Friday, May 24, 2013

"There's a very good chance that this isn't either fruit or cake."

My wife and I like to mix up our Netflix diet with an episode of Life every now and then.  Last night was a then.  **Spoiler alert: this show tanked after the first season.  The episode “Black Friday” was awful.

The basic premise of the show, if you aren't familiar with it, is very good.  A former LAPD officer returns to the force after being wrongly imprisoned for murdering his best friend – coming out with a huge damage settlement and some fun quirks.  The first season is well written with episode and season arcs for the main characters and the conspiracy in a hip, off beat tone that stays fun.  I'm getting derailed by my second season stinks rant...  But seriously, no wonder it got canceled!

The Black Friday episode gives us a murder victim at a shopping mall just before the doors open on the busiest shopping day of the year.  Great premise but what followed was a poorly executed rip-off of Oliver and a terrible violation of Blake Snyder’s Double Mumbo Jumbo rule.  Six months ago I’d only have known it was bad, but last night I could explain to my bride WHY it was bad and she had an “aha!” moment when I showed off my mad skilz.  Guess what kids?  You really do have to do your homework.  Read the books, study form and structure.  It will make you better at your craft.

The rule, simply stated, says that you are allowed one “suspension of disbelief without explanation” per story – the mumbo jumbo.  It’s in the contract.  The audience wants to be entertained so you, the author, can create an entertaining situation, BUT you can’t just make stuff up for no reason, it has to make sense.  You want aliens?  Okay, but then don’t suddenly have a fourth grade teacher that can fly.

When you ask for the second “suspension of disbelief” you get DOUBLE mumbo jumbo.  There has to be a reason for EVERYTHING else in the story.

With “Black Friday” there’s a murder in a huge shopping mall but nobody ever checks the video surveillance.  Why?  Because then there is no story.  Mumbo jumbo.  I’ve checked the video surveillance in mall security.  It’s standard.  It’s also boring and solves cases – no entertainment.  There’s really no good excuse for NOT checking it.  We the audience accept that there can’t be video so we get to watch the fun show.

Problem is, this is “Black Friday” and there’s a doorbuster sale on mumbo jumbo.  We are immediately asked to believe that all the shoppers have to be let in.  Then there are NO cops or security guards (despite it being the 2nd largest mall in the world on the busiest shopping day) to keep them away from the crime scene.  Then the body is stolen and "hidden" in a garbage cart full of wood chips in the MIDDLE of the floor of the ONLY store that wasn't searched which we don’t find out about until almost the end of the episode.  Wow.  That’s a lot of mumbo jumbo and there were NO explanations.  I was half expecting the gold fish to break the fourth wall in the last scene, just to finish things off.

There was so much potential, for the series and the episode.  I don't know how much better I could have written it (got some great ideas…), but there were significant mistakes that I don’t think I would have made in the plotting.  Damien Lewis was outstanding as Detective Crews and it’s too bad he was limited by such a poor story structure.


  1. It's the invisible wall between the audience and what's happening on the screen. You aren't supposed to break it - considered bad form. Happens all the time, but you have to set it up from the beginning rather than toss it in out of nowhere - like with a talking fish in the final scene. ;)

  2. Goldfish?! Everyone who watched G. I. Joe as a kid knows it was the Hi-C man dressed up as a big pitcher.

    1. OOHHHH YEAH! Of course that wasn't the 4th wall...