Ken On TV and Movie Series
The concept of a series or “franchise” has been a hot topic this summer, as it’s been full of sequels. We had people talk of “spoon fed cinema” and the occassional one-liner complaint about movies like Final Destination 3.
The latest echo of a movie franchise is Sorority Row which can be summed up neatly as “I Know What You Did Last Summer” but set 12 years later and at a sorority. While not a true sequel, it’s appearance, along with Halloween 2 and Final Destination 3 got me thinking.
The better movie and tv series are ones that have story arcs – that is, the next installment always has something that follows from the previous one.
FD3 and Sorority Row violate this spirit by being a simply recycling of the premise of its predecessors. Even the earlier The Fast and Furious sequel falls into this category.
Episodic television (including much of the good stuff like Star Trek) starts to falter. Two-and-a-Half Men, for example, has entered a comedic rut where the overall story isn’t going anywhere, so each episode has started to feel like a carbon copy of the ones before it.
How I Met Your Mother is premised on being one long story arc (the ridiculous length of this story arc notwithstanding). So even as they go through their zany adventures amid the occassionally flatter stories, you do know there will be a pay-off in the end. And it’s a better story for it. Even Greek, which fell off its original premise (dork meets greeks while his sister schemes to climb the top) has at least found a new one to replace it (dork’s sister struggles to find love while her ex-lovers learn to live in peace).
In other words, it’s not enough to spoon-feed us eye candy in special effects or good-looking actors. For a series to really work, it needs to have medium-term and long-term ideas for its direction. You don’t need these ideas in the original entry of the series, but you have to have them when you write your sequel(s).
Take Star Trek. Even though the TNG crew were extremely popular on television, their movies faltered in a way the original crew’s didn’t. Why? I think it’s because both the stakes were small/hackneyed and none of the movies inter-connected. Only in a couple minor instances that had no bearing on the plot were things carried over (Data’s emotions, Geordi’s VISOR being traded for bionic eyes after being insulted about it, and the Riker/Troi relationship getting back on track after visiting the planet of youth).
Contrast this with the acknowledged plot connections between Trek II-IV (and even the fifth movie has their “new” ship not ready for travel at the beginning). The Undiscovered Country works as a stand-alone because the stakes were huge, its allegory for the Cold War inescapable, and it was a fitting “last adventure” for the crew. Only with Data’s sacrifice in Nemesis do we finally have any sense of some kind of ending – and even then they half-ass it with B-4’s memories.
In 2009, the JJ Abrams reboot learned this hard lesson of the franchise by not only raising the stakes (brand new cadets being thrown into a fight they aren’t ready for in defense of two home planets), but Abrams did the really daring thing by destroying Vulcan permanently (that is, he refrained from the old “let’s go back in time to stop him!” trick).
This leaves the rebooted Trek franchise with a unique opportunity within its newly altered timeline. The next Trek movie can, and should, be built at least somewhat around the consequences of the last movie. Perhaps the Enterprise has to defend the Vulcan refugees from an unexplained threat to their existence? However they do it, I hope Abrams and company don’t blow their chance to build more than a rebooted franchise but an actual trilogy or series that are inter-connected in some way.
If they do this, they will have a winning formula on their hands.