Prequelitis (and Related Ailments)

And in a burst of cosmic irony (God must have a sense of humour), despite what I wrote yesterday, I get randomly inspired and a post leaps almost fully-formed into my head (*ouch*).

For a while I was following the tv-series Gotham (a prequel focusing on not-yet-Commissioner Gordon’s experiences dealing with the messed up and corrupt state of the system), but realised after a while that keeping up with it was seeming more chore than entertainment. It had its moments, but overall I was finding it boring*; events were presented as being significant and dramatic, but it felt like nothing was really going anywhere.

It suffers from prequelitis: the condition where you are unable to achieve significant depth of drama because everyone knows how things will work out eventually. Some non-prequels even subject themselves to some degree of this through their framing device (for example, the narrator is relating their past experiences, either to another character, or to the audience).

Another example would be the Star Wars prequels—whatever happens, the audience already knows that Anakin will become Darth Vader, the empire will take over the galaxy, and that things will generally end up how they are at the start of A New Hope**.

The show apparently sprang from the premise “What if Gordon was the one investigating the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents?”, which is an interesting thought, but again, doesn’t really change anything about the status quo. As the saying goes, “If you’re going to flash, flash hard”****. Upend the established order. Embrace the alternative-universe take on the material. Make the inciting question something like “What if only one of the Waynes was killed?”, or “What if Bruce was killed as well/instead?”, or even “What if Batman is an actual vampire? Even a sparkly one—can you imagine it?—his costume covered with sequins. That would be hilarious!”

Be brave. Sure, the audience may not like it, but they won’t know what’s coming next. Even if everything else largely turns out as normal, starting off on a wild tangent primes the audience to expect the unexpected.


* I freely acknowledge that other people’s opinions may differ. Rose Red found it too grim/gritty, which is sadly the modern audience’s expectation for anything related to el hombre murciélago. Sadly, I don’t think the Adam West goofy camp, or even the Burtonesque kooky gothic, would succeed in the current climes, where anything not sufficiently serious is labelled a “guilty pleasure” or is only enjoyed “ironically”.

** There are various other problems [with the Star Wars prequels] that other people have already gone into in great depth. The only one I will mention (predominantly related to films) is the phenomenon of success → more money. Often what makes a film great is the effort that goes into working with/around limitations; lack of budget/technology forces you to really think about what is needed to make the story work, and how to do it. After the first film is a success, the studio throws money at any ___quels, with the result that the crew can become indulgent, and the resulting films feel flashy but insubstantial. There may be amazing spectacles***, but like cheap takeaway food, half an hour later you’re hungry again.

*** No, I’m not specifically talking about the ones you get for watching in 3D (though that is another example of the issue).

**** A cliché from the world of cricket commentary. Essentially, if you’re going to play a risky shot, don’t make it even riskier by being half-hearted about it.

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