Posts Tagged ‘Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television’

It’s OK, You’re Allowed.

November 10, 2009

Although it is not an American television show, Skins season 1 exemplifies the complex narrative structure that Jason Mittell describes in his article Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television.  Although I have not seen the entire season, I think that episode 2, “Cassie,” is a perfect example of the blend between the “episodic plotlines” and “multi episode arcs” (Mittell 32) that was a key feature in shows like The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and The Sopranos. Like these other shows, “Cassie” “advances the season’s arc while still offering episodic coherence and miniresolutions” (Mittell 33). To illustrate this point, I would like to call too attention three scenes: group of friends outside by a picnic table contemplating Sid’s impending doom, and the final two scenes of Cassie back at home, and then at the roadside bar.

An overwhelming majority of this episode is dedicated to Cassie’s story, but what makes this show (and episode) part of the complex narrative form are the short scenes that illustrate Cassie’s environment, while moving forward general narrative arcs. In this scene, the group of friends meets at a picnic table outside of their school, self-identifies themselves as friends, and agrees that Sid’s issue with the creepy drug dealer turned substitute teacher is a mutual problem. Then, when no solutions come readily to mind, the group slowly leaves Sid to go back to class, promising to continue to help him brainstorm. This scene, other than demonstrating Sid’s distressed mental state, has no other purpose than to set up a situation that will arise in later episodes: comradery between friends in solving a problem.

Then, in two following scenes, we see a minnie encapsulation of the arc of the entire episode, which is deeply informed by the 40 minutes of scenes which preceded it. In one scene, we watch Cassie watch a scene which illustrates to both parties her main issue: her parents celebrate some occasion with champagne, feed her little brother while showering him with undivided attention and love, while ultimately turning their backs and ignoring him in his distress, escaping to a selfish world that is only their own. This is not real love, this is not real caring, and this is not real parenting. Instead, in the final scene of the show, we see a man who does deserves Cassie’s love. Meeting at a roadside bar, Alan tells her, honestly and truly and for the first genuine time in the episode, “I’m listening.” He is able to give her the love and support that she really needs to start getting over her problem, and it is as simple as just keeping one’s face turned toward her. Thus, as she takes a bite into the hamburger and the episode ends, we feel satisfied at the week’s resolution, but still look forward to tuning in again and following Cassie and Sid through both of their “probs.”

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