Good day, chums!
Today I am going to be rambling about how sick I am of sequels, why sequels are finicky beasts to begin with, and why this ties into the fact that I don’t like TV shows as a species.
As you can tell, the tone of this post is probably going to be rather negative. But never fear! If it gets too depressing you can stop whenever you wish and go find yourself a muffin. Just make sure it’s not poisoned before you eat it.
Let’s get rambling, shall we?
Why am I sick of sequels?
Well, simply put, there are just so stinkin’ many of them. (I borrowed that descriptive adjective from my sister.)
They appear around every corner, like zombies. There’s no escaping them. They multiply and spread like an unstoppable disease plaguing cinemas and bookstores worldwide. It’s a global disaster.
Okay, I’m being a little overly dramatic here, but you get the idea.
Some sequels are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but some stories DO NOT NEED sequels. And yet, 90% of the time they get landed with them anyway, and what a misfortune that is.
If someone puts whipped cream on your ice cream you will probably thank them but if someone puts whipped cream on your pizza you might feel like punching them in the face.
Some stories need whipped cream. Others do not.
As you can see, I am in a metaphorical mood today. Whether or not the metaphors actually make any sense is another matter entirely.
What makes sequels so hard to pull off?
There are multiple reasons for this. One being that filmmakers and writers often try to stick sequels onto stories that don’t need them. But this is not the only reason that sequels often fail to live up to the originals. Here are a few others…
1) Great Expectations
Some stories really can be complimented by sequels. Maybe the story wasn’t finished yet, or there is a natural avenue for expansion. But even when the audience wants a sequel, they are often disappointed by it.
For one thing, once a book or a movie or a stage production is already out there, it’s begun to take on a life of its own. Or rather, the audience has started to adopt all the characters as their children and form all sorts of expectations about the world and what everyone should/shouldn’t do next.
This problem isn’t as glaring with a new story, because the audience is just learning about the characters and the world for the first time, and if they don’t like it they just decide it wasn’t their type of thing. They don’t necessarily blame the creators of the story.
But a sequel is different. The audience has had time to form an idea of the characters and the world. They’ve meditated on the events that have occurred and become comfortable with the story. The original creators gave the story life, but the audience has taken some ownership of it. They have their own ideas now.
So a sequel is treading dangerous waters.
Sometimes the author of the book or the director of the film has a completely different idea of where the story is going. And this can leave the audience feeling somewhat betrayed. Even though in reality the creators have done nothing wrong. It’s their story and they are telling it the way they want to.
That doesn’t stop us from getting bitter sometimes though.
2) Say “When”
Another thing that can become problematic is the number of sequels.
Some stories merit sequels, but the questions then arises, how many? As a storyteller, how do you know when you’ve come to the end?
It is a difficult puzzle indeed.
Sometimes the first few sequels are good, and then the story just starts to flounder. The movie makers or the authors keep churning out more, because we keep consuming them.
But after the fifth bag of cheese puffs when you’ve started feeling sick, you start to wonder, “wait, why I am doing this?”
Learning when to say that enough is enough is a crucial skill to learn. A key element of any good piece of art, be it a movie, a book, a painting, etc, is to know when you are finished with it. It’s tricky, because it’s never going to be perfect, but at a certain point it might start to get worse if you keep adding to it.
3) “It’s so heavy, Sam.”
The closer Frodo got the Mordor, the heavier the Ring became.
I am now going to draw a brilliant metaphor from this.
With most stories, a sequel has to expand the world, and develop the characters on an increasingly deeper level. The stakes have to get higher.
The bigger the story gets, the closer you get to Mordor, and the heavier the Ring gets.
See what I did there?
Some characters and worlds hold up brilliantly under this kind of pressure. In fact, they excel. But others buckle under the weight and eventually collapse. I’m sure you’ve all read or watched series’ like this. It is most grievous indeed.
How this ties into my prejudice against TV shows
You may be surprised to hear that I dislike the whole concept of TV shows. Especially considering the topic of my last blog post.
TV shows as a species are set up for failure, as far as storytelling goes. Networks churn out season after season until they inevitably begin to flounder, and then as the popularity of the show goes down, they eventually cancel the show.
Actually I don’t know how accurate this is, but this is what it looks like from an outsider’s point of view. I honestly haven’t watched that many TV shows.
It’s essentially the sequel nightmare on caffeine. This is a terrible storytelling strategy because storytelling is not the first priority. The creators don’t have the whole thing planned from beginning to end. They aren’t going to tell the story they want to tell and then stop when they are finished. They are going to keep going until the show gets low ratings, or until their ideas dry up so completely that they have no choice.
I’m not saying there is actually anything wrong with doing this, and I know a lot of people love TV shows, but for me it doesn’t work. It inevitably ends in tragedy and disappointed as the stories spiral out of control.
This is why Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is something of an exception to the rule. They started out to make three seasons, and that’s what they did. They adapted the books, and when they got to The End they stopped. That may sound like common sense, but that’s not as common as you might think.
In a way, this makes this particular TV show more of a mini series. Which is totally fine with me.
Ultimately, sequels and TV shows can be good if they are done well. But all too often the art of storytelling is not placed at the forefront and then terrible things happen.
There are so many bad and unnecessary sequels out there, but there are amazing ones too. Some stories need the expansion, and some are so intricate that they need multiple books/movies to tell them.
It’s not always easy to tell when enough is enough, and we can get bogged down by the over abundance of sequels that probably never needed to exist. It’s something that I grapple with as a writer as well. What is the story I am trying to tell and what is the best way to tell it? I am determined to keep storytelling as my priority, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds.
What is your view of sequels? Do you get tired of the number of sequels in existence? Do you agree or disagree with my reasons for why sequels are often disappointing, and do you have any more to add? Do you think that sometimes the need to pander to consumers robs storytelling of its integrity? What do you think about TV shows as a species? I would be thrilled to hear your thoughts on the subject!