I am [del]a sucker for[/del] prime audience for a series (or a long, fast-paced book) wherein, in between the narrow escapes and frantic immediate concerns for survival or coping with the disaster du jour, it gradually becomes apparent that all of this is a local manifestation of an ‘event’ in a much longer story that is reaching a climax or major turning point of its own.
And one thing I find really annoying is when I start watching a dramatic suspense-oriented series that is structured like that, get all attention-riveted and enthralled on it, only to gradually suspect and then sadly conclude that the long story is just a throwaway backdrop excuse for the episodes or the immediate conflicts, and that the authors & screenwriters have no idea themselves where the long story arc is going; that they don’t greatly care about making that story work well as a story, as long as it’s cohesive enough to propel us into more adventures; and that if I continue watching, it’s going to do one of three things:
• never get reconciled; series or book just ends when one of the local episodic scenarios gets wrapped up, leaving all that long story arc stuff and its loose ends danglng
• wander around and get good and lost in overly detailed permutations and complexities that make less and less cohesive sense as the writers keep tacking stuff onto the end of it like one of those MPSIMS “finish the story” threads.
• as the series reaches its final conclusion, the long story arc is finally wrapped up in the last segments with unsatisfying quickie resolutions that a) leave everything UNCHANGED, i.e., the entire long story arc has no ramifications; b) are a cheat, in the sense that all the potential that caused us as viewers to give a shit about the long story arc in the first place is shown to be non-applicable, i.e., it DIDN’T matter and there WASN’T a reason for us or the main characters to care or be concerned with it; and c) tie up many of the loose ends and unanswered questions very very abruptly in ways that are internally contradictory to what has been established so far, with no drama, no builtup of final tension, just like flipping to the back of the puzzle book and reading off the answers.
Me and my GF are Netflix users (as opposed to having live reception via cable TV etc) so we are not bound by broadcast schedules. We get to hear the publicity and get a sense of what is drawing in viewers and then put it on our queue. You’d think this would have good results, but it has resulted in us being disappointed by long story arc maguffins in series such as these:
• Battlestar Galactica
• 24 Hours
We also snag books from Amazon, she being an Amazon Prime [del]addict[/del] customer, and I’ve always been an omnivorous bookjunkie myself. In the world of text-based adventures, I will cite these as representative offenders:
•The Da Vinci Code
• The Dark Tower series
Now, for some counterexamples to round things off. First, to fend off at least some of the anticipated replies from people defending the maguffin, yes I have enjoyed some stories and series where the real reason for existence and focus of enjoyment IS the local episode; the difference is that they aren’t structurally and emotionally designed as suspense stories and IMO one would be foolish to get overly invested in the idea that the long arc is “going anywhere”:
• Monk. Not really my cup of tea once Bitty Schram left the series but whatever. No, I did not stop watching due to being annoyed that we were probably never gonna find out who offed Monk’s wife.
• Star Trek. In any of its incarnations. I wasn’t watching in order to track the long trajectory story of the five year mission or the attempt to get back to the Starfleet portion of the universe or whatever.
And these counterexamples of series that DID have a long story arc that DID get serious attention from the author and DID get wrapped up in a non-slapdash & mostly satisfactory manner:
• Harry Potter series
• Veronica Mars. To my surprise.
& Finally, these, which we’ve only been watching a little while and I dont’ know if we’ll be entertained or maguffined again:
•United States of Tara: look, either DO or DO NOT have a backstory about what happened to the lady but if you the scriptwriters do not have a backstory and have no intention of going anywhere with this, kindly fuck off and leave it alone
• The 2400.
OK, with all that having been said, can y’all recommend to us some series that are high-suspense, powerfully dramatic, with genuine (not maguffinesque) long story arcs?