SMS from Penny: I would just like to go on record before I watch the season finale of Political Animals as predicting [SPOILER ALERT].
two hours later
SMS from Penny: Did you watch yet??! Did you? DID YOU???
two hours later
SMS from Friend: How the f*** did you predict this?
Our favorite TV sitcoms, dramas and dramedies have become – let’s be honest – a tad predictable of late. From dialogue (you know that you either 1. are watching too much TV or 2. should be writing TV when you can finish any given character’s sentence) to plot lines (who didn’t see Schmidt and Cece coming in New Girl last fall??) to the premises themselves.
Question, dear readers: If you can see what’s coming, where’s the fun?
Answer: In the vindication of being right, of course.
Still, even the ability to predict story lines palls after a while. It’s like reading too many Agatha Christie novels in a row and beginning to actually think like Miss Marple or Poirot, solving the mystery before you even gather everyone in the library.
Let’s take Political Animals as an example. (I just had to watch despite the premise because 1. Sigourney Weaver and 2. USA is the network that brings us Suits and White Collar.)
Premise: Female lead known by First Maiden Last Name with philandering former-President husband settles for Secretary of State after close-run primary with charismatic male opponent during which she is eviscerated for being a power-hungry bitch…
(Someone had their Kashi before that particular brainstorming session because, wow, so original.)
Season Recap (up to finale): Elaine Barrish Hammond got robbed of the presidency and proceeded to kick ass as Secretary of State. Two years into her tenure as Madame Secretary, she decides to run for President against her party’s own incumbent. Her son and chief of staff thinks this is a terrible idea, so he sells her out to the cut-throat female reporter (CTFR) who’s been sniffing around. Side stories include another drug-addicted son, the CTFR’s own difficulties with philandering males, etc. CTFR develops a certain respect and admiration for Elaine through over-identification with another powerful woman’s struggles in the very male arena of DC politics and finds herself in a sticky situation – does she break the story of a lifetime and potentially ruin Elaine or kill the story… It’s all very morally ambiguous, as only a good drama can be.
Penny’s Prediction: The President and Vice President both die in an accident, making Elaine the POTUS. Only the CTFR has a copy of Elaine’s resignation letter courtesy of the son. Chaos ensues.
What actually happened in the SF: Son gives CTFR the resignation letter. President doesn’t accept Elaine’s resignation, asking her – in writing! with a signature! – to run with him as VP in the next election. CTFR kills story out of moral duty, etc. etc. after a visit with Elaine and the elephants at the National Zoo. Air Force One goes down off the coast of France and the POTUS is killed. Everyone is very sad. Except the power-grubbing VP who tries to immediately seize power by taking the oath. Elaine swoops in to save the day.
Penny takes a bow.
How can I be left wondering anything less than, why do I even bother watching?
Certainly fiction of any sort is at its best when it mirrors but does not precisely reflect real life, the characters living instead in… an enhanced reality. But when even the fictional TV world that used to be the Land of Slightly More to which we escaped of an evening becomes expected – banal – with what are we left? Desultory hours spent only giving half our attention to any one thing? Surfing the Internet while “watching” a show and doing the crossword?
If you will allow me to make a gross generalization about the state of scripted television?
Perhaps it is time to make the characters of our favorite shows a little less enhanced and a little more real. Real people are not archetypes. Real people do not always make decisions that might properly be termed “in character.”
Have a little faith in us, oh ye Great Studio Executives! Give us the monsters from Frankenstein who inspire us to both revulsion and admiration in the space of a few short paragraphs. Give us the Becky Sharpes for whom we can’t help but root despite their despicably avaricious actions. Give us, in other words, intelligently scripted reality TV (sorry Pol, I know you love your Housewives, but…) that focuses less on hair pulling and more on characters who have meaningful and mundane conversations in equal measure. Give us Lorelei and Rory Gilmore. Give us Seinfeld. Give us an augmented reality in which we could actually live, not a SIMS-esque world in which actions and reactions are limited to the series of zeros and ones that make up a particular player’s character code.