Narrative Complexity and Television
The TV Shows Tendencies
Television industry undergoes many changes nowadays. There are many TV shows viewers can choose from which leads to the increasing competition for people’s attention. In order to be successful, TV shows need to get high rates. It has caused the tendency for TV shows to become increasingly complex (Mittell, 2006).
First of all, it is important to understand that first TV shows were something new and original. Thus, that was the reason for people to be immensely interested in watching them. The first TV show appeared in 1928, and afterwards TV shows became successful and recognizable. Some TV shows such as Star Trek, Twin Peaks, Xena: Warrior Princess and The X-Files have even started a cult (TV Guide News, 2007). The increasing popularity of TV shows among Americans caused a glut in the industry since producers and scriptwriters started creating many TV shows which were of poor quality and did not interest people much. Thus, such situation led to absolutely different attitudes toward TV shows. Instead of being eager to watch them, people started thinking of TV shows as of something of low quality. In order to renew their popularity, TV shows became extremely complex with many subplots and different storylines. TV shows followed a principle of becoming more like detectives even if they were about love and relations.
There may be few reasons for such complexity shift. First of all, the reason is experience in this industry. For many decades, people produced such a considerable number of TV shows that almost all of plots duplicated one another in a certain way. Thus, modern creators had to complicate plots in order to look original. People have seen so many TV shows that it is immensely difficult to surprise them nowadays. Nevertheless, TV producers are able to do it while creating original subplots in the story as well as adding a lot of drama.
Technological aspect also influenced increasing complexity. Amazing special effects, which were impossible to do few decades ago, are now available to TV shows’ creators. With such possibilities, producers focus more on technology and complicate series with its usage.
It is also believed that the complexity of TV series depends on the genre. Soap operas with a lot of drama, for example, need complicated plots since it is the only way to attract capricious viewers. Still, it is important to understand whether people want this complexity or it just encumbers to enjoy TV shows. Some believe that complexity is a must because modern people like something complicated and tricky. Other argue that people watch TV shows in order to relax which is why they do not want anything immensely complex. Nevertheless, the very point of TV shows is empathy and the ability of viewers to relate to characters. Thus, people need to see somebody else’s troubles and struggles in order to distance themselves from problems of their own lives. In this case, complexity plays an important role.
An example can be seen in Desperate Housewives. That modern TV show gained enormous popularity, although at first glance, its plot did not seem to be very different from other TV series. Nevertheless, there were specific elements which differentiated it from its predecessors. First of all, there were a greater number of characters than in previous shows of that type. For example, shows such as Designing Women and Friends did not have many characters and the plot centered on few main characters. Thus, the main characters were the ones determining the story directions. Without doubt there were other characters that appeared occasionally, but the focus was on protagonists. Desperate Housewives, similarly to other modern series, did not follow that principle any longer. There were main characters together with other heroes that joined and left the plot, and who became central characters for a certain number of episodes. Minor characters played a very significant role, and their positions changed throughout the series.
However, there is also some similarity to previous shows. The most evident is unity of place. The story in Desperate Housewives took place in one city (with some exceptions, namely there were few episodes which happened outside Wisteria Lane). It is something that all TV shows try to keep. Whether it is Sci-Fi TV series or a soap drama, creators always try to connect it to a certain place where all of the major events happen. Complexity comes when producers add an extra plot to the main storyline. It can be seen in Desperate Housewives. In the series, creators used new characters and subplots, adding a mysterious voice on the background that commented events. The voice of a woman explained and intrigued viewers by emphasizing the major events and giving clues and hints to the possible outcome of the series. Many events happened at the same time which created parallel storytelling. That way, viewers did not focus solely on one character but paid attention to all of them. Reminiscences and “time travel” to the past in order to provide spectators with characters’ background gave people extra information.
Critics reacted positively to such complexity in Desperate Housewives. They found TV series to be interesting owing to many unexpected events which took part during the show. Nevertheless, some of them criticized the series for portraying women the way TV shows of precious decades did (Stanley, 2004). Thus, such portrayal of women is another thing that connects Desperate Housewives with its predecessors. Critics praised the show for interesting approaches to the traditional genre, and high ratings proved huge popularity among the viewers (Toff, 2009). The final season was the most popular among spectators and gained the biggest recognition (Kepler, 2012).
Such ratings prove that despite complexity, the TV show was very popular among the viewers who found stories of women’s intrigues to be rather interesting. Desperate Housewives became one of the most popular TV shows of the current decade, and it received appraisal both from critics and viewers. It is a good representation of talented storytelling filled with complex narration.
It can be said that narrative complexity became a trend in current television series. People want something intriguing and unexpected so that they cannot guess a plot and new situations always happen. Thus, spectators forget about their problems while watching complex situations which characters of the show face. Narrative complexity helps to create TV shows which will be interesting enough for viewers. Therefore, this trend will most likely remain popular in the next decade and will determine the way next TV series will be produced.