There is a dramatic crutch that is being used by a lot of television writers over the last couple of seasons and it needs to stop.  The show begins with a scene that makes no sense.  Then you get a chyron that says something like, “36 Hours Ago…” and the next scene takes place in history 36 hours previous to the scene in which you just watched and didn’t understand.

You quickly realize that first scene you watched made no sense because it was out of context and was purposefully placed there by the dramatists to confuse you with the allure of being unique instead of just being what it was:  Hinky.

Instead of a Twilight Zone Ending, you’re stuck in a Twilight Zone Preamble.

In a single week, I saw that “36 Hours Ago…” trick used on CSI, Lie to Me — and on the horrible Human Target, which seems to like using that effect to start every show, and that makes the trick an unfortunate crutch and a dog-ear dramatic device because of its infused predictability.

This sort of faux time bending needs to stop across all dramas because it is a wretched construction element.

It’s easy to set up an expectation trap — and then twist the audience’s nose by saying, “We aren’t where you thought we were!”  The dramatic spring must be unwound slowly and tensely and tersely, and in real time, to find the most effective firing for storytelling.

“36 Hours Ago” is lazy drama where nothing has to make sense or add up because you’re jumping time and congealing space and none of it works because that’s the dramatist’s plan.

All of that is painful for an audience because they are left dazed and confused and searching for a handle of understanding on which they can grip and base their experience on in some sort of reality.

The amateur dramatist always has a ready defense for these Bad Drama Tricks and it is simply, “That’s what I intended.”

How can you argue with the successful bad intention?

Our answer to that trite and inconsiderate reply is, “But we are left unfulfilled by your successful lack of attention.”

That failure to fulfill the promise of a tense, but cogent and cohesive, drama is left to the utter shame of an inexperienced dramatist who will always take the easy, sneaky, way out of the drama of conflict because — to try harder and to become a professional storyteller craftsman — is too hard and too telling of their character in a rapidly decomposing culture where speed and confusion are often substituted for substance and the fulfillment of human meaning.


  1. I’m glad that gave up watching commercial TV. I did it primarily because I don’t like to thinking that hard in my free time. OK so occasionally I might hit the Disney channel just to see the next generation of ‘Lindsay Lohans & Brittany Spears’ before they totally wig out. Some of those kids are pretty good actors. Just replaced the TV with music, photography & books.

    1. You’re smart to disconnect, Cyara. Television is getting dumber by the moment. TV certainly is — “The Boob Tube” — and always has been, but it is still taking over our lives by degrees. YouTube and Hulu and the like only make it harder to remove its influence from the modern life.

    1. I don’t think it really ever works as intended, Gordon. Sure, there are some excellent exceptions, but generally, as a hard rule — it’s a terrible crutch for the dramatic leaning.

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