Narrative Complexity on ABC

From Katie Bishop:

After our discussion on Tuesday about narrative complexity, I began thinking about shows that I watch that encourage a more actively engaged viewer. One show that really stood out to me was ABC’s Once Upon a Time, a show about story book characters coming to life. This show is very complex, but definitely rewards its loyal viewers. What makes the show complicated is that it jumps between two different worlds: a story book world and our world. It often introduces a character in either world and throughout the show discusses why they are relevant to the overall show and really gets at the essence of each character. This show can disorient viewers because if you miss just one show, you miss out on discovering what story book character someone is and what their role is. While the individual episodes might not flow together, they all come together in the end. So even though this specific show invites temporary confusion, it most certainly rewards its weekly, loyal viewers and fans.

I know that when I watch this show I prefer to watch it alone because I cannot risk missing any part of the episode because at times it is like a puzzle, and I am constantly trying to put the individual pieces together. This relates to media marathoning because Once Upon a Time demands a high level of engagement to really understand and comprehend the show.

I really encourage everyone to marathon narratively complex television shows because it requires you to really engage in the text. Also, if it is a good show, you might be able to build para-social relationships with some of the characters.

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8 thoughts on “Narrative Complexity on ABC

  1. I find Mad Men to be one of those semi-narratively complex shows as well for me. I also watch it alone and have to be completely engaged in it in order to feel like I truly know what their world is about. There have been several occasions where I have pushed the rewind button during the middle of watching an episode if I feel like I missed something, even a word. I find myself trying to jump ahead (in my mind) several episodes to see how all of the elements of the current plot piece together in the end. This is a series that I will re-marathon in order to “pick up” all the details I could have missed on my first time through. There is a lot of satire interwoven into the plot line and it’s worked in so well that I don’t recognize it at times. It used to be that marathoning a series was indicator enough that a viewer is committed to a series. However, in this time of narratively complex television offerings, I think the true commitment will be indicated by people who re-marathon something at least once to fully comprehend the narrative worlds.

  2. I know exactly what you mean about narratively complex shows being like a puzzle. I am a huge fan of Arrested Development and can’t wait for it to come back this winter. However, when I watched the show for the first time, I was pretty confused. The title sequence introduces who each character is and how they are related to one another, but that’s it. The show just throws the viewer into the middle of the story, and allows the viewer to put all the pieces together. For example, their gag, “Next week on Arrested Development,” shows scenes that are never actually part of the storyworld. I remember thinking that the editors of the show had made a mistake, and it took me about three episodes to realize that this was all part of their self-referential humor. Arrested Development definitely expects a lot from its viewers. If I do not understand a joke, the storyline will not explain it to me. And that’s part of what makes it so fun to watch. I’ve probably seen the whole series about five times, but there are still jokes that I am just now getting. In a way, narrative complexity just extends the fun of marathoning.

  3. I also understand what you mean about narratively complex shows being like a puzzle. Personally, being confused when watching a show, shows me how creative the writers and producers are, and that gives the overall show extra credibility. In addition to the credibility is the fact that Rachel brought up about narrative complexity extending the fun of marathoning. The confusion and complexity may be frustrating at first, but once you realize the amazing writing that went on to create the show, and knowing that you will need to re-watch the brilliance, makes the experience exciting (for me, at least).
    I also need to watch and re-watch shows by myself (especially narratively complex shows) because I get distracted easily and I don’t like it when someone is commenting or constantly asking questions.

  4. I agree. Oh, I can go on all day about how wonderfully complex Once Upon a Time is. It is much like a puzzle that doesn’t make sense until the majority of the pieces are in view. I actually discovered this television show when I caught the episode “Skin Deep”. Because it is heavily based on a fairytale I knew well, half of the plot of this episode was understandable and extremely likeable. I liked it so much that I then needed to watch every episode that came before to figure out the other half of what I didn’t understand. I needed to find out what I was missing from this show that happened to grab my attention by using a fairytale side-story I knew very well. After becoming a fan, I use to walk to my friend’s apartment after work on Sundays, during the airing of the first season, and watch it with a group of people. We would, of course, discuss what had happened. The complexity of this show gave us a lot to talk about.
    I personally only seem to get hooked to shows that have a narrative complexity to them. It is easier to get sucked into the world if there is a lot of information to take in and claw through. I find is a stress-reliever. It’s a good feeling sometimes to be able to sneak away into these deep intricate worlds that someone else has created. They can steal you away so completely that you are more able to temporarily forget about your own life for a while.

  5. It is interesting to think of shows that are narratively complex as being like a puzzle because that’s exactly how I feel; like I am constantly putting pieces together and moving tidbits of information around until it fits and makes the most sense. I view the show Pretty Little Liars as a narratively complex show because of all the different characters and their individual lives as well as the large, main piece being the murder mystery of their best friend. I like watching these types of shows because thought it is complex and sometimes hard to follow, it keeps me completely engaged and constantly guessing. I also must watch this show completely alone with no distractions so that I allow myself to be entirely enhanced, where the story world and its characters hold my attention for the entire hour. I’ve found myself re-marathoning the show because I’ve wanted to catch every little missed detail from before hand. I find as a viewer it is very rewarding to go back and be able to catch on to little details that make a huge difference. I find complex narratives to be very engaging and intriguing and hope to marathon more in my future.

  6. I find myself have a very love/hate relationship with narratively complex shows. When the puzzle gets too complicated it becomes annoying or frustraiting. I believe that’s why there is a fine line between what is too complex for a viewer and what is not complex enough. I found this with Game of Thrones. There are tons of story lines going on at the same time, and I mentioned in my journal that if I did not marathon this show all at once that there would be no way I could ever remember everything that was going on. Remembering characters names and then putting them together with the specific narrative they belong to within the show can really make your brain hurt. I think that it may be helpful that Once Upon a Time is a story that uses characters already existent in our “real world” within the books we read as kids. That way, characters might not be as confusing, but it still places the veiwer in a new fictional world. I also think it is a great idea to give true “life” to these fictional characters that already exist in books. This way, there is a huge opportunity to build para-social relationships by the show giving the books characters real walking and talking personalities!

  7. I agree with the idea that complex narratives are like a puzzle. It can be like a double edged sword, it can keep you engaged, but like Elise stated it can be very frustrating as well. I watched Game of Thrones as well and there are several different story lines going on at the same time and I would definitetly get confused had HBO not showed the previous weeks episode before the new episode. I think the narrative complexity is what keeps us watching a show when you really had no intention of remaining a faithful viewer. It’s fun to try to figure out plot lines and who done its. I have remarathoned Game of Thrones several times and I plan to marathon it again before the start of the new season in April. I never thought I would even be interested in a show like that, but again I think it comes back to the story lines that keeps me coming back.

  8. I think when it comes to complex narratives, its beneficial for producers to create them in a way that’s layered. Some of the most enjoyable shows for me to watch are the ones that are simple on the surface, but underneath there are different levels of other things to catch that are more complex. To me, shows like this are a win-win because if I am having a rough day I don’t have to strain my brain to have fun watching but at the same time if I wanted to I can look deeper. I think of the show Reno 911 I have been watching a lot of lately. On the surface these episodes are just funny and I can sit down to watch any of them and be content but if I wanted to look deeper there’s a story line (albeit not a very complex one) that I can also pay attention to. The show doesn’t force you to do it though and I like having the option either way.

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