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Lessons I've Learned From T.V.: Attempt to escape the clichés

By Maurilio Amorim
On March 9, 2014

The problem with the entertainment industry today is that no matter how good of an idea you may have, chances are something similar has already been done. This of course does not immediately ruin any project, but it creates a problem. Writers, directors, stars, producers and studios do not want to be written off as something people have already seen. Often this means marketing the material in a certain manner or making changes. We usually never see the final product look anything other than familiar territory. Yet, every now and then a show will come along that takes the same material we have seen before and makes it its own and by doing so makes us forget that we may have seen something similar.
There are a lot of television shows about detectives and law enforcement solving and investigating crimes or murders. A lot of these try to be their own, but end up falling back on clichés. My newest favorite show is HBO's "True Detective." The show's awkward title did not intrigue me. Its pilot episode introduced the story of the two main detectives in multiple timelines over the course of twenty years investigating a satanic ritualistic murder when it occurred, then later wondering if the killer is still out there. While the story seemed interesting, nothing about it, aside from its well written characters, really jumped off the screen as groundbreaking. It was rather slowly paced in the beginning as well. What kept me hooked was the involvement of big stars like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
We've all seen mismatched detectives work together before, but rather than try and force the material to be different, the writers just ran with the familiar territory and made it their own. By playing with this relationship and crafting it into their vision despite us all having seen similar things done before, the writers have actually managed to make it their own thing. The dynamic between the two detectives may have appeared at first to be clichéd, but it has been so well-done that I am willing to guarantee in the future it will become what similar clichéd works will be compared to.
The same can be said about the story. It may not have appeared to be going anywhere groundbreaking or original at first and it could be argued that without the show's overall mythology and mystery, it hasn't. However, the writers have managed to create an investigation inside their world that is so intriguing and well done that it stands on its own two feet and makes audiences forget that they have ever seen a similar work. At first it seemed to be just another investigation of a religious serial murder. There was actually a similar crime scene in the pilot of "Hannibal." However, it has now set the standard for how similar shows will be judged.
It is hard to break clichés and formulaic material because audiences may immediately dismiss it. However, if these things can be embraced and made into their own unique vision as they have on "True Detective," then material can ultimately become its own thing. Just because there aren't many original ideas out there, doesn't mean that something cannot be original or good.
 


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