Tuesday, April 21, 2015

#ISawThatComing: Fringe and Grimm

I think there’s some truth to the notion that there are only so many plots. Seven, eight, twenty-one...it doesn’t matter, the number is much smaller than the number of works published every day. In my genre, Romance, there’s a basic plot structure that all are measured against: Girl Meets Boy, Girl and Boy Come Apart (in some way), Girl and Boy Come Back Together and Girl and Boy Get Their HEA, or Happily Ever After.


Perhaps you’ve heard that Romance consistently pulls in a lot of money for its publishers year after year. There are some stories people can’t get enough of and that’s okay (from my perspective, it’s a good thing). But discriminating readers will still gnash their teeth- or just stop reading- if they feel that they are literally reading the same story over and over again.


As irritating as it is to read the same story again and again, it can be even worse to watch the same story on an infinite loop. (Someone needs to explain to me why television is becoming more and more predictable even as our viewing options increase.) I’ve been able to see through plots since I was ten years old (“Of course Alexis is threatening to tell Fallon that Blake isn’t her real father; she’s the only person Blake loves without any conditions!”) but it probably has gotten worse since I started crafting my own stories. I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I’ve rolled my eyes and screamed at my television, but here are two that stand out:


Fringe Okay, maybe it’s not fair to pick on this show because I watched the @(#@^&!*( X-Files for years before that (and under duress for most of it), but every time I had to sit through an episode of Fringe I was unimpressed. The spooky dreams, the haunted victim of childhood experimentation, the mad scientist, the odd-looking humanoids, the shadowy government agency that might be working for good or evil and ultimately answered to themselves...yawn. And now cue the suspense...but did they know where it was going? (After the series finale, I’m not so sure they weren’t making it up as they went along.)


There's devoted parents...and then there was this guy
Points to the show for adding interdimensional travel? That was actually the final nail in the coffin for me. In an early episode, some reference to traveling between dimensions is made. About five minutes later, the Mad Scientist is having a conversation with his adult son about the time he was very sick as a little boy. “Really, Dad? I don’t remember that.” “I know you don’t, son.” At this point I shook my head. “Yeah,” I said drily, “because this guy’s son actually died and then he kidnapped his son’s double from the other dimension.” My husband thought that was crazy...until he saw a gravestone at the end of the episode which confirmed my theory. Or at least I think it was a gravestone; I didn’t even need to look at the screen to figure out what was going on.


Grimm If we’re going with The Seven Basic Plots, then Grimm is Overcoming the Monster- literally- every week. Nick Burkhardt is a detective in Portland, Oregon who discovers that he’s a Grimm, or a guardian who can see the true forms of human-monster hybrids (wesen) and protects others from them as necessary. Throw in some very old history with the powerful Royals and the fact that many wesen have a grudge bordering on a vendetta against the Grimms, then add that Nick is holding down a normal job while also maintaining relationships with human beings and this should be pretty exciting...but it’s falling short. 

Juliette is Nick's true love...
but it's a shame the show didn't have better reasons to put Juliette with Sean and Nick with Adalind
It’s not just that the dialogue is stilted- with one eye on the screen and the other in a book, my husband can predict what the next line is going to be- it’s that the story beats are so easy to guess even when they don’t make sense. If I see two good-looking actors of the opposite sex alone, it’s a pretty good guess that there’s going to be some romantic entanglement (or that they’re just going to have sex); if they do, there’s a good chance that someone’s going to get pregnant. This will hold even if it’s not in keeping with the characters, and the show will invent some convoluted reason why it will be so. Most recently, Nick's girlfriend Juliette was turned into a Hexenbeist (basically, a witch) to justify a partner switcheroo. It's a weird case of a nonsense plot twist to rush characters into something you saw coming a mile away.


Predictability isn’t the ultimate litmus test. And yet...Grimm is arguably more predictable than Fringe, but I will happily spend time watching that whereas Fringe felt like nails on a chalkboard to me. For me, the key is that I feel secure that Grimm has, basically, an idea of where it’s going in the series, while Fringe made me feel nervous about investing time into something that was going to implode under its own weight (did I mention it was a JJ Abrams’ show?). I’m happy to trade a little bit of finger-snapping surprise if I feel like the journey over all is going to be satisfying.


What about you?

Please be sure to visit my friend Caroline Fardig tomorrow as she shares her thoughts on predictability.