Westwind

TV show

Post by Peyton Austin

Ah, high school. Remember that one time where one of your friends overdosed on your spring break trip to Mexico? How about that time you had a fight with your friend at her party, got drunk, and killed a man driving home? Or that one time you and your friends were blackmailed by an anonymous person who also stalked you every day?

Obviously not. The real question here (besides what the hell are teenagers in TV shows getting up to?) is: why are high school television dramas so melodramatic and unrealistic?

My answer would argue that this is not actually—or at the very least, not totallythe fault of the high school TV dramas (HSTVD)

Obviously, the number one reason why HSTVD’s are unrealistic is because they are not written by high schoolers; they are written by adults who have probably not set foot in a high school in ten-plus years. Just watch any episode of Riverdale and listen to those characters speak. You’ll automatically know that whoever these characters are, they are for sure not seventeen-year-olds.

But, again, that’s the obvious answer. I’m here to argue that HSTVD’s are just Like That—unrealistic, melodramatic—due to the nature of television writing. Unlike movies or books, television does not have the luxury of starting out slow. Riskier or more comfortable shows can, but for the most part, television requires that viewer get hooked on the show immediately. And these hooks need to keep happening—the TV show must have a constant, underlying drive. It not only asks, why keep watching this show?, but delivers the this is why.

So, enter high school dramas, of which the dramatic nature of TV already puts them at a disadvantage. TV shows about a police force, teacher-turned-drug dealer, or pirates will not lack any drama. Think about your high school experience, however. The majority of high school is spent sitting in a class or sitting at home doing homework. Sure, you have extracurriculars, relationships, family drama—but even for most kids, those things are not as dramatic as their portrayals in TV. For the most part, high school is extremely boring. No matter how realistic it is, no one wants to watch some high school kid get an A (or and F) on the test. Dramatic for the kid in question, but definitely not for the viewer.

So the writers for HSTVD’s have to imbue their stories with lots of drama, and they do this by adding in every conceivable plot possible. Sex? Pregnancy? Alcoholism? Drugs and overdose? Murder? Fame? Cheating? Parental divorce? Blackmail? Gambling? Not to mention shows like the recent Degrassi: Next Class, which often tackles issue-based storylines, creating plots on immigration, Islamophobia, mental illness, abortion, racism, homophobia, rape, suicide, and so much more.

To be clear: tackling these issues, or writing storylines on them, does not automatically make it bad writing. What HSTVD’s do is pack all of these things into seasons or even single episodes. This means that while one character’s plotline is worrying about their first kiss—normal high school escapades!—another high school student is dealing with their drug addiction. It causes, if not an inconsistent tone, then an utter bewilderment on the part of the viewer. And even more bewilderment occurs when the story moves on quickly to its next harsh storyline, giving the audience an emotional whiplash. Considering TV shows are given 22-episode seasons, this rapid whiplash is nearly nonstop.

Another disclaimer: many of these issue-based storylines are realistic to high school. The idea that any high school is free from racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. is ridiculous. I know my school was guilty of that and more. In fact, my school had many of the wackier plots as well: drugs, possible pregnancy, and teacher allegations alongside all the -isms mentioned earlier (and boy, there was a lot of that). The difference is that most of those wackier plots at my high school were one-offs. Sure, drugs and alcohol were fairly common, but only at special occasions—and they were only ever caught on campus a few times. Pregnancy rumors were whispered about and not confirmed until after high school. Still, this type of stuff makes up five percent of a high schooler’s life—maybe even less than that. HSTVD cram so much of it into its show that it becomes oversaturated and then, yes, melodramatic.

The consequences are not just melodrama (which some people enjoy!). More often than not, the highly dramatic nature of HSTVD’s result in a lot inconsistent characterization. In many cases, characters cheat on their partners for no particular reasons; the reasons given are usually contrived, and you can easily see the writers instead of the characters. In season two of 90210, the womanizing jock Teddy has an entire arc about learning to settle down into a monogamous and serious relationship. In season three, however, Teddy discovers that he’s gay. The show tries to connect these storylines together, but it’s a weak thread. It’s not that the second storyline is bad, it’s just that the two versions of this character are wildly different from one another.

The more inconsistent your characters are, the easier it is to throw them into the melodramatic situations. The more melodramatic the situations are, the harder it is to maintain the characters. It’s a self-sustaining cycle.

All of this, however, begs the question: do high school TV shows even need to be realistic?

I think the answer is: to some extent, yes. I don’t expect every HSTVD to be realistic down to a T; again, I understand that a TV show needs drama for it to work. But in some cases, realism is important—or at the very least, refreshing. In a landscape of Naomi Clarks of 90210 or Cheryl Blossoms of Riverdale, My Mad Fat Diary’s exploration of the interiority of a mentally ill, fat teenage girl does become necessary. (My Mad Fat Diary, by the way, incorporates many of the plotlines I’ve mentioned above—abortion, sex, mental illness—but grounds these storylines in characters and relationships, rather than speeding onto the next big plot twist.)

Or consider the Norwegian webseries, Skam. It tackled (Norwegian) teenhood and the struggles they face (particularly eating disorders, queerness, and sexual abuse) in such a realistic and respectful manner that it has spawned remakes in eight different countries across Europe and the U.S. For the recent Netflix show American Vandal, one of its many praises received from critics was the realism of the high school students. Despite the main plot (a documentary) being unrealistic, American Vandal’s themes, characters, and humor accurately capture the contemporary high school student experience.

But realism is not just necessary because of the critical praise (although, that should be a sign). How often does one tiny scene in a HSTVD suspend your disbelief and rip you out of the show, even for a moment? Take Netflix’s recent show Sex Education. In the first episode, the students receive none other than the classic trope of the school-wide text message. This is usually done for dramatic effect—oh no! now everyone knows our protagonist’s humiliating secret!—but it would never, ever happen in real life. I honestly don’t know how this trope got started, because I can’t imagine a time where a student had every other students’ number. This is a small moment, granted, but the more these small moments build up, the more the lack of realism grates on the viewer.

So to the high school TV drama: I don’t hate you. You get criticized a lot, and for mostly valid reasons, but I know it is not entirely your fault. For the things that do come under your purview, however, do just a little more research. Please. We’re begging you. The longer these bad tropes, melodrama, and inaccurate representations persist, the worse-off your TV show appears.

Post by Jessica Magallanes

We all love a good TV show binge during winter break, but sometimes watching just isn’t enough. Here is a list of books that can help curb your super fan appetites while you wait for the new seasons of your favorite shows.

1. American Horror Story: Asylum / One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This is one of the most popular seasons of AHS, and to any AHS fan this is the perfect book for you (we all remember Kit Walker…enough said). But if you aren’t a fan of the show and are just wanting a bit more of that Halloween spirit, I recommend Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This classic novel shares a lot in common with American Horror Story: Asylum—from it’s setting, to the creepy-psycho employees, to even it’s dashing, and somewhat questionable protagonist. If you loved season two or just want to keep some of that post-Halloween spook, this is a great book to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Buy it here.

2. This Is Us Commonwealth

NBC’s This Is Us has been blowing up the charts recently, and will for the foreseeable future. If you just can’t get enough of the family love and drama that comes with it, then why not pick of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth? This #1 New York Times Bestseller poses the question, “who is family?” and fits perfectly into the drama and tears that we’ve all come to love from watching the Pearson family. Expect some heartbreak and some warm fuzzy feelings with this one, because it’s sure to take you on quite a ride.

Buy it here.

3. Game of Thrones The Name of the Wind

All of us Game of Thrones fans are dying to get our hands on that final season, and, whether you are a #Jonsa fan or a #Jonerys fan, I know you are itching for some more action and romance. To try and ease your anticipation a bit, because let’s be honest, we still got six months to go, I recommend a healthy dose of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. This will be sure to curb your appetite for action, magic and political intrigue. Be prepared though, because winter is coming, and finals week is dark and full of terrors, so you may not be able to handle the pull of this addictive fantasy read.

Buy it here.

4. Riverdale /One of Us is Lying

Is you favorite part of Riverdale the addictive mystery? Well if so, you’re not alone and you’ll love Karen M. McManus’s One of Us is Lying. With teen angst and delicious scandals, this book is perfect when you just can get enough of Riverdale High’s dark secrets. Try to solve the mystery before it’s revealed and see how wrong you were all along. You won’t want to put this mind game down until you’ve read the very last word.

Buy it here

5. Grey’s Anatomy The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Grey’s Anatomy fans live for the medical drama and love a good twist and Rebecca Skloot’s novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, has the biggest twist of all. What if you saved a million lives, even after death? What if no one ever knew that it was you? Henrietta Lacks is the owner of the first “immortal” human cell grown in culture, known today as HeLa cells. The book recounts the story of her life and how she came to be the savior of millions. If you love drama (it’s okay you can admit it, we all do) and love a good medical miracle, than this book is sure to hit the spot.

Buy it here.

(post by Winston Bribach)

About this time 52 years ago, February 28, 1964 to be exact, Rod Serling’s pioneering sci-fi show, The Twilight Zone, did something foreign. They aired an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s classic short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” That, however, was not unusual, as Serling loved showing his take on short stories. The foreign element comes from the fact that the adaptation was a short film not originally intended for television and shot in France. On top of that, this version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” already won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. In any event, Serling struck a deal with the film’s director, Roberto Enrico, so it would air on The Twilight Zone.
thetwilightzone
By virtue of such information, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” already clings to a unique place in the series canon. Yet, that doesn’t even come close to explaining the massive disparity between its feel in comparison to every other episode. Sure, there is the imagination, the escape from tangible reality that was a staple of The Twilight Zone. Also, the twist ending seemed like something Rod Serling would include in the installments he personally created for the silver screen, but the similarities end there.

From the first shot to the last it is absolutely clear that the film has none of early television’s earmarks. Perhaps this can be attributed to the lack of pressure to get an episode completed within a very short time frame, which ultimately resulted in a static arrangement and virtually no artistic license for directors (in a way, this is still a trademark of non-cable TV Shows). The camera captures the scene from every conceivable angle—high in the trees, close-up, medium length, and even underwater. Although it is black and white, nature plays a huge part. Branches, bushes, leaves, and water all provide obstacles for the camera, creating a dynamic atmosphere.
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Another thing missing from the episode is an abundance of dialogue. The Twilight Zone was well-known for its use of dialogue, and sometimes highly poetic philosophical monologues. This is even true in episodes where there’s only one character involved. In other words, the show (like all early TV shows) borrowed a page from Broadway’s book and focused on the characters’ spoken offerings. Roberto Enrico’s take on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” does the opposite. Whenever there is dialogue, it is short; a few words tops. This keeps the focus on the very artistic and carefully conceived use of the camera, which brings the audience into the main character’s point of view.

And finally, there’s the music. Instead of the show’s simple, yet eerie and ominous opening tune, a song plays from time to time. It underscores the story’s main point—how beautiful life seems when death is closing in and how much a person suddenly wants to go on living amidst such a circumstances.

In the end, the film provides proof of the gulf between classic television filming conventions and a true work of the motion picture art. The former uses the camera as essentially an idle observer watching a play unfold, where everything is reliant on the dialogue. The latter abounds in action and an active use of the camera, making dialogue only one aspect of the process and not the only aspect. Of course, there are further differences, but the list is much too long for our purposes here.

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