9

I was invited to participate in an anthology of essays about a tv show. I chose an episode based on the Wikipedia summary (since it had been so long since I had watched it), but after I watched it, I felt nothing.

I wrote to the editor and said that I wanted to give up that essay slot to someone who felt more passionate about it. He said that the flatness itself was interesting, and to explore it.

I don't want to make anhedonia and depression contagious, nor do I want to be boring. Any thoughts on how to write about blah-ness in a non-blah way?

  • by the way, because I couldn't answer this, I came up with a different slant that's less about the episode, and the editor is ok with it. But as a Writer With Depression, I do want to know how to be interesting when portraying flatness. Hyperbole And A Half (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html ) did a great job with it, but her style is the exact opposite of mine. – April Mar 26 at 14:56
8

I used to write movie reviews for my University News Paper and always felt that, if I'm about to give a bad score, I would point to how I would have improved the movie, if I was given the ability to do so. It helps me identify the parts that hurt my head because they were so stupid and challenge me to take the idea trying to be presented, and give credit it was trying to go somewhere, but lacked something to make it go the extra mile it needed to be great. Of course, I do this to things I do like too, so it's how I react to my own negative opinions.

Another option that I love, and you're going to need to really pull all your vocab for this, is to take your bland episode and praise it, rather than pander it. Or at least sarcastically praise it. Mockingly take fan favorite episodes and daring episodes and treat them as if those innovations are humdrum compared to the glorious mediocrity that is your episode. Treat everything you hated as brilliant genius in story form, from the dialog being exquisitely predictable that fans can anticipate every character's response. It is the best episode to of the whole of the series' [insert season it was in] season's run during the period marked by the end of episode [insert episode number immediately preceding this one] and the beginning of [episode number immediately following this one], that aired on [original air date] for the first time. Which is true, if overly narrow. It will always be the best example of an episode of this series with it's episode title.

Perhaps add some damnation with faint praise... like this episode taught an important lesson about how we shouldn't binge watch an entire season of this show... or it was the perfect adventure to make you feel like you had 44 minute nap. Highlights included the brilliantly telegraphed breaks to commercial and it contains the best transition to the end credits in the entire series run.

Specific critiques of the episode will have to be made, but if you didn't enjoy it the first time through, gather some fellow fans and party watch it, and take notes of the snark it's given.

If you'd like a very nice library of examples, I highly recomend a viewing of SFDebris' opinionated reviews. He mostly reviews Star Trek, but just about every show has some appearances. One highlight of his Trek Reviews is that he scores them on a 1 to 10 scale, 10 being the best episode of a particular series and 1 being the worst (actually, he does give exactly one 0 score per series, reserved for an episode so bad, the entire franchise is damaged by association... these are awarded exactly once, and, honestly, if you don't love Trek, don't bother, as they typically tend to rely on you being a Trekie). This scale is also a bell curve, meaning that most episodes are 5 out of 10 and, as mentioned, they are relative to the quality of their series, not all Star Trek Series... what may be a 5 average Deep Space 9 episode could be a 7 or 8 if it was Voyager doing the story. He has a tendency to enjoy the original series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space 9 over Voyager and Enterprise, so his snark in the latter two is often much more apparent. Discovery, I believe, is unrated as the series is currently on going.

  • I used to read Television Without Pity -- the HQ of snarky recaps. Since in my situation, each person has only one episode/essay, that's different than building an entire series of reviews, however. – April Mar 26 at 17:36
  • Well, the main point out is that SFDebris does reviews of a single episode at a time, so it's a great way to find how he handles snark between quality and junk episodes in a similar series. It's also a video series, so it's easier to binge and get some work done. – hszmv Mar 26 at 17:42
  • 2
    I hate video -- I can't read it fast OR get it while paying attention to something else. If one has committed to a whole series, though, one has a different set of baselines going in than a one-off. Never Mind, like I said in my comment, I did figure out a way to handle it for this particular situation -- I'm just wondering in non-review contexts how to make a lack of connection interesting. – April Mar 26 at 18:16
5

I would go analytical on this one. Talk about the missed opportunities, the lack of conflict, what makes you not give a crap about the characters, or the issues being presented, or in fact the resolution of the issue.

If a story falls flat, it is because the ending doesn't make a difference to the reader.

Why doesn't it? Typically because we don't care who won and who lost. The characters were shallow, or superficial, or plain unlikeable (selfish, cruel, uncaring or unfeeling to other characters, etc). and we aren't certain whether a right was wronged, or if a punishment was deserved (in a Karmic sense).

If you felt nothing, figure out why. Where did it go off the rails? When did you stop caring? It is also possible the goal of the episode just seemed puerile or nonsensical, so success or failure are equally puerile.

That is how I would review it, or write an essay about "flat" that I could find interesting to read, and it could be interesting to write and learn something for the future.

  • Partially it fell flat because, based on the wiki summary, I expected it to be more about dangers-of-reproductive-technology instead of mad-scientist-clones-evil-selves. (Plus the early 90s pacing.) – April Mar 26 at 17:33
  • It doesn't make a difference, talk about it. You have a commentary on how TV story-telling has changed with technology. The pace is too slow. The story, even if it was original then, now feels cliché. Why is that? I assure you, it is because the culture has changed and what society found important then, no longer seems important now. Also, morals and what is acceptable now was not then, so old shows no longer feel "realistic". Or even feels ludicrous; so it is hard to suspend disbelief and get into the story. Expand on your insight into why it falls flat, get specific. – Amadeus Mar 26 at 18:27
3

Reading is subjective when it comes to what is "blah" and what is "non-blah".

I say go for it, even if you fear that you will write something that you would experience as 'blah'...

Then, when you've written it, go through it and try to figure out which parts you find particularly 'bla-ish', and why that is. What's missing?

Are you slamming the episode without being specific? Is your language vague? Could your opinion/statements be interpreted differently by different readers? Are you comparing it to something which it shouldn't share characteristics with? Whats off ?

When you've done that, let somebody else read it, and see if they focus on the same areas (don't include your notes, etc.). See if they even agree that it's 'bla-ish'.

Perhaps your tone is completely appropriate for what you are writing. If not, maybe you realize what can improve it. If you do not find out what can change it for the better, maybe you were right in your prejudice regarding your ability to write the essay - at this time. Either way, it's a "win-win", albeit a slightly odd one.

It's rarely the right decision not to try. Not 'never', but rarely.

2

"but after I watched it, I felt nothing."

Honestly I have to agree with your editor: why not explore that?

I don't want to make anhedonia and depression contagious, nor do I want to be boring.

Do you really attribute your feelings about this episode to depression and/or anhedonia? What differentiates it from episodes which you don't feel this way about? Can you quantify that?

One of the easiest ways to explain something in a relatable way is to provide shared context. Even if you and your audience ultimately disagree about how you feel about the context you use, even if your audience feels differently about the episode in question as well, it provides a basis of comparison for that audience which offers useful insight into your own feelings and thoughts. That's easily something interesting to read about: how someone else experienced something differently, in a way that is thoughtfully presented with points of reference and explanation and exploration that make it more than just an arbitrary statement of differing opinion.

The episode made you feel nothing: how does that make you feel?

You spent however long (30 minutes? an hour?) watching a TV show, and came out with this flat affect in regards to it. Take one step back: how do you feel about being left with that lack of feeling as an outcome of your time spent watching? How does that make you feel about the decisions that presumably went into making the show? Would you rather this episode just not exist? What does a holistic view of this episode in the broader series make you feel, contexted specifically to this episode rather than as a review of the show overall?

Hyperbole And A Half (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html ) did a great job with it, but her style is the exact opposite of mine.

Her style might be the opposite of yours (and involve use of cartoon imagery) but I think there's room here for you to explore things in a similar conceptual manner: step away from the episode and explore your experience of the episode. Does this mirror similar patterns you've come across in other shows? Do you have similar feelings about those?

What if you take yet another step back?

If there's not enough to write about here directly, don't be afraid to explore meta-aspects/topics

Whether in relation to yourself or in relation to the show or in relation to similar shows or simply TV/video in general, there's plenty of ways to make this relatable. To me, it absolutely seems like your editor was giving you a green light to explore more your own feelings in relation to this episode rather than simply the episode itself specifically. And, really... isn't that more interesting as a reader?

Your audience has all (presumably) watched the same episode, unless this anthology is meant to be nothing more than an episode synopsis. Anyone can summarize a book or show, there are plenty of places to go for things like plot summaries; people read something like an anthology of essays regarding a show for something more, something that goes beyond mere summary. A viable approach for that is to give them yourself, in relation to this episode, to whatever extent you're comfortable doing so.

One way to do this would be to roll in some personal anecdotes, then relate them back to not this episode's contents, but rather your lack of feeling that was evoked while watching it (you can for example start them seemingly non sequitor, in medias res, and then reel them back in to how they are relevant).

Even something that leaves you feeling flat in the moment, in direct relation, has room for emotion as a consequence of that, has room for related topics which themselves unbundle emotion, and room for rapport with your audience in relation to your experience: none of that sounds very flat as something to read. Instead it sounds like some of the better pieces I've read in relation to things like shows and books, the ones that developed aspects of personally relatable consequence to the act of experiencing the piece being written about. Sometimes to the point where I'm left fairly sure that the piece being written about couldn't compare to what the piece that used it for inspiration and sometimes little more than a rough framing turned out to be.

  • Really nice comments, and i'll save them to explore when I AM writing about depression/flatness more, or committed to write about an entire series and have some episodes I click with less. Fortunately, there was another line in my email that the Editor also was interested in me exploring - definitely a more meta- element (I adore meta -- almost too much, but that can be for another day). – April Mar 27 at 13:16
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My feelings towards this sort of situation are the same as portrayed by a known internet phrase:

Ironic [x] posts are still [x] posts.

Not to say flatness cannot be explored nor that something negative can't have interest, but if you do not wish to have negative, boring emotions in your slots then there's not much criticism to offer. What they've made has its value for sure, but it is not what you want at the moment.

If anything, you'd at least want something that recognizes the flatness, clearly renounces it yet still falls flat, but not for a boring effect on its own but a clashing one which does spark something else other than dullness. However, it would still have dullness.

On top of that, perhaps your demand for someone being more passionate may have been misinterpreted by the editor, because they can be indeed passionate; about displaying negativity and about entertaining the thoughts around it. Thus their reply is valid, your demands just aren't clear.

  • I wouldn't say I made "demands", I know that they have other contributors who may have felt more about the episode or the show in general. People who buy the book are going to be fans of the show, and I didn't want to sh*t on their experiences. Basically I'm going to explore the feeling of friendship that this show (as a whole) evoked. It's almost the opposite of the tack I took in another book, which was a very detailed look at an episode and its comments on masculinity and vulnerability and potential current political echoes. – April Mar 27 at 13:11

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