Monday, August 6, 2012

Face Off: Cliched Episodes We See Again and Again

'Cliche' photo (c) 2010, Tom Newby - license:

If you are a regular viewer of urban fantasy, you are probably familiar with a few of the tropes that we are going to discuss today. Once a series makes it through the first two seasons and is receiving good ratings inevitably the following episodes will make an appearance. In some cases, the appearance of these episodes sounds the death knell for the show as it is a sure sign that the writers have run out of things to do.

The Body Switch

The spell goes wrong! The machine malfunctions! The bad guy casts a nefarious spell - and suddenly the protagonists are in each other’s bodies. Hijinks ensue. Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, Buffy and so many others. The entire episode then revolves around the characters learning each other’s shoes and the actors desperately trying to play each other’s roles (to mixed success). It rarely, if ever advances any kind of meta-plot and it’s the epitome of passing time in a series.

When they don’t swap bodies there’s a close second - change the character’s gender! Sudden spell and your male character is now female or female male and suddenly it’s like becoming a completely alien species!

The Musical

The musical episode for some fans is a favourite but in most cases actors become actors because they most certainly cannot sing. The Buffy musical episode is a favourite among many but beyond Anthony Head, not a single  member of the cast could actually sing.

In the case of the wildly popular Sanctuary, the musical episode was a preclude to the end.  When the characters had to converse in song because  Abby who was possessed by an abnormal could not communicate any other way.  The only saving grace in this episode is that we were spared the musical stylings of  Ryan Robbins, because it was torturous enough having to listen to Amanda Tapping, Robin Dunne and Pascale Hutton.

 Enemy Controls a Good Guy

Fred is acting awfully strangely, aren’t they? And absolutely no-one notices except the viewer... and Fred is even trying to hurt his colleagues. Has Fred changed sides? Has he had a moral conflict? Was he a sleeper agent all along? Hah, no, nothing so complex. Fred is one of the bad guys in disguise or possessed by them or mind controlled. He will now go forwards and commit all forms of mayhem before a good friend or lover realises that it’s not really Myka (Warehouse 13) or Piper (Charmed), or Claudia (Warehouse 13), or Lena (Warehouse 13) or Buffy.

Clips Episode

There is no cliche more desperate than the clips episode. When this happens you can hear the writers scraping the bottom of that barrel. Sometimes it’s amnesia and they have to recount their past actions, or time travel where they go back to their past. Whatever the excuse, it allows the writers to completely give up in writing an episode and just glue together bits of past episodes. To me, I always picture the writers having gone out on a bender the night before and they’re now nursing the mother of all hangovers “just ram together some damn clips and get me another coffee!”

Convoluted Fashionable Episode

In long running shows you will often run across some pop culture phenomenon and the writer decides they MUST include this in the show! No matter how inappropriate, it simply must be! This produces such wonderful episodes as the desperate Pirates episode in Charmed after Pirates of the Caribbean was a success. Or Dark Angel’s season 2’s monster of the week style that just had to work a vampire in there somewhere. It stands out, usually as glaringly awful, as completely out of place in the rest of the canon.

So, tell us folks, which of these horrendously cliched episode do you wish we’d never have to see again? And a special prize goes for Charmed for treating cliched episodes as an aspiration, I’m sure the producer is playing Bingo. Does any show match them for overuse of these cliches? 

Editors Note:  I made an error in the section regarding musical episodes. I wrote Supernatural instead of Sanctuary.  The error has now been corrected