Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Hack Scenes - The Betrayal Part 2

Since the last post here, there's been some discussion on Twitter about hack scenes and cliches. Simon Blackwell made the point that you can ultimately do anything by skilled writing. And I agree. The moment you issue a rule or declare an area of limits because it's 'been done to death' (or too offensive), it just makes comedy writers want to disprove that rule with skilled writing. That's the kind of pathetically contrary people we are.

But I've been wondering what's bothering me about that particular 'Betrayal' scene, and why I think it's now hack. Maybe it isn't hack, but here why it bothers me:

I hinted at this before saying that doing a 'cliched betrayal' scene in an archly comedic way undermines the reality of your show, and the rules that you've established. And that alternative reality is really important. So when you parallel it with another reality, the audience will start to become aware that they're watching a sitcom - and that this is all made up.

This in turn undermines credibility - and it's almost never worth doing that for the sake of a few jokes, or a scene that doesn't really have any cast iron consequence in the overall story of the show.

The moment your characters start slipping into a cliched movie scene, I think it causes more problems than it solves. Because this wilful suspension of credibility can creates uncertainty and confusion. How so?

1. In order to achieve your parallel/cliched scene, your characters may have to change their speech patterns - and suddenly they're acting out of character. The other characters would notice this, but they don't - because they're acting slightly out of character too. Now the whole scene sounds artificial.

2. Given that the whole scene is now artificial, it is uncertain as to whether the character realise this. Are they joking? Are they doing this on purpose? Are they referencing a particular scene? Suddenly we're in a world in which comedy characters are aware of comedy cliches and are starting to 'do jokes'. Normally sitcoms are funny because the characters lack self-awareness. Now it's starting to feel self-referential and self-indugent.

Clearly, this can be made to work if you go all in and own it. And you're the kind of show that can do that. Think of the Seinfeld JFK scene. In fact you don't need to. Here is it:

So I'm probably over thinking it. But then, I'm a sitcomgeek and blogging about the technicalities of sitcom. That's what I do.

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