” And then the writers go and write something into the plot that punches you in the tooth and knocks you back down to earth from Cloud 9… or wherever your love of that TV show took you.
That happened to me.
I am a huge fan of Criminal Minds. And by huge I mean I have seen every episode at least once and I follow all of the actors that tweet on Twitter. I have looked up real FBI criminal profilers. I have verified that the BAU is an actual entity. I have seriously weighed the pros and cons of having to delve into the minds of serial killers as my nine-to-five.
I love that the show begins and ends with a classic quote. I love that the characters are constantly trying to be stronger than their emotions. I love that they are all so vulnerable, even though they build up these elaborate masks of strength. I love that they can see so keenly into screwed-up human heads, and they do it with detachment. And I love that sometimes they are anything but attached, and risk life and limb to save some innocent person’s life—and sometimes the life of the devolving criminal. I love that it deals with good and evil, and what separates them—that the good are actually trying to be good.
In a word (or three): I love it.
So there I was, watching this great episode, at the beginning of which Rossi (the Senior Supervisory Special Agent) meets up with his first ex-wife (of three), and she seems to have something important to tell him. Fast forward to the end of the episode. She is about to tell him. She takes a sip of her wine. But she is kind of nervous! She cannot tell him. Is she in love with him? Did she have his baby and never tell him until now? Is she going to hit for the other team?
The next words out of her mouth are that she has been diagnosed with ALS, and waited a year to tell him because—well, I am not exactly sure why because I was really sad at this point—but in the past few weeks, she had started to notice a change, and (pause) when the time came (sharp intake of breath) would he (hesitation) would he (concentrate to find the right word) help her to leave this world?
Are you SERIOUS? Introduce euthanasia into a show that is already filled with so much death, so much disorder? Not that it is an issue to be ignored. And perhaps it will further several new character and plot developments: Will Rossi agree? Will he promise to do it but chicken out when the time comes? Will he flatly refuse? Could he be arrested for murder, if he actually helps her?
Oh, wait. The real question is…
IS IT ESSENTIAL TO THE SHOW?
To put it in another light, I can generally tolerate shows where, say, two protagonists, Boy and Girl, are in what constitutes a relationship by the standards of the world but are not yet married. You judge a work of art on its own merits. Maybe StElena is not exactly a work of art, but you get my drift.
A couple years ago, the two main characters in one of my then-favorite shows, Chuck, had FINALLY gotten together. Yes! I was so happy for them after all of this angst and waiting. Their story was one you have heard before (well, basically): computer nerd likes girl, girl hardly notices nerd, nerd does all these crazy yet sweet things, girl finds herself inexplicably falling for nerd, nerd almost gets killed, nerd almost gets killed again, nerd almost gets killed for a third time, girl decides she cannot let this go on any longer and makes a move, girl’s ex-boyfriend appears on the scene, girl runs off with him, girl returns, girl falls right back into line with nerd, ex-boyfriend appears again… you get the drift. Normal love story.
But then the girl REALLY falls for the nerd and they FINALLY get together. And then there they are, he is looking into her eyes, and she is looking into his eyes. There might be music playing. Soft light is coming in through the spaces in the blinds. They are most likely going to kiss each other. Oh—they just did. Then he is staring at her again. And your mind is racing: Is he going to sing about her beauty to the heavens? Is he going to compose a sonnet to her eyelashes? Is he going to suddenly produce tickets to a seven-day Caribbean cruise? Is he going to bring her breakfast in bed and put a ring in the pancake?
His lips part.
Your heart stops. You clutch a pillow for emotional support.
He says, “Hold on a sec. I have to get a condom.”
And, bubble burst. Your suspension-of-disbelief pants have officially lost their suspenders. You now look like this.
My point is that there is a time and a place to introduce subjects like condoms and euthanasia. It is called the real world—the one we all live in. Television is a break from that. And anyway, on an artistic level: is it really essential to the story? If it is, by all means, write it in.
But if it isn’t, leave it out.
ADDENDUM: And then they go and do something amazing in the next episode, like have OneRepublic guitarist Zach Filkins guest-star as a park ranger.
ADDENDUM to the addendum: What do you think? Could you care less? Do you think there should be no boundaries? Do you wish some things would be left out? Let me know in the comment box.