How we got here, or "12 days earlier"

May 20, 2010

I can’t recall what we were watching last week when Husband and I decided that someone needs to place a moratorium on the use of flashbacks in TV shows. If you write Lost you get a pass on this one. That’s a given since it’s a) a show with lots of wacky time travel and b) it’s almost over.

The rest of the writers out in TV land need to pay attention. I’m not kidding, Smartypants. Knock it the fuck off. Right now.

TV Tropes concisely calls this annoying device, “how we got here” and provides a handy and concise definition:

A type of In Medias Res / Whole Episode Flashback, where the story opens at a point at (or near) the end of the story, and the bulk of the story is spent showing how the character got to this point.

I swear 99% of the time that “3 hours earlier” caption is really saying to the viewer, “We’re phoning this shit in because we spent the weekend drinking progressively harsher varieties of hard alcohol and watching Emergency on Netflix and then we got back into the writer’s room on Monday and we had to pull something out of our ass fast for the sweeps week episode or the show runner was going to kick us to the curb.”

A few shows have made brilliantly effective use of the technique. Breaking Bad immediately springs to mind. About eleventy-million cop shows and procedurals can not make the same claim. TVTropes agrees:

Breaking Bad opens on a man driving an RV recklessly through badlands dressed only in a gasmask and underpants. He glances behind him: a flash of what looks like two dead bodies sliding around on the floor. Beside him is an unconscious man, also in a gasmask. Three weeks ago … now how are we going to get from this quiet suburban scene to there?

Speaking of Lost, how great is Miles? I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to take a moment to quote one of my all-time favorite Miles lines: “Well I lived in these houses 30 years before you did, otherwise known as last week, and I have no idea where the hell we are”. Otherwise known as last week. Fantastic.

Speaking of Emergency, which you must never do out loud or you run the risk of an ancient Incan curse elevating the temperature in your cranial cavity until your brains boil and gush out of your skull through your eyesockets, which will conveniently be empty because your eyeballs were liquified and then evaporated, Husband and I watched an episode a few nights ago. Unbelievable Badness.

If you inoculate yourself with a couple episodes of Emergency, I bet you could watch Galactica 1980 or Love Boat or any number of painful things without batting an eye. The thing we liked best about Emergency were the extended sequences of them driving to an emergency with the sirens running. These scenes go on for a long long time. How long? Mystery Science Theater territory.

You can watch the episode we watched on hulu: go to season 1, episode 2 (“Botulism”) and see if you can make it all the way to the end.

Go on, I dare you.

I doubledog dare you.

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