Tag Archives: Grey’s Anatomy

On Sharks, And How To Jump Them Successfully

SPOILERS for Death in Paradise, Grey’s Anatomy and X-Files

Tonight, the truth will be revealed. Or, you know, it won’t. It’s hard to say. I mean, FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been looking for it since 1993 and haven’t found it yet, despite having lost pretty much all members of their families, been impossibly impregnated, survived alien cancer, brought down numerous government conscpiracies, stopped vampires, ghouls, poltergeists and chupacabras, and been abducted by extraterrestrials at least twice between them. After all that excitement, you’d think that everything that needed to be said about aliens would have been said – but here they come again, with a new mini-series of The X-Files starting in the UK on Channel 5 this evening.

I meet this news with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I love Mulder, I love Scully, I love Mulder/Scully, I love Skinner (see this earlier blog post), I love the witty repartee, I love the music and I LOVE a good mystery. But having watched the whole show, in order, years after it was originally broadcast, I quickly started to get frustrated with the whole alien thing. Monster of the Week episodes – yes. Increasingly absurd and nonsensical myth-arc which grew more ludicrous and more tedious by the week – no. In The X-Files’ defence, I have a terrible memory, so it wasn’t entirely the show’s fault that I spent quite a lot of time in the latter seasons going, “Who’s that? Is he an alien? What did she do before? Didn’t he die? Why’s she doing that? Is that Mulder’s dad? Is THAT Mulder’s dad? Was he that guy with the thing? Who’s that? Who’s THAT? Why can’t that guy with the waterbed come back?” Deficits of my brain notwithstanding, I really feel like the last few seasons were specifically designed to confuse and alienate viewers (pun very much intended), for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. So, bringing it back now, eight years after the concluding film… Has The X-Files jumped the shark?

This phrase, as you may know, comes from an episode of Happy Days in which the Fonz, out for a casual water-ski one sunny day, literally has to jump over a shark. Cue applause, many rounds of ‘Ey!’, and groans from audiences all over the country who decided that this was quite frankly absurd and that enough was enough. The producers didn’t listen to the groans and delivered six more seasons, but the deed was done, and now that poor shark is immortalised in pop culture as a symbol of a show past its sell-by date – when something so ludicrous happens that you know the show is never going to be the same again.

And it’s not that hard to argue that, indeed, The X-Files jumped the shark some time ago. One major category of shark-jumping (according to TV Tropes, fount of all film and television knowledge) is to do with plot. A show can push its own self-destruct by, among other things, radically altering its premise, drastically and suddenly changing its mood, throwing in endless plot twists, or absolutely refusing to tie up its main storyline, leaving it hanging about, getting more and more complex and inexplicable, until viewers lose not only the will to watch but the will to live. I’m not saying that’s the case with The X-Files or anything, but let me just note that the official TV Tropes designation for this occurrence is ‘The Chris Carter Effect’ – Chris Carter being the guy who, um, created The X-Files

Of course, shark-jumping isn’t all about plot. Another major kind of shark-jump – possibly the most common – is cast changes, including but not limited to the removal of a popular character, a new character that everyone hates, replacing an actor and claiming it’s the same character, or replacing a character with a totally different character who’s actually exactly the same. I highly recommend that you go and check out the various lists of occasions on which these have occurred (assuming you have a spare week to get hopelessly lost in an endless web of pop culture titbits) but today I’m concerned with a few shows in particular that have undergone these changes, starting with Death in Paradise.

Series 5 of this desert-island murder mystery is currently showing on BBC1, and, cast-wise, it bears little or no resemblance to series 1, which I adored. It’s still a cosy mystery set on a beautiful tropical island and all that jazz, but of the four main characters who began the series, only one is left, and it’s the worst one. (Sorry, Danny John-Jules – loved your work in Maid Marian and her Merry Men, though). The first heartbreaking disappearance was Ben Miller’s pernickety English detective with a penchant for paperwork and inappropriately warm suits, replaced by Kris Marshall’s goofy English detective who’s decided to really just embrace this whole Caribbean thing. Initially I was very upset by this, and considered giving up there and then; but I battled through, and Marshall won me over. But then – BUT THEN. The next character to leave was Fidel, the lovely young sergeant played by Gary Carr; and then, travesty of travesties, Sara Martins’ suave French lady detective went as well. Quelle désastre, as they would say on Saint Marie.

And the thing about that is – OK, actors leave. But in Death in Paradise they haven’t been replaced by new exciting characters that will take the show in a different direction. They’ve been replaced by almost identical characters who look like them and sound like them but just aren’t them. It’s weird and I can’t get my head around it.

What other tropes should we avoid, then, if we want the shark to stay firmly unjumped? Here’s one: overuse of gimmicks, such as special guest stars, musical episodes, clips shows or the release of a movie. What show am I about to talk about…? Yep.

Poor old Simpson family. From humble beginnings as a short section on someone else’s show, they went from strength to strength on the basis of being really damn funny. But times are a-changing, and now there are other cartoon for grown-ups, so what choice do they have but to keep on pushing or give up completely?

You could fill a book with analyses of the celebrities who’ve cameoed on The Simpsons (in fact, someone probably has. If not, they should – can you say ‘money spinner’?!). Simpsons vocal alumni include Stephen Hawking, Glenn Close, Buzz Aldrin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Richard Dawkins, Eric Idle, Julian Assange, Richard Branson, Paul and Linda McCartney, Elizabeth Taylor, Pete Sampras, Tony Blair and, of all people, Cat Deeley. True, the fact that the show can get such a raft of glitterati involved is impressive – but you do have to wonder what it’s trying to distract you from with all these famous voices.

Likewise, what are they hiding beneath all the musical numbers? I have to say, I actually feel kind of unfair complaining about this, because The Simpsons’ musical episodes are by and large utterly glorious. There’s a whole generation of people who only need to hear the opening chords to Mr Burns’ ‘See My Vest’ in order to jump up onto a table and start belting out the most beautiful nonsense about grizzly bear underwear (and don’t even get me started on the bundle of delight that is Spider-Pig. That came from the movie, though, and we all know that releasing a movie is a Sure Sign of sharks being jumped). Nonetheless, you can’t keep a show going on music and funny voices alone, and the slow but steady decline of quality in the actual storylines of The Simpsons is basically a fact of life now (allow me to insert a link to a particularly apt episode of my favourite podcast here), and the fact that it still keeps on rolling is a cause of wonderment to pretty much everyone, not least, I would imagine, the show’s producers.

But that’s the thing – a shark jump is not necessarily a death sentence (however much people – including me – might whinge about it). Here’s a classic example: over the last few weeks, I’ve been catching up with the most recent season of Grey’s Anatomy. “Grey’s Anatomy?!” I hear you cry. “Is that still a thing?!” Why yes it is, dear reader, and I’m still watching it, slowly, bit by bit, as new DVDs trickle over from across the pond, since all British TV networks appear to have given up on it some time ago. Yet, on a hospital-shaped set somewhere in LA, a group of actors are still putting on white coats and saying things like, “This guy’s going to crash, we’ll have to do an emergency heart transplant, prep OR 1 stat and tell my spouse and/or children that my work comes first, I’m a surgeon, dammit!”

Grey’s has basically run the gamut of shark-jumps. It’s killed off or otherwise thrown out numerous beloved characters (George, Denny, Cristina and of course the one and only McDreamy); introduced odious new replacements (Arizona. There, I said it. She irritates the hell out of me and I’m not sorry); completely changed the personalities of key figures (George, the sweetest person in the world, cheating on his wife? Come on now); resolved all manner of sexual tensions (Meredith and Derek, Cristina and Owen, Callie and Arizona, Jackson and April, to name but a few); and thrown an absurd number of outlandish scenarios at the main character (hurricane, fire, secret sister, other secret sister, shooting, drowning, call from President, best friend moving to Switzerland, plane crash), from which she has emerged with no more personality than at the start of the series. It’s also had a musical episode and a spin-off, which you will by now recognise as classic examples of shark-jumping. But I STILL LOVE IT. The most recent season had me laughing, weeping, booing, cheering and, crucially, wanting to watch more.

So maybe there’s hope for The X-Files as well. I shall sit down tonight, snacks in bowl and notepad in hand, ready to embrace Mulder, Scully, Skinner and even Cigarette-Smoking Man, open to the idea that it might still be worth loving.the-x-files-i-want-to-believe-print

Ten Tragic TV Couples

This Valentine’s Day, are you fed up of red roses, boxes of chocolates, lacy hearts, public displays of affection and awful puns? Then read on for the ultimate antidote to Valentine’s Day Nausea: the Screen–Eyed Monster Official List of Ten Tragic TV Couples (featuring exclusive RoJu Tragicness Rating).

SPOILERS for, among others, Angel, Buffy, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Grey’s Anatomy.

 10. Edmund Blackadder and ‘Bob’/Kate (Blackadder II)

Pic 0023 Blackadder Bob

Edmund Blackadder: nobleman, wit, raconteur, all–round arsehat. The one time he ever shows any consideration for someone other than himself is when he finds himself falling for his new manservant, Bob. Fortunately for the standards of the Elizabethan Age, ‘Bob’ turns out to be Kate in disguise, and Blackadder is able to seduce and marry her. Or at least, that’s the plan, until best man Lord Flashheart waltzes in with a canoe in his pocket and steals the bride–to–be. Edmund is never nice to anyone ever again.

RoJu Rating: 1/10 (because Blackadder still has Baldrick)

9. Phoebe Buffay and David the Scientist (FRIENDS)

Blog 0023 Phoebe David

Phoebe is swept off her feet by David’s awkward approach to her in Central Perk, explaining that the only reason he is talking during her performance is that he can’t believe how beautiful she is. But their time together can only be fleeting, for David is about to take up a research post in Minsk. A few more brief encounters over the years keep the hope alive, but Phoebe can’t wait forever, and eventually finds Mike instead. David’s last–minute attempt to win Phoebe back by proposing to her is overshadowed by Mike’s simultaneous proposal; rejected at the last hurdle, David sadly returns to Minsk, never to be seen again.

RoJu Rating: 2/10 (because Phoebe, at least, found happiness in the end)

8. Susan Mayer and Mike Delfino (Desperate Housewives)

Pic 0023 Susan Mike

Very much the Ross and Rachel of Wisteria Lane, Susan and Mike had a relationship more complicated than a Shakespeare comedy. Was he a murderer?Was she still in love with her ex–husband? Would she rather marry an Englishman? Or a house painter? Was he going to spend the rest of his days in a coma? Was she going to lose both kidneys? Would she be arrested for helping to conceal the murder of her friend’s evil stepfather?  The answer to all of these questions eventually being ‘no’, Susan and Mike marry for a second time to raise their son together; but then Mike is killed by a loan shark and it’s almost as if none of the last ten years ever happened…

RoJu Rating: 3/10 (because by the end of the series we were totes over it)

7. Gregory House and Lisa Cuddy (House)

 Pic 0023 House Cuddy

House was a genius, yes, but so rude, callous and infuriating that nobody could really put up with him… apart from Cuddy, his long–suffering boss, friend and, for a brief glorious period, girlfriend. The sexual tension was palpable from the get–go, and it almost seemed for a moment or two as if a relationship with Cuddy would lead House to grow up and start caring about other people. But his self–destructive tendencies got the better of him, and when he drove a car into Cuddy’s living room, she made the (entirely justified) move of leaving his life forever.

RoJU Rating: 3/10 (because House’s true love is really Wilson)

6. Cristina Yang and Owen Hunt (Grey’s Anatomy)

Blog 0023 Cristina Owen

From the moment Owen flew into the ER riding a gurney and desperately trying to keep alive a man on whom he’d performed an emergency tracheotomy with a pen, Cristina was smitten. They got together almost immediately, and stuck with each other through bouts of PTSD, shootings, storms, an unexpected pregnancy, friends’ deaths, a rushed marriage and an affair. Ultimately, their relationship failed for one reason alone: he wanted kids, and she didn’t. After six years, they realised there was no way to compromise. So they called it a day, and Cristina moved to Switzerland.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because no–one died, but life just got in the way)

5Toadie Rebecchi and Dee Bliss (Neighbours)

Blog 0023 Toadie Dee

Toadie was the class clown with no direction and a penchant for amateur wrestling; Dee was the beautiful nurse who was unlucky in love with several of Toadie’s housemates. After much prevaricating, Toadie and Dee realised they were meant to be together, and when a complex plot cooked up by Dee’s evil ex–boyfriend Dr Darcy threatened to derail their relationship, they battled through. Finally, FINALLY, their wedding day arrived – but as they drove away from the ceremony, Toadie lost control of the car and the happy couple plunged over a cliff into the sea. Toadie escaped to wrestle another day; Dee did not.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because Dee’s body was never found, and hope remains that she could come back)

4. Lady Sybil Crawley and Tom Branson (Downton Abbey)

Blog 0023 Sybil Branson

Things looked bleak from the beginning for the earl’s daughter and the chauffeur who fell in love despite the odds. He encouraged her to wear trousers and consider the plight of the working classes; she convinced him not to burn her family home to the ground. Eventually Sybil tells her parents the truth, but there’s no time for her father to disapprove, because the pair has eloped to Dublin, and shortly afterwards Sybil is pregnant with a tiny half–posh half–pinko baby. Can the tiny creature bring the family back together…? No, because Sybil dies in childbirth, leaving poor Tom alone to fend for himself and his new baby against the entitled onslaught of the Crawleys.

RoJu Rating: 6/10 (because it is better to have loved and lost than never to have eaten at the Crawley table)

3. The Doctor and Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

Blog 0023 Doctor Rose

On the one hand, this was never going to work: a young Earthling and a centuries–old Time Lord, divided by millennia of experience. And yet, for a while, it did, with Rose saving the Doctor’s life almost as many times as he saved hers, and showing an impressive ability to get over the fact that, halfway through their relationship, he became a completely different person. But time gets us all in the end, and Rose ends up trapped in a parallel universe with a Doctor clone for company. The Doctor, once again, ends up alone.

RoJu Rating: 7/10 (because two Doctors are better than none)

2. Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Blog 0023 Willow Tara

Willow didn’t realise she was into women until Tara arrived on the scene, full of witchy goodness. Together they help to defeat a multitude of vampires, demons and monsters, as well as serving as parental figures for teenage loner Dawn, until Willow starts to abuse her magical powers and alters Tara’s memory. Tara works hard to forgive her, and they finally reconcile – at which point Tara is accidentally killed by a wanton bullet, and Willow goes Dark, taking revenge on the perpetrator and very nearly summoning the Apocalypse in her grief. Yikes.

RoJu Rating: 9/10 (because the end of this relationship nearly brings about the end of the world)

1. Wesley Wyndam–Pryce and Winifred ‘Fred’ Burkle (Angel)Blog 0023 Wesley Fred

A second entry from the Buffyverse, because Joss Whedon apparently hates happiness, but this one’s a corker. Wesley the rogue vampire hunter falls secretly in love with shy librarian Fred, who chooses their colleague Gunn instead. After an extremely misguided affair with an evil lawyer and a stand–off against his own father to save Fred’s life, Wesley tells Fred the truth, and she reciprocates. Guess what, though? In the next episode she dies and her body is taken over by an ancient demon, who hangs around as a constant reminder that Fred is no more. Oh, and at the end of the season Wesley dies too.

RoJu Rating: 10/10 (because having to be friends with your ex’s corpse is just nasty)

Happy Valentine’s Day, guys!

Have TV Your Way: How On-Demand Makes Watching Television Trickier

Note: spoilers for (old episodes of) X-Files, Grey’s Anatomy and NCIS.

Recently I had a very bizarre experience, one that I thought was lost in the mists of time… I watched a TV programme as it was broadcast.

I know, right? It wasn’t a topical programme, or even filmed live (all right, I confess, it was University Challenge), but nonetheless I watched it on the television at a time decided for me by official BBC schedulers. This came as a shock because less and less of my (and many other people’s) TV watching is done thus: in all honesty, I’m a catch-up junkie. I know I’m not the only one, but what with all the repeats, online players, +1 channels and TV subscription services, I sometimes feel like I’ve completely lost the ability to watch TV at the originally specified time.

Oh, it started off harmlessly enough. As a youth, I’d occasionally catch a repeat of Friends on Channel 4, not out of choice but because there was just nothing else to watch after Neighbours and The Simpsons. Soon I was seeking out repeats, then I started buying DVDs of my favourite shows, in order to relive my favourite scenes and jokes. At some point, it occurred to me that I could buy DVDs of shows that I hadn’t already seen, shows that other people had watched but I’d missed out on the first time. From there it was just too easy to put things off – ‘No need to watch it now,’ I’d say to myself, ‘I can buy it on DVD later’ – and the development of BBC iPlayer and 4OD just made things worse. Before long I was catching up on programmes from the last seven days like nobody’s business, filling my shelves with secondhand DVDs, watching things on +1 as if not+1 didn’t exist… And then, finally, the world came crashing down and I hit rock bottom: I joined Netflix.

Nowadays I treat the TV schedules with all the disdain and wanton disregard I can muster. This week, for example, I watched New Girl on E4+1, switched to Channel 4 for the second half of Rude Tube and then switched to Channel 4+1 for the first half of Rude Tube, just because I could. Oh, the humanity.

If truth be told, I’m already paying the price for this destructive habit. Sure, watching TV programmes at a time of your own choosing is convenient, but there are many reasons why pick-your-own-schedules TV may not be the way to go, and they’re mostly to do with the fact that people talk to each other (what are they thinking?).

First, obviously – spoilers. This is most clearly the case with the most popular TV programmes, and particularly when you’re far enough behind the rest of the world to be forever playing catch-up but not far enough for everyone to have stopped talking about it already. Take Downton Abbey. I missed the boat when it was first broadcast, but Netflix offered it to me on a plate; so I took a tentative bite, and have got as far as season two (2011). But because everyone on the planet has been obsessed by the Crawley family for the last four years, I already know that CENSORED and CENSORED get married, CENSORED is arrested for murder, CENSORED has a baby, and CENSORED dies*. Every episode is imbued with either a sense of inevitable dread (‘Don’t do it, don’t visit her, or when she dies everyone will think it was you…”) or a tragic poignancy (‘They think their love might be doomed… it is, oh it is!’). It’s the same when programmes are still ongoing and the cast continues to change – even if you manage not to find out exactly how their characters leave, you still know that their days are numbered. In my TV-watching world, Mulder and Scully have just made it through Mulder’s brief bout of insanity to emerge the other side and share a New Year’s kiss (X-Files season seven, 2000) – and now he’s leaving? How will Scully cope? How will I cope? In my world, Cristina seems to have forgiven Hunt for his affair and has just told him that he’s her ‘person’ (Grey’s Anatomy season eight, 2012) – but how will they get it properly together now before Cristina leaves in season ten? And in my world, Kate has just been killed by a terrorist and no one knows who her replacement will be (NCIS season two, 2005); yet apparently that replacement is already leaving the show. Slow down, man! I ain’t the Doctor – I can’t cope with this many time streams.

Of course, it’s impossible for people not to give spoilers away, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to keep quiet about major TV events, because people like talking about the TV they watch. (Hell, I like it so much that I’ve set up a really great blog dedicated to exactly that.**) Most of the time, people are only giving the plot away because they’re so excited by it and want to discuss it with other like-minded viewers – such as when I accidentally told someone the ending of the first series of The Killing, not realising they were only on episode four. (It’s OK, guys, I did an incredible cover-up, and she was even more surprised when the reveal eventually came along.)

Which is another reason why watching TV programmes months or years after everyone else is a bit of a bummer: you don’t get to discuss them with anyone. Things like Downton are OK, because the series is still going and people are still interested in the characters, but Teachers? Smallville? The IT Crowd? Not so much. I only saw The IT Crowd last winter (a mere seven years after it first aired), and I was finally able to discuss it with those of my friends who’d watched and enjoyed it back in the noughties – unfortunately, by the time I got round to the conversation, it went something like this:

Me: “Just been watching The IT Crowd.”

Friend: “It’s hilarious, isn’t it?”

Me: “Oh my God, yes. D’you remember that episode where Moss accidentally works as a barman?”

Friend: “Um, not really. Hey, you know what’s great at the moment? Happy Endings. Have you seen that?”

Me: “Ask me again in seven years.”

This is even worse now that interaction about TV is both global and instantaneous. I’m still slightly unsettled by the idea that you should tweet or text in to TV programmes while you’re in the middle of watching them (although so far it seems to be only with live current affairs, entertainment and other non-fiction programmes – when Call the Midwife starts running banners on the screen saying ‘Tell us which of the two babies Jenny should save, @midwivescanonlydosomuch #dontaccidentallypicktheevilone’, then pop culture as we know it is officially dead). But it’s increasingly tempting to pick up the phone/mouse and have your say, especially when you feel like you could contribute a damn sight more to the discussion than ‘really dont like huw edwards suit bro’. This is especially the case with The Last Leg, which asks viewers to send in their dubious questions about what’s appropriate to say or do on TV, because Adam Hills actually reads out people’s tweets and discusses them on the show. This week, I confess, I was overcome by the sudden desire to ‘get involved’ in the debate on exam results, and I very nearly made my first use of the #isitok hashtag – then I remembered that I was watching the programme on Channel 4+1, and that Adam Hills and everyone else involved in the show had probably left the studio some time ago.

So, really, watching things as the fancy takes you rather than when other people are watching them has its drawbacks – but it also has its perks. Sometimes it can give you a new perspective on a show or character. I only started watching Doctor Who in 2010, so Matt Smith was my first doctor; when I went back to watch Christopher Eccleston he seemed scarily dark and dour in comparison (and also better: see my Doctor Who post). Likewise, I’m currently catching up on The X-Files on DVD and Californication on Netflix; both star David Duchovny, which means that Hank Moody seems like Fox Mulder in an alternate universe where the absence of Scully has driven him to a world of booze, one-night stands, prolific use of the f-word and more cigarettes than the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The truth is out there, indeed.

What to do, then, dear friends? If we want to talk about programmes properly, if we want to keep the element of surprise, we need to be watching them at more or less the same time. On the other hand, now that we can watch TV whenever and wherever we want, it seems almost silly to watch a programme at 9pm on a Saturday just because someone you’ve never met thinks that’s the best time for it. It’s a conundrum that will probably sort itself out as more and more people start to use on-demand services. Or maybe we could decide by Twitter vote. #greattvscheduledebate, anyone?

~

*The censored parts are less for your benefit than for mine – if I don’t type the names out then maybe the events won’t happen, right…?

**That’s this blog. Just so we’re clear.