Time Shifts: Annoyingly-Overused Narrative Device

A trend I’ve observed in hour-long drama series lately is the desire to show, at the beginning of the episode, the most dramatic moment of that episode. Then, in brief bits, show the events leading up to that. Battlestar Galactica has used this in two mediocre episodes in a row now.

It’s a cheap, easy device to build tension but unlike, say, Lost’s flashbacks that reveal character and add layers of depth, these time shifts do nothing to increase our understanding of the situation or of the characters involved.

Time shifts can be used effectively. A great China Beach episode “Holly’s Choice” was told backwards, but did it to inventively reveal the small choices that led to a major decision. The movie Memento too was told backwards to great effect.

If you need to jump in time to increase tension and spark interest in the episode, my guess is that the story isn’t very strong.

3 thoughts on “Time Shifts: Annoyingly-Overused Narrative Device

  1. True, overly used – to the point that Hollywood movie studios create trailers that showcase the entire plot of the movie within a 2 minute trailer. I suppose we should be thanking them for saving us the money…

  2. Your description makes me think of ER which tries oh-so-hard to be fresh by using various narrative devices (ER LIVE! etc.) whenever possible, elevating an ordinary episode to a Very Special Event.
    They did an interesting one last year that sort of unspooled in reverse – not as confoundingly as Memento (or 21 Grams) – it was actually fairly engaging; didn’t find it too gimmicky.
    But to each their own – I can’t stand when a show I like does a It’s A Wonderful Life derivative with angels suddenly narrating! But that’s more Dawson’s Creek than Battlestar Galactica, I guess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *