by Doctor Science
As I've confessed before, I'm a fan of the MTV series Teen Wolf. Perhaps I should say I'm a fan of the Teen Wolf fandom, because the show itself has not improved since my last despairing post about it here.
Season 4 began last night, and I'll mostly be following it only by proxy, via recaps and gifsets, not by actually watching (spoilers are OK in comments). This highly unscientific poll at hollywoodlife.com suggests I am not alone:
Besides fanfic, discussing and thinking about various problems with Teen Wolf has taught me some things about the TV industry in general. Especially how little (ad-financed) TV actually care about telling a *story*, compared to having a series of not-necessarily-connected emotional scenes. Kind of like ads, in fact.
Edited: to give credit to specific fans for quoted material, with their permission.
My most important insights came from this character, Cora Hale (played by Adelaide Kane):
One of the crucial elements in the Teen Wolf series is that werewolf Derek Hale's family is dead, killed in a fire some 6-10 years before the start of Season 1.
Early in Season 3A (the first half, 12 episodes that make up a story arc), Derek is re-united with Cora, who turns out to have survived the fire after all; she was only about 10 years old at the time.
Except we never learn how she survived the fire, where she's been all this time, or what made her come back. And none of the other characters ask her, either.
While 3A was airing, some fans theorized that Cora was introduced to fill the gap left by Gage Golightly, who had played werewolf Erica Reyes in Season 2 but didn't want to come back for Season 3. As SZ Grey said, Cora had no real characterization:
there's nothing there but a hollow girl-shaped frame hastily painted-over to conceal the fact that it used to be wearing erica's face.And in fact, at a con this spring, attending fans reported:
Basically, the writers confirmed that Cora wasn't conceived as her own character, but rather as a stand-in for Erica after Gage left the show. They didn't bother to actually come up with any backstory for her or to develop her at all—either her character or her relationships with any of the others—because they were literally just writing her as Erica with a different name.
I was struck with the realization that no-one tells a story like this. No one. Look, 15-year-old fanfic writers who don't know how to use punctuation still know enough about story-telling not to do things like "introduce long-lost sister without saying where she's been, and without anyone being *interested* in where she's been." So how can a bunch of well-paid adult professionals not seem to know any better?
The only explanation I can think of is that the Teen Wolf writers and showrunner (TPTB) aren't actually trying to tell stories. I think they're creating snapshots or brief scenes, little dioramas or vignettes, where the aim isn't to tell a *narrative* (= events in time) involving *characters* (=virtual human beings instead of hollow frames). Instead, they want emotion-laden pictures, where all that matters is how things look, how competently that hollow frame is painted, and how much emotion the actors can put into today's lines.
Why would even marginally-competent professionals do such a thing? I think it's because the purpose of (this kind of) TV isn't to tell a story, it's to sell ad space. Viewers aren't the customers, they're the product. And the kind of viewers who don't think very hard, don't care about continuity, and are just here for visually striking scenes of high emotion are just the kind of audience -- the kind of *product* -- advertisers are looking for. A show that is attractive nonsense is a better wrapping for ads than a better *story* might be.
Now, it's pretty clear that neither showrunner Jeff Davis nor his staff are at the top of their field, but I don't think they're necessarily at the bottom either. Most of the other ad-financed shows I've watched in recent years (e.g. Stargates, Hawaii 5-0, Elementary) have *also* had crappy narratives and continuity. AFAICT, Teen Wolf's level of storytelling nonsense is pretty much bog-standard for American TV, and I think it reveals at least as much about TV as an industry as it does about their particular limitations.
Not that they don't have them! Fans who've worked in TV say that the Teen Wolf writing process seems messed up even by the standards of the industry. It's not just script re-writes that are last-minute (that's a given), but first drafts. Actors don't know important things about their characters, or only find out when they see the scripts. Yet when Davis admitted that a lot of the continuity problems are because he writes the scripts at the last minute, he laughed about it, seeming almost proud of himself for his sloppiness.
One fan noted:
I've found that white dudes are often proud of being sloppy and last-minute because they've never experienced any negative consequences for it. Meeting tolerance for their sloppiness and mistakes everywhere ("Boys will be boys!")("Oh well, it's readable, wouldn't want to embarrass him when he's probably already aware of all these typos"), they mistake their noticeably error-ridden efforts for essentially meeting expectations. They then imagine that this nonexistent ability (to carelessly and quickly meet expectations which other people would have to work carefully to meet) is a sign of how they're so rebellious (read: cool) and amazingly talented and ~good under pressure~ (because they imagine that lesser creative beings would be incapable of producing at the last minute, or would be even lower quality).The fact that power in Hollywood is concentrated among white dudes who do think they're cool, talented, young at heart, and good under pressure will tend to entrench this kind of aristocratic sloppiness, make it part of the culture.
But it's also that Hollywood's social forces keep runners for a successful show from even thinking about noticing their own mistakes. They're surrounded by desperately eager sycophants, and the only people they're truly accountable to — the network execs — care about nothing besides ratings. As long as the ratings are coming in — due to e.g. the actors working their butts off with mediocre material — and they're staying more or less on time and on budget, the showrunners will keep being praised for half-assed work. It's a position of monstrous privilege, and it takes someone with a hell of strong character to not believe their own hype.
 As I've said before, the Teen Wolf timeline is non-Euclidian at best. There's no clear indication when various past events (crucially, the Hale house fire) occurred or how old the characters are.
Q. okay seriously how old was derek when his house burned down does anyone know?? do you know?? does jeff know?? will we ever know??It's not just because of underage warnings, of course. Human beings (and werewolves!) change over time, and writers need to know what life-stage their characters are at, to understand how events will effect them. Even fanfic writers who can't spell know that a timeline is important for storytelling, but the showrunner doesn't. This was a big part of my realization that Davis' goal isn't actually storytelling, but something else.
A. you guys are obsessed with the ages. is there a reason?
Q. will we ever get a full explanation of how werewolves age?
A. okay, someone explain the thing with needing to know ages to me. pleeeease.
Q. people need to know ages so they can write fanfiction and know wether or not they need an underage warning xd
 Not 100% true, I believe -- I think they also care about being cool, and about being able to claim they had some creative input. Hence the hell that are network notes.