Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 7: Hanging Threads

How do I put this? This took me awhile to come up with the proper title to this post. As I took the time to add more thoughts to this, I revised the title several times. Originally, this was called “The Killing of Interesting Storylines.” That’s the gist of what I initially talked about, but I wanted to expand on those thoughts. I also wanted to have a title that was briefer — within 70 characters for those with at least some basic SEO knowledge— yet still encapsulated the ideas I wanted to express.

The Types of Hanging Threads to Which I’m Referring

Basically, I’m complaining about storylines that were either unresolved (read: dropped entirely and/or completely unfair, with respect to other characters) and those that were teased yet unrealized, and characters that were dropped entirely.

Come to think about it, the term “hanging threads” could also be used also be used to described promising or good shows that were cancelled prematurely. However, but I’ve already talked about those. Again I am referring to are certain types of storylines that have left me hanging.

Dropped Storylines

Consider yet another scenario: There’s story where a long-lost father was close to regaining his memory and reconnecting with his grown children. Then all of a sudden, that man disappeared from the canvas. The storyline was abruptly dropped. Sure, it may have had a slow start but it was just getting interesting.

Here’s another one: There can be a storyline where a corrupt CEO is being investigated, but all of a sudden, the investigatory agency disappears without so much as an explanation.

Those storylines came from the same program, btw. (Bonus points to anyone who guesses correctly.)

The first storyline was promising and it involved a character I really liked. There was potential there so of course I was disappointed. Dramas pull me in not just because of the romance or the conflict, but the other interpersonal relationships and dialogue. To see a father reunited with his family — or at least his grown children — intrigued me a bit, but alas…

Since the second scenario involved a long beloved character I could thus see why the story was dropped. It still could have been an intriguing story if written properly. That said, I might be pissed to see more stories like this dropped, especially when I really hate the CEO characters and innocent characters are made to rot for things they don’t do. What the lesson in point of that?

Unrealized Storylines

These types of hanging threads are merely teased for the most part. I am primarily talking about romance here, but anyone can find other examples. In terms of romance though, I have seen the following on TV shows too many times to count:

There is a potential romance developing only for it to be shot down for stupid reasons. Most likely, this involves one vindictive woman bedding a man who betrayed his own feelings toward another woman. Other times, a man or woman will use a child as leverage to break up a couple.

This crap has been done for too often and I am sick of seeing it. I know that couples in various dramas tend to have more conflict than we would see in real-life relationships, but couldn’t we at least see the couples with the most chemistry come to fruition more often and be happy for a time first?

There have been other times when a potential couple has been teased by the head writer only for that never to come to fruition. The funny thing about that is I might be apprehensive to that idea at first only to come around as I gained a greater appreciation for those characters…only to have the rug pulled from under me.

Now, to be fair, part of this may be beyond the writers’ control. Here are some examples, one general:

  • Sometimes viewer interference is involved in an unrealized romance.
    • A series of racist viewers once sent death threats when the above scenario was developing in a soap opera (hint: it’s the same story the other two threads came from). Times have changed, as interracial and gay couples have gained more acceptance overall, although there will still be death threats. Many of the racists and homophobes have just moved to Twitter, YouTube comments, and will hit up people’s email.
    • Some fans just hate a potential couple because it interferes with the popular one they want. In that case, I would understand if the writers did an about face.
  • Other times, one star has more say than others. For example, look at the WWE. (Yes, it is a form of entertainment and, it is scripted.) What still burns me was how Zack Ryder’s rise to the top was halted a few years ago, because of John Cena. As many serious WWE fans know, some Superstars will occasionally gain clout and in turn, they have greater say in the own storylines – and those of others. Cena has been using his power for around ten years and stopped Ryder’s push after going to the writers. And it sucked, since the WWE still needs to promote more stars, which it has plenty of, and Ryder was creating his own push. I will never forgive Cena for that.

Bonus: Dropped Characters

Sometimes, I’ll watch a show where a family had three kids only for one of them to be Brother Chucked? Other times, a 2nd– or 3rd-tier character will just drop off the canvas without so much as a word. Truth be told, that character’s disappearance may have no real effect on the story. That might not seem like a hanging thread, but I feel like it is a slap in the face, so to speak. Unless the character’s actor died or insulted the produers, it irks me like a loose thread on a piece of cloth.

Examples include:

  • The character this trope was named after, Chuck Cunningham from Happy Days. He was shown in one episode by never heard from again. Why put him in there in the first place?
  • Judy Winslow from Family Matters. This one bothers me because even her younger cousin, Richie, got more screen time than her — even when his mother, Rachel, was nowhere to be found! They even added this 3J character later. What?!
  • Lisa from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. People still watch reruns of it now, namely because of Carlton. Anyway, there once was a time when Will was engaged to a young woman named Lisa. I actually liked that relationship, but that broke off their engagement as the two quickly decided that they weren’t ready to be married. Incidentally, Will’s mom married Lisa’s dad. The following season it understood that Will and Lisa’s relationship had dissolved, yet there was never a mention of that on the sitcom.
  • Speaking of broken engagements: Julie Costello from Growing Pains. She was Krissy Seaver’s nanny who quickly fell in love with the baby’s oldest brother, Mike. She left and was given a hast goodbye because of Mike’s portrayer, Kirk Cameron. Apparently, Cameron became an Evangelical Christian and wanted Julie McCullough gone because she had previously posed for Playboy.
  • Meg’s Friends from Family Guy. Sure, they made an appearance in an episode when Meg was being bullied, but I have never seen them since. Yes, Meg is the oft-dumped upon member of the cast, but it was nice seeing that even she could make friends. That was also during a time when the show was much funnier and had a heart.

To Wrap This UP

The dropped characters notwithstanding, what really sucks about abandoned and unrealized plots are what viewers can be “treated to” as a result. As promising and controversial story threads are dropped, they may be replaced by vapid, inane ones that are dragged out.

In any of these cases, the story suffers because the writers are caring too much about what a vocal minority say or they have no patience to develop a story with a possible payoff. At the same time, these writers may drag out other storylines — and possibly overexpose a few actors and characters in the process — despite their quality. This may lead to the frustration of the audience at large. When those head writers find themselves hard pressed to come up with storylines, I wonder if they look back at these abandoned avenues and realize the potential they once had.

Next, I will be talking about other things writers do to tick me off.

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