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Out-of-sequence storytelling is the new junk food-like TV trend, overused on Made for Love, The Serpent and Gangs of London

  • Recently, says Alan Sepinwall, "the '24 Hours Earlier' chyron has gone from an occasional gimmick to what feels like the narrative default. (In a matter of days), three scripted series are premiering that use some variation of the device: HBO Max’s Made for Love (April 1st), Netflix’s The Serpent (April 2nd), and AMC’s Gangs of London (April 4th). In fact, you’d be hard pressed to identify any recently-premiered series that didn’t monkey with time a little, versus naming ones that did. Even shows made for preschoolers, like Netflix’s City of Ghosts, can’t resist it! So why, you may ask, is this a problem? Have I just become an old man who yells at clouds? Or is it the children who are wrong? When used smartly, scrambled narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, parallel timelines, etc., can have incredible impact. Three of the best drama pilots ever made — Alias, Lost, and Breaking Bad — use one or more of these devices, and are vastly more exciting for it. Alias begins with a cinnamon-haired Sydney Bristow on the verge of being tortured by Chinese government officials, then bounces between that situation and the story of how she wound up cuffed to a chair, her teeth at risk of extraction. Lost (also from J.J. Abrams, though co-creator Damon Lindelof has played with time plenty in his later projects) starts moments after the crash of Oceanic 815, only later offering glimpses of the passengers in midflight. And Breaking Bad famously begins with Walter White in his underwear, recording a farewell video message to his family, as he expects to die in a gunfight with police; then the story dives into his pre-meth life. Those shows also continued to move backward and forward in time as needed throughout their runs, with Lost devoting an entire season to time travel and Breaking Bad teasing its series finale at the start of the previous season. So nonlinear narratives themselves aren’t the issue. It’s that too many people — both creators and executives — have looked at the shows that did it right and said, 'Oh, that’s easy! We can do it, too.' So what was once an occasional, artisanal treat is now junk food so shoddy and mass-produced, you don’t even get the initial sugar rush out of it."

    TOPICS: Made for Love, Gangs of London, The Serpent