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Why the Birth of a Baby is Oftentimes the Death of a TV Series

Credit: Brooklyn Nine Nine

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There are two types of storylines that make my skin crawl: amnesia and babies. Between the two of them, I will take amnesia every time. I wish I could have amnesia wipe my memory of all the baby stories I have been subjected to.

To clarify, stories that are designed around babies can execute the concept just fine, as the main conflict of the series is determined by the concept (like The Scarlet Letter or Rugrats). Here I’ll mostly be referring to series that add babies during their run.

Rugrats: Ransom of Cynthia/Turtle Recall

                                                                                Peak baby storytelling.

Nothing drains the life out of a character or storyline like a baby. Babies pull the attention of characters and viewers away from the main character arcs and storylines, and usually not in a way that develops or actually changes the characters. Real parents have to deal with babies’ constant need for attention and nonsensical sleeping hours, and fictional parents inevitably face the same horrors. When a child is born in reality, however, the mother and father become parents. In television, the mother and father become babysitters.

There is no way to keep your characters likable and have them neglect their child, and if they aren’t neglecting their child that means the parents either have to carry it around or stay at home with it. “But wait!” you say, “Can’t they just find a sitter or drop the child off at daycare?” Yes! Yes they can! Lots of shows do this; they find convenient ways to keep the child off-screen and cared for, whether that’s the baby sleeping through their birthday party or spending a weekend at the grandparents’ place. But if you’re just going to get rid of the baby on-screen, why even introduce a baby in the first place?

When a baby isn’t being written out of a story, they provide a troubling example of tropes in television. Babies are not characters: their personalities cannot play as a foil to other characters, their decisions don’t reveal anything about them (because babies don’t make decisions, they just do things), and they have zero agency since they are completely dependent on other characters in every single scene they are written into. Due to their lack of everything necessary to make a character, they mostly act as objects within a plot, resulting in plot-lines that tend to be incredibly trite and played out.

Baby gets lost. Baby won’t sleep. Baby says a word and everyone gets excited. Why are you so excited? Babies may be able to speak a few words but they can’t converse. They can’t interact with the rest of the characters in any meaningful way that a puppy can’t, and a puppy can be left at home alone without the characters ruining their likability.

#makeallbabiespuppies

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: 9 Days

                                                                                Isn’t this better?

Of course, if you don’t want your characters to be likable a baby can provide the necessary ammo to achieve that goal. Breaking Bad is a great example of this, as Walt’s infant child is used to highlight particularly nasty aspects of several characters. Despite believing that Walt’s baby could be completely removed from Breaking Bad without damaging the show in a significant way, I think this is an adequate use of a baby in a series. A large part of that success, though, comes from the fact that we don’t just see Walt babysitting a baby, we also get to see him be a father to Walter Jr. (AKA Flynn).

In most baby cases, we don’t actually get to see the parents be parental figures. Human babies stay unintelligible and dependent for a LONG time, so we don’t get to see parents deal with the difficulties of raising a person until the little potato hits at least 4 or 5 years of age. That’s longer than most shows will ever run, (and most baby storylines don’t start until well into a series) so unless you’re starting off with an infant, the story is never going to reach the point where we see parents passing on their knowledge or beliefs, or coming into emotional conflict with their offspring. This is why long lost sons and daughters appear out of nowhere; they can be fully formed characters that actually challenge the parent on a character level. Until a child is at that point, they just act as a ball and chain that wakes you up at night and you have to feed, weighing down both the characters and the story.

Time skips are sometimes utilized to quickly raise the age of a kid (like in Angel or Parks and Recreation), skipping over the baby portions to get the child to a point where they can challenge the characters and provide more personal impact on storylines. This isn’t a solution to create a compelling storyline, however, it’s a way around having to deal with a baby.

Angel: New World

                                                           Though, admittedly, not a foolproof solution.

The problems with babies can even extend to the pregnancy portion of the storylines, which are also filled with tropes and constantly covered ground. Mom is emotionally unstable. Mom has funny food cravings. Mom is afraid to be a mom. That last one is a valid storyline where character growth and change can happen, but it’s also a storyline that can happen without having a child inside of you.

It’s a real shame when shows fallback on these standard plots for their pregnant characters because unlike babies, the women carrying the unborn plot devices are actually characters. They have interests, desires, hopes, dreams, and fears. Take a look at how good these storylines can be when a show infuses them with character specificity.

In Angel, soulless vampire Darla gets impregnated by the ensouled Angel, resulting in a child with a soul. That soul starts nurturing Darla, causing her to feel emotions like love for the first time in centuries. How will she handle these new emotions? What happens when she gives birth? Will she once again lose her soul?

Then there is Phoebe from Friends, who has her brother’s babies. Already, that’s an above-average pregnancy storyline because the explanation without context can lead to several comical encounters, but there are two other great aspects at play here.

First is the way it handles the classic “food cravings” plot. It’s not very interesting to watch the dad go get the mom pickles and ice cream cause “man, isn’t pregnancy whacky?” But it IS interesting to watch Phoebe, a strict vegetarian who loves animals, suddenly start craving meat. How is she going to handle this situation? How is she going to deal with the desire and guilt? What if she eats meat and ends up loving it?

Friends: The One Hundredth

                                                            Specificity Matters.

Second, the babies leave. Admittedly, part of this is just me being glad that the babies are removed from the storyline, but it’s also because of the emotional impact this has on Phoebe. She carried these children for 9 months for her brother and sister-in-law, but developed an attachment to them and doesn’t want to let them go. She’s a caring person and despite being generous enough to lend her uterus out to her family, she’s struggling with the thought of giving up the children she nurtured. It’s a complex emotional scenario, and it’s great. And also the babies leave.

Now, I understand that there is also an emotional attachment to the onscreen babies that parents are going to keep, but there is a major difference. For most on-screen couples, having a child is a joy; it’s a wonderful wondrous feeling and the peak of their happiness, and that’s the problem.

Normally, if we witness the peak of a character’s happiness, it is at the end of their story when they’ve earned it or at the beginning of their story right before they lose it all. This is because, no matter what it says about human nature, suffering and adversity make for more compelling narratives. Babies provide that peak happiness but the story doesn’t end, so what now? If the couple starts to suffer again because of the baby what message does that send? Do the parents spite their child? This route likely makes your characters less likable (or I suppose more relatable, depending on your point of view), and so it’s a route rarely chosen outside of intense dramas. Babies have to cause problems, but not big problems, lest they ruin the structure or dynamic of the show.

The Office: Free Family Portrait Studio

                                                                                   Example.

By nature, though, babies are disruptive. That’s their entire schtick. They need attention, a lot of it, and demand you to put off your life to help nurture theirs. That’s fine for real-life (depending on your point of view), but not for a television series. It’s invasive, which is why so many shows soften the impact a child has or stick to the most common and least consequential stories, AKA Baby gets lost (and found!), Baby won’t sleep (until that one unexpected person holds them!), Baby says a word (something comical or inappropriate!) and everyone gets excited.

Except it’s not exciting. It’s dreadful. How many shows really need this? Shows themselves seem to refute the very idea of baby narratives by constantly sidestepping them. If a show finds itself creating excuses to keep a baby offscreen or trying to soften the disruption the child will have on any existing dynamics, then don’t write in a baby.

I am terrified for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They already had Amy’s mood swing episode with “Ding Dong” and her part in it was everything I dread. The series may be winding down soon and I’d personally much prefer to see Jake and Amy wrap up their relationships with Holt, Boyle, Rosa, and Terry than start a new one with an unidentifiable humanoid blob. I hope that they can at least make Amy’s pregnancy unique to her and create personal conflict through it instead of relying on the standard pregnant jokes, jabs, and joylessness.

Rugrats: Ransom of Cynthia/Turtle Recall

                                                                                Don’t blow this.                          (Photo by: John P. Fleenor/NBC)

Maybe it’ll prove me wrong. Maybe Brooklyn Nine-Nine will have the greatest baby storyline ever. That would be awesome! I won’t get my hopes up, though. Babies aren’t naturally suitable material for interesting stories due to their lack of character, dependence on others, and their dangerous influence over characters’ actions and the audience reception of those actions. And anything that carries that much ammunition to disrupt a narrative is, well…

Gross.

#makeallbabiespuppies

Am I being a baby about baby storylines? Does anyone have any examples of good baby storylines to share? Tell me your rebuttals in the comments below or on social media @CraveYouTV!

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Editorials

Let’s Talk About What #Barchie’s Steamy Shower Scene on ‘Riverdale’ Means for the Ship

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Let's Talk About What #Barchie's Steamy Shower Scene on 'Riverdale' Means for the Ship

It finally happened, #Barchie fans!

If you’re a #Bughead fan, you might want to stop reading at this point because this is a full post dedicated to the Betty and Archie hook-up!

After several seasons, Riverdale finally gave fans the Betty and Archie moment they’ve been waiting for.

This moment has been a long time coming.

There were some close calls through the years, though mainly, fans were left disappointed and wondering if the pairing would ever see the light of day.

At the end of season 4, the duo shared a romantic kiss but ultimately decided to bury their feelings out of respect for their significant others. 

But you don’t just write a love ballad for someone and forget about them!

The long-awaited and highly-anticipated moment finally came via a steamy shower sex scene following a seven-year time-jump. It was so hot, I found myself wondering if this is even allowed on The CW. That steam wasn’t from the hot shower, that’s all I’m going to say! 

Archie, who survived a war, and Betty, who has been catching serial killers while training to be an FBI agent at Quantico, reunited and fell right back into their old feelings without even realizing it. 

Post hook-up, when Archie questioned what just happened between them, Betty informed  him that it’s something “we’ve been wanting to do since high school but never got around to it.” And you have to appreciate her honesty here. 

Since they’re both mature and single adults — Archie’s ex Veronica is “happily” married, while Betty hasn’t been with Jughead for years — they decided to keep the moment of passion under wraps. 

Riverdale can be a bit ridiculous at times, but this was the smartest decision these two ever made. They don’t owe anyone, including Veronica and Jughead, anything. 

This moment singlehandedly changed the Betty and Archie relationship forever. 

And when I tell you fans were thrilled, I mean they were straight geeking out on Twitter. 

But what does this mean for #Barchie moving forward? Was it a one-time thing that they needed to get out of their system?

Based on the glowing aftermath, methinks not. The chemistry and sexual tension is there, and they’re clearly into each other. And for the first time, they’re both in a place where they can pursue a relationship. 

Well, there is the small issue of Betty’s boyfriend, Glen, back in Virginia, but I doubt that will pose much of a problem since she seemed to forget all about him. She didn’t even call him to inform him she decided to stick around for a while and teach at her old high school, which tells you everything you need to know! 

And while Archie and Jughead’s new roomie situation may make things a bit more complicated and awkward, I think Archie and Betty owe it to each other to explore these longtime feelings. 

They’ve never been given the opportunity to figure what these feelings truly mean — is it love or is it just lust? — because they’ve always repressed them out of respect for others. 

There’s no better time like the present to put them to the test.

Though, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t see it lasting long. I’d love the idea of #Barchie babies, but with the core four back in each other’s orbits, they’re bound to fall into old habits. 

Jughead and Betty don’t seem like they’re going to get back together anytime soon, but based on their conversation, they never got closure following their abrupt breakup. With a new mystery in tow, I see their paths merging again, though, I am really digging that Betty and Archie have been working together on the “Polly mystery.”

As for Ronnie, she may be married, but it’s not going to last long. She and Chadwick are already having marital issues that stem mainly from his insecurities and jealousy. I wouldn’t rule out a post-divorce reunion for Archie and Veronica. 

She’s always wanted someone who can handle her Lodge independence, and Archie has always been that man. 

So, while Betty and Archie might not be able to keep their hands to themselves in the short-term, I don’t think that there’s potential for them in the long run. And that’s okay too.

Sometimes the best thing before settling down is the fling you’ve always fantasized about!

At the end of the day, I’m rooting for the ships that will bring each other happiness — whoever that may be!

Don’t forget to check out our full review of Riverdale Season 5 Episode 5 now!  


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Why We Should All Want More (And Better) Episodic Television Shows

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I started watching Cowboy Bebop in the last few months. I’m not yet through the series, and I’ve enjoyed it so far, but something that has caught my attention since I began watching it has been the conversations I’ve had surrounding it.

 

“I started Cowboy Bebop last night.”

“Oh, nice! I like that show. It doesn’t really have an overarching story but it’s still pretty good.”

 

“I can’t hang today, I’m watching Cowboy Bebop right now.”

“Oh, I watched that but it’s pretty episodic.”

 

Why does the quality of this show seem to come with a disclaimer that it’s episodic?

Cowboy Bebop/Sunrise Inc

Serialization has taken over television in the past two decades and is fairly synonymous with the rise of the Golden Age of TV. With this rise in serialization, episodic television started to crumble; specifically the dissolution of how episodic television is perceived.

The word “episodic,” in many cases, is currently seen as an automatic con. The word “procedural” makes some TV fans run away in disgust, rushing to their favorite show to cleanse their minds with some sweet serialization. What is it about serialization that is so great? And what about episodic that is so wrong?

Episodic television provides singular stories within each episode that often don’t connect to each other in any significant way. Whether that’s solving a new mystery each week or getting into a new crazy situation with the gang, each episode stands alone. Due to their bite-sized nature and adherence to a status quo, major plot lines don’t move forward very quickly, if there are even any at all. Common complaints towards episodic television are its repetitiveness and lack of build to any major climax – two issues that serialization can solve quite nicely.

Serialization provides an opportunity for consistent character development, multiple intriguing plots, and major changes in the status quo – all ingredients to create an engrossing story from start to finish. It’s easier to get sucked into the story because each episode plays as a chapter within a larger plot, begging you to hit play on the next episode to find out what happens next. Cliff hangers and plot twists galore! Now THAT’s entertainment. They also provide something that episodic television shows don’t get to benefit from – a crutch.

Serialized television means that the story doesn’t end at the conclusion of an episode. This promise of a continued story lures viewers into watching the next episode based on what might happen, instead of being solely dependent on the quality of previous episodes. Serialized shows can lean on this crutch to help carry their stories and audiences with them throughout the series. You have to watch them all because each episode matters by its relation to what’s come before and what will happen next.

Episodic television doesn’t have this crutch. Instead, they have to go through the difficult process of making each episode matter on its own terms. Creating meaning for singular episodes is not easy, but when done correctly episodic television shows can provide a wider (and in some ways deeper) exploration of character and themes.

Lost Discussion 10 Years Post-Finale: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What Should’ve

To highlight the power of episodic television, let’s once again turn to my favorite beautiful mess of a series: Lost. Viewers got hooked on Lost due to its intriguing characters and tantalizing mysteries, and many fans stuck with the series until the end just to see how it all ended, despite falling out of love with the show long before. Each season ended with a massive cliffhanger that kept viewers checking their calendars for the return of the show, and even today encourages binge-watching with its serialized “find out what happens next” format.

And yet the series’ most acclaimed episode, “The Constant,” is one of the most stand-alone episodes of the series. It uses characters and plot threads from previously established episodes, sure, but the story of a man hopping back and forth through time and reconnecting with his long lost love is very self-contained. The logistics of the plot-line are all explained and concluded within the episode, and the love story is told in a way that first-time viewers can immediately identify with. The contained story also helps keep this potentially convoluted time-hopping plot clean and centered, forcing the story to be as lean as possible and not giving it a chance to overstay its welcome.

Lost/ABC

When episodic television is taken full advantage of, wild and risky story-telling techniques can be attempted without threatening to derail the series. As episode counts for seasons get shorter, I fear that these riskier episodes will be tossed aside in favor of consistent storytelling for a long-form narrative. An episode like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s brilliant “Hush” doesn’t seem as likely to be green-lit if that means 10% of the season is going to be dialogue-less. Episodes like Breaking Bad’s “Fly” will become less and less acceptable the further we get from episodic storytelling, and you don’t have to go much further than the split reaction to that episode to understand why.

“Fly” is the most unique episode of Breaking Bad for many reasons. Its plot-line is razor-thin, its cinematography is much more experimental, and it doesn’t move the main plot along at all. But this experiment allows us an in-depth look at Walt’s mental state and the thematic resonance the fly represents to his world. The changes to the usual structure of Breaking Bad proved to be too much of a departure for many fans, though. This wasn’t the Breaking Bad they had signed up for.

This is ironic because, as I stated before, one of the biggest criticisms of episodic television is its repetitive nature and adherence to a status quo. Tune in, solve a mystery with your favorite characters, and see you next week, folks! It’s almost like comfort food (which in some circles is somehow seen as a bad thing).

I’d argue that serialized formatting encourages the “comfort food” idea even more, despite its ability to change its characters and status quos, because serialization requires consistency – consistency in writing, direction, character choices, musical score, etc. The world and characters may change each episode, but the structure normally does not.

Episodic television doesn’t have this limit. It allows for structural changes. Characters can be explored not just through varying situations, but through varying storytelling techniques. You can look at an apple with the naked eye, but you’ll see it differently under the lens of a microscope, or through a window, or in a mirror. This is what episodic television can provide when taken advantage of – completely different approaches to the story and characters, or perhaps even completely different characters!

Yet today the format is ignored by many outside of comedies. For some reason, singular episodes are just fine for providing us laughs, but not for drama. Perhaps this is a result of too many episodic shows resting on their laurels and just repeating what works, or maybe it’s the result of some of the greatest dramas ever created pushing serialization to its finest peaks.

Columbo/NBC Universal

However, I hope the conversation around episodic television changes, and instead of dismissing the format audiences instead begin pushing for series that actually take full advantage of what an episode structure can provide in terms of storytelling. Some of the most inspirational series ever created were episodic (The Twilight Zone, Columbo, The X-Files), and I hope the format lives on, both on its own and within serialized stories, and receives the respect it deserves.

What do you all think of episodic television versus serialized? Am I totally out of touch and all of your friends love episodic TV and hate serialization? Let us know in the comments below!

(As I was editing this article, I came about this quote from an interview on IO9 about Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop remake: “Another reason for making tweaks to Bebop’s story is that the team behind the show wanted to broaden out Spike’s story into a longer narrative in and of itself…”

So it seems as though even the episodic show that inspired this article will be remade to be more serialized. Take that as you will!)


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7 Most Romantic TV Shows to Watch on Netflix Right Now

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7 Most Romantic TV Shows to Watch on Netflix Right Now

Romance is in the air! 

With Valentine’s Day coming up, there’s no better time to get lost in a show that makes you feel and mushy and gushy inside. 

Seeing a character’s romantic adventures is thrilling, exciting, and fills you with hope. 

Every series has some kind of romantic-arc whether it be forbidden love, romantic love, or a love triangle. 

So grab your significant other or besties — here are the most romantic dramas on Netflix to watch right now! 

Also check out: 6 Sexy Shows to Watch for Valentine’s Day

 

Bridgerton

Obviously, Netflix’s hit series tops the list with romance, scandal, and plenty of steamy scenes. Dubbed the Regency-era Gossip Girl, the first season is a brilliant and entertaining period piece that centers on eight close-knit siblings of the powerful Bridgerton on their quest to find true love. And Regé-Jean Page isn’t bad on the eyes.

 

Sweet Magnolias

The real romance of this series is between the three best friends — Maddie, Dana Sue, and Helen — who are navigating new relationships, family drama, and career in the Southern town of Serenity. See more Sweet Magnolias content.

 

Crash Landing On You

The South Korean rom-com establishes an unlikely secret romance between a South Korean heiress and a high-ranking North Korean officer who helps the heiress’ go into hiding after a paragliding accident causes her to crash-land on his turf and into his arms! 

 

Related: 9 Best Korean TV Dramas and Rom-Coms You Need to Watch on Netflix in 2020

 

She’s Gotta Have It

What do you need in life from a man? Spike Lee’s adaptation of his 1986 film of the same name aims to find that when Nova juggles three relationships with three very distinct men. 

 

Dash & Lily

The limited-series may be set during Christmas, but since it’s still winter, it doesn’t feel odd watching it. In this romantic story, a cynical Dash and an optimistic Lily form a bond as they share dreams and goals in a notebook they pass back and forth. Will the spark be there when they finally meet face-to-face? Read our review of Dash & Lily now.

 

Easy

The anthology explores the ups-and-downs of the modern dating world by following several stories and relationships between people in Chicago. If you’re in the dating pool right now, it’s a relatable series that can be watched as standalone episodes making it easily digestible.

 

Velvet

The Spanish series in 1950s follows the romance between a heir to a fashion house and a seamstress who works for the family. And let’s just say, it doesn’t get the families blessing!


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