Canned plots and lazy storytelling

Drama or Science Fiction? Either way its a huge cliché

Over the past month or so the BBC has been running a primetime show called “Outcasts”. I heard about this some time ago becuse it was being billed as a great new BBC drama; that’s right, drama. In spite of the fact that the show is about colonists on a distant planet in the future who escaped the end of the Earth the BBC refused to call it Sci-Fi at first. Indeed the series designer is reported to have said:

the BBC doesn’t want to give the impression it’s putting out a sci-fi show on prime-time BBC1. This is a futuristic drama with the focus on pioneering humans who, out of necessity, just happen to be living on a planet that is not Earth.

I think it’s a bit of a stretch to set something in such a science-fictional setting but deny that it is one purely so that you can avoid being viewed as as a channel that puts out trivial TV. In actuality Outcasts manages to be trivial all by itself. If you haven’t seen it (don’t bother to now) the basic plot is that after some apocalypse a ragtag group of characters fly off into space and try to settle another planet. This is an interesting setup and it’s what got me to watch the show, however in spite of all the potential stories that could be told about the difficulties of such a task the BBC fills the show with ghost aliens, mysterious ten thousand year old human remains, evil genetically engineered rebels and horrifically clichéd characters. Now I’m not writing this post with the intent of writing a comprehensive review of Outcasts as it has been done elsewhere many times, instead I’d like to ask a question; why the hell do TV shows feel the need to make science fiction by dropping outdated clichés into a blender with awful actors before forcibly pouring it into our eyes with all the grace and subtly of a wet fart at a funeral? Outcasts is by no means alone in this, most visual media of this nature, be it film or TV, take a story that they want to tell (i.e. a unifying republic devoted to democracy being slowly corrupted into a totalitarian empire) and bolt on lasers, spaceships and aliens (can you spot where the example was from?).

If you wanted to write about colonising another planet then why not address the real issues of such a feat? Issues like how to grow terrestrial crops on an alien world, how to avoid alien antigens and the logistics of transporting a fully capable industrial society (with all the support infrastructure and technology needed) to another star, not to mention how the society would survive if the planet didn’t have the right atmosphere mix, pressure and temperature. I’m not calling for totally realistic stories but surely I’m not the only one who thinks that taking a story that could work perfectly well in the present day real-world and slapping on spaceships and aliens is a lazy means of story telling? Should’t the aim of any speculative fiction be to explore the human condition in situations radically different to those ever encountered before rather than vomiting canned plots onto the surface of an alien planet?

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  1. #1 by Ben Groves on March 6, 2011 - 11:34 pm

    The problem here is that the sort of people that will totally agree with this are the sort of people that don’t watch that much T.V. The aim of any speculative fiction SHOULD be to explore the human condition in situations radically different to those ever encountered before, however mindless drivel seems to pay the bills (and over paid actors) so……. Why change?

    • #2 by ryanbegleyonline on March 7, 2011 - 2:40 pm

      Very true, as long as it pays the bills and gets enough ratings a show can continue in spite of idiot plots. I still hope that one day someone with the funds and cojones will produce an engaging show that does deliver what speculative fiction should be.

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