I hereby 'CafePit' LONG plot arcs that are just Maguffins

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?

The Shield.

Part of the problem is, of course, the general fear of endings by producers who really would rather milk the cow dry than set up an enduring franchise that people want to riff off of and make new stories in the same universe.

But I also somewhat suspect, given the sort of lame endings that shows end up with, that the sort of people who get into writing for TV just aren’t very good at endings. They’re good at dragging things out and coming up with mini-stories. Big long stuff, they just don’t know to do and have it work.

You have hit on most or all of the reasons I rarely watch anything but sitcoms. This year however, have become more hooked on mystery series and 3 of the current running ones.

*Babylon 5 *was one of the pioneers in this format, and did have a very strong overarching plot, but also demonstrated one of the key problems to doing this–difficulty of getting buy-in. In order to have a successful plot, you have to lay out the plot in the beginning, which means that you know how much time you have available. *Babylon 5 *was planned originally for 5 years, then in the middle of the year 4 was threatened with non-renewal, so the author rushed in a resolution of sorts at the end of year 4, and then it was extended for another year, which wound up feeling sort of tacked-on.

*Buffy the Vampire Slayer *was fairly successful with year-long plots. Some years were better than others, but the creators did have reasonable certainty that they could complete the one-year story. Plots that ran for more than one year seemed more…*organic *than planned; witness the Buffy/Spike relationship.

Do you mean the 4400 rather than 2400? The 4400’s plotarc just went on and on and on and on and on until I eventually got bored with it and stopped watching. Maybe they did wrap it up eventually, but I don’t care any more.

The best example ever of a Maguffin plotarc is the the mytharc of the X-Files. Chris Carter actually admitted that he was making it up as he went along and had no idea to end it, so didn’t.

Chuck’s only in its third season now, but the second season nicely wrapped up the plotarc that had got started in the first episode of season 1. If you liked those other shows you should love this one.

Unless you have a low tolerance for on-again/off-again romantic tension. :slight_smile:

This is true. I happen to LOVE that will-they-won’t-they stuff but some strange people don’t. Given the other shows listed, I’d definitely say it’s worth the OP’s time to watch a couple of episodes of Chuck to see if they like it.

:smack: Yeah, typo. Or slip of the brain or something.

I’m a sucker for these types of shows, but I pretty much agree with the OP.

Here’s how I feel about recent long-arc series:
BSG pissed me off royally.
I am still holding out hope for LOST, but I fear there will be a lot of unanswered questions.
Fringe has been pretty good about progressing its main arc, hopefully it won’t get cancelled.
Journeyman was cut short with no real resolution.
*Life on Mars *(US) was cut short, but they got to hurriedly wrap the story up in the final ep.
*Flash Forward *is supposedly all mapped out, but there seems to be a lot of “filler” and I have my doubts about how satisfying the end results will be.

Dexter is excellent. Each season is one long arc of 12 episodes, and they always wrap up that arc very satisfyingly at the end, while presenting a new challenge to be addressed in the next season.

TrueBlood is kind of similar in structure, though not nearly as good as Dexter. It’s still entertaining, though, in a trashy/pulpy kind of way.

Bad news, then: The 4400 set up an intriguing premise with the advent of super-powered humans, but the series was cancelled before the story concludes, so there is no resolution of the ongoing arc. No idea if the creators actually had a conclusion in mind or were just making it up as they went along, but I did think it was mostly well-done (up to the non-ending, that is).

And I’ll agree wholeheartedly with the OP premise, as well. Long story arcs that are spun out only to be abandoned when the series concludes are definitely cheats. I think the primary contributing factor, though, is the way shows are sold in the US, where longevity is prized over story content. If more shows were designed like I believe they are in the UK, with a beginning, middle, and end, I think we would see a change for the better in the plotting of these story lines. Look how much better Dollhouse got when it had a definite deadline!

Although I haven’t watched a lot of TV in the last couple decades, the* X-Files*’ mytharc was the first thing I thought of when I read the title of this thread. It was pretty interesting, and interspersed with monster-of-the-week episodes and useful for cliffhanger season finales and the first X-Files movie, then abandoned completely when it got too unwieldy.

Breaking Bad uses longer story arcs, but I haven’t kept up to date on it, so I don’t know where it’s headed.

It’s such a shame. The 4400 started out so well.

Books have the same ‘longevity’ problem too, these days, especially science fiction and YA books. There have always been series and trilogies in those genres but these days there appears to be nothing else. I found a newly-published book recently that was a standalone under 400 pages long, and realised I hadn’t seen a new book like that for years!

Superspies last all summer long.

Dollhouse managed to wrap up their series-length story arc this season, probably because they assumed they wouldn’t go beyond 13 episodes anyway. (NB: I don’t count this week’s upcoming episode, which is gratuitous).

Arrested Development had a bit of closure of the series in the final scene. Similarly, Homicide: Life on the Street came up with a neat bookend for the series: in the first episode, Tim Bayless joined the detectives, but in the final one, he left (not counting the reunion movie).

I had a feeling “The 4400” was definitely aiming for something that was truncated (and a shame, too, because I really enjoyed that show - it was just quietly going about its business of being a fairly intelligent, entertaining sci-fi show).