.....Is a question I always ask myself when I see a good movie or TV show. Usually I decide it's a combination of things, writing, acting, pacing, story. You name it.
But the one thing that nearly always crops up for me in something I like is 'a Universal Question'
Some part of the 'motor' of the story held my interest and enjoyment because I connected to it on a personal level.
I don't mean I have personally lived or experienced that story. I mean it kicks off something in my psyche. An emotional reaction to what is being portrayed on an almost but not quite sub-conscious level.
It might be The Matrix. - What would I do if my world was turned upside down and I went from being anonymous geek to being told I was the saviour of the world? Is that how Jesus felt? Is that why the Bible became so popular? Was Jesus one of the first archetypal heroes? Okay I digress, but what I'm saying is that if the story doesn't have a resonance on a 'what what I do if' level then I don't generally find it engaging. And I think that's why most people liked that movie. Yeah there were great FX and it was a cool story but without Neo's 'what if' would I have liked it so much? I don't think I would. I certainly didn't like 2 and 3. But there were other reasons for that too.
I think in good writing the 'what would I do if' part is done thematically rather than a specific part of the plot, especially in movies. I say especially because I think that due to time constraints it has to be a bit more on the nose in TV. The 'what would you do if' tends to be the premise!
But the magic trick as far as I'm concerned is the skill required in story and character to get the audience to that pot of gold 'what would I do if..' level. Because without that you are talking about a very short attention span. At least for me.
The best sit-coms do it well. They don't just take a 'funny' situation and run with it. They create dilemmas that get the audience involved. The worst sit-coms take something which they think is funny and concentrate on feeding the characters 'funny' lines rather than funny lines feeding off dilemmas.
You may say that shows like 'Everybody Loves Raymond' are middle of the road pap. I like it. Because it's got heart. ANYONE who has been married can look at a lot of those episodes and go ' Yeah right on!' They zone straight in on a lot of stuff that goes on between married couples.
The Universal Question' in that show is generally 'How the hell do I squirm out of this' Something dear to every married man's heart.
I kid. The real Universal Question in that show, to me, is ' I screwed up again, how do I fix it'
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5 years ago