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Interchangeable subplots?

The Big Bang Theory is one of my guilty pleasures. Usually, I demand more from a TV show: great writing, careful storytelling, stellar performances. For Big Bang, I make an exception. Sometimes, you just need a mindless chuckle.

Still, if I’m honest, Big Bang Theory is not an innovative or well-written show. It overuses a stale “setup-setup-punchline” recipe for laughs. And when the jokes fall flat, it fills the silence with an aggressive laugh track—a broadcast trick that should have died decades ago.

I can overlook these faults; almost every other sitcom leans on these genre standards, too. Harder to forgive? The Big Bang Theory’s lazy, haphazardly-written plot lines. Too often, Big Bang’s ‘A’ storyline and ‘B’ storyline have literally nothing to do with one another.

Consider one recent episode: October 2015’s “Helium Insufficiency.” Half the show deals with Sheldon and Leonard buying black-market helium to buoy their scientific research. Meanwhile, the other characters help Amy navigate the world of online dating.

The episode cuts back and forth between the two storylines, but never lets them intersect or even overlap. The separate narratives just plod along, the characters oblivious of what’s happening in the other thread. And then, the episode abruptly ends—or really, ends twice (once for each subplot). For contrast, take Seinfeld, which specialized in cleverly interweaving multiple seemingly-unrelated stories.

I’d posit that you could combine almost any set of Big Bang subplots. Splice them together, and you’d end up with a serviceable episode. For all I know, that’s how the writers chart out each season: come up with a few dozen “hilarious” situations, toss them in a hat, and pull out two or three at a time to conjure up an episode.

That makes writing scripts easier, perhaps, but it hardly makes for legendary comedy.

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TV Uncategorized

Why the Dowager Countess must die: fan service vs. storytelling.

I cheated. Using a little Internet magic, I watched season three of Downton Abbey last fall, long before my American friends had the opportunity. When the show finally aired in the States, I knew what was coming. As the season finale aired, my Facebook feed filled up with incredulous reactions to a major character’s untimely demise.

Now, I could quibble with how the show killed him off (his death was telegraphed from a mile away). But I applaud any show that would kill off its lead characters. I wish more showrunners had the guts to take big risks during the series run. Let good storytelling determine the plot—not fan petitions, actor contracts, or studio interference. Let story be king.

Fans will gripe and moan, of course. But who cares? Fans make terrible writers. (A quick visit to any fan-fiction site will prove that fact.) A franchise’s devotees too often prefer to preserve things as they are, indefinitely, until their beloved show stagnates and piddles out.

Downton Abbey deserves better. And that’s why any true Downton admirer should root for the Dowager Countess to die in the upcoming fourth season. Sure, we all love Maggie Smith. But the character should already have croaked, by any believable WWI-era actuarial table. If she survives another year, it’ll be a bad sign for everyone’s favorite BBC soap opera.

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movies technology TV Uncategorized

Save your work: Star Trek’s transporter

The transporter in Star Trek has always bugged me. So many plot holes, so much nonsense.

An example: the transporter has some sort of memory buffer, which saves the signal of the person teleporting off the ship. On occasion, the crew has used that stored pattern to reconstitute a person (e.g. season one, in which Data reunited Picard’s floating spirit with his stored signal).

If this is true, why wouldn’t you store the person’s pattern until you’re absolutely sure that they’ve arrived safely on the other end? If something goes wrong with the teleportation, no problem. Just recreate the individual from the saved pattern, and go about your day.

Better yet, why not archive the saved pattern until you’re sure the crew member has returned safely from the mission? Oh, Tasha Yar died down on the planet? No worries. We’ll just restore her from the backup. She’ll be missing some memories, but she’ll be alive.