What makes a TV show or movie awesome? I believe there are 7 key characteristics. This list is formed mostly of my opinion, and from fictional genres.
- The plot: It must be developed and well thought-out. It doesn’t have to be incredibly complicated, many simple plots can be compelling too, it just has to be true. Oftentimes, it’s incredibly obvious when the writers didn’t realize they would get another season, or sequel, and the plot is suddenly this totally new, disjointed thing that has nothing to do with the rest of the show. Either plan ahead, or end the show when the story is done.
- The characters: Television was originally invented to provide a means to escape reality, although it quickly evolved into a way for society to think about ourselves in a more comfortable way. The longer the show, or movie series, the more the characters need to evolve. They need to show some kind of growth or change. Not only does that help move the plot along, but also because if characters remain the exact same, it’s hard to believe that they’re undergoing the cinematic experiences we’re watching. They need to be introspective, they need to have their own memories. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a character make a choice that is totally at odds with what happened in the last episode. Did you not learn?! Did you not remember that you found out he killed your brother, and that’s why you’re not sleeping with him?!
- The setting: I think audiences tend to underrate the setting of shows and movies, when the environment is actually a key factor. There is definitely a range of that relevance, of course , but nonetheless, setting matters. It does bother me a bit that they say Greendale is in Colorado, yet Annie wears a sundress and cardigan year-round. We interact with our own environment, where we are in the world is relevant to many of our decisions and actions, so to see characters be totally impervious to the fact that they are in a region famous for any weather type is super frustrating. Yet, the shows and movies where characters are visibly influenced makes the experience that much better.
- The details: We as audience members do not give the jillions of script supervisors, sound operators, costume designers, set constructors, and so on (sorry to my film-focused friends, I don’t know them all) the credit they deserve. We credit directors and producers, and other high-level execs, but we forget that a set has way more than brand-name actors and a guy with a beret and megaphone. But they matter so much, because they pay attention to all the little details that make the best shows and movies consistent and brilliant. I get so annoyed when the details don’t match up, especially because the more complex a show gets, the more they matter! This is for both physical details, like the monitor display of a time machine, but also mental, like information and references. I deeply appreciate how the guests camping in the desert of Westworld overnight wake up still dirty and sweaty. They don’t get cleaned and maintenanced like the hosts do.
- The logic: Obviously, Firefly is operating under a different set of rules and physics than our current world. And that’s literally what sci-fi is, so that’s fine. But it’s important that shows and movies remember the world they create for themselves, and the laws within them. I have yet to see a show survive very long, or a movie be received very well, after breaking their own internal logic. We love to see characters solve problems and overcome obstacles, but if suddenly they can magically just keep rewinding time until they do it right, we get pretty bored. There’s no more challenge, no more tension. It makes the scenario unrelatable, and it makes any future plot point far less exciting.
- The reflection of reality: Despite escapism, and the very definition of “fiction”, humans relate to that which is similar to them. Every conflict is the same: man vs. self, man vs. man, and/or man vs. nature. There’s a reason there’s only 7 story archetypes, and we see them all in real life as well as films. I’m not a juvenile criminal launched from space to a believed-uninhabitable planet, but I definitely understand the conflict between doing what you think is right and doing what everybody else wants you to do. This is a thin line, of course, because if a work is too obvious about paralleling reality, audiences tend to get turned off. Too subtle, and nobody gets it or takes it seriously.
- The cast: This is different from the characters because I mean the actual, real people. They have to fit the part. Too often, you see a character that is played by some big-name actor, purely because they’ll attract an audience, but they don’t actually fit the character profile at all. It is beautiful to see the Wakandans played by actors/actresses of actual African descent, instead of just “ethnically ambiguous” or really dark white.