We greet them with a weary sight, the well-worn devices and plot tricks used so often they don’t twist a storyline so much as strangle it. You know them well, those things that only happen on TV, never in real life. Like the family man who goes off to work every day as usual, then when he’s found dead, his wife is shocked to learn from police that he lost his job six months ago. Shamelessly, Law & Order: UK re-roasted this old chestnut just last week.
But it’s not just overused plotlines, it’s the low-level clichés and dumb moves that you see unfold and make you think, “Really? Again?”
Here, in no particular order, are a few mouldy tropes in my personal Room 101.
1. The scene where our hero goes to a bar with the glamorous love interest and she turns out to be a demon pool player. Jessica Raine in Line of Duty and Winona Ryder in Turks & Caicos chalked this one up recently.
2. The comedy-drama that builds to a climax at a big do where our hero gives an awkward, stumbling “everyone’s gathered for this wedding/party thing that I’ve ruined” speech. Him & Her is one of many offenders.
3. Our heroine is walking somewhere spooky – through woods or a deserted warehouse, say. There’s nobody to be seen but she feels anxious. The camera angle changes, she turns her head and, with a soundtrack whoosh, she sees the person she was looking for (or dreading) right next to her. Look out for a textbook example in this week’s New Worlds.
4. The comedy variant of the above sees our hero launch into a rant about their boss/colleague, who then appears in the background. Our hero suddenly twigs and ends the rant with, “He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?”
5. Sweeping all the gubbins off a desk with a grand gesture. This is done a) in anger (our hero has realised everything’s pointless) or b) in order to have sex on it. Both turned up in the finale of Silk. The scene where characters later have to pick up a bunch of pens and box-files is rarely shown.
6. The figure in a costume drama (Oona Chaplin’s character is this week’s The Crimson Field or Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey) who defies authority and tradition. Gradually, the stuffier characters will start to realise this rebel has a point. (Because the rebel has parachuted in with hindsight from the 21st century.)
7. Detectives go to question someone at their home or office. The witness blithely walks away mid-interview or insists they’re busy. An inspector has come to see you! Don’t turn your back and walk off so he has to tag along behind you! For some reason, Lewis, Barnaby and the New Tricks team get this a lot – must be maddening.
8. In a crime mystery, the big guest star in the seemingly marginal role turns out to be the murderer. Of couse! Why else would an A-lister take a bit part unless it turned out to be pivotal? Whodunnit? Theydunnit.
9. The shouty press conference.
10. Quirky documentaries like to show people as plonkers. The quickest way to establish that is to have your businessman, sales rep etc in their car, tie loosened, singing along at full volume to a cheesy power-ballad. (This week’s Under Offer – Estate Agents on the Job does it; Bank of Dave did it time after time.)
11. The lights go on (or off) with a loud clanking sound – it happens in a country house in this week’s Endeavour. Similarly, the computers that chirrup as they display search results (in every single CSI). These things happen silently in real life; let’s keep it that way.
12. And finally, one from the news. I’ve never understood why, when a report ends and we cut back to the studio, the presenter says, “And we can go over live to John now. What can you tell us about the latest developments there, John?” He’s just told us! If there were more news, John would have put it in his report. Besides, it’s after ten o’clock and everyone’s gone home. Now he’s standing in front of a locked door, at night, on his own. That’s no way to get the news!
Everyone has their own hit-list, so leave a comment below about the clichéd plot devices that bother you – and let’s put a few of them out to pasture, shall we?