Monday, November 25, 2013

I Can't Die, I'm In the Opening Credits!

Hi, there!

Dave-El here and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a multi-camera blog in a single camera world.

Today our attention turns towards death.

No, not REAL death. Geez, you just barely got through Monday; I really don't want to bring you down like that. No, I want to address the subject of death as it relates to people who do not really exist.

The death of a fictional character.

Now as I addressed recently in a post about character deaths in super hero comics...wait, here's the link to...hold on just a minute. I wrote this back on July 30th? My, where does the time go? Will I, on my deathbed, express the regret, "I should've spent more time on my blog."? And a beloved family member disinterested medical professional will comment, "He had a blog? I didn't know that."


Anyway, character deaths in super hero comics typically targeted a minor character who got little face time on the cover. Of course, readers got wise to this so comics upped the ante and began allowing the deaths of more famous comic book characters.  Still, the expectation was that more prominent characters were not going to stay dead. To defy that expectation, some stories went out of the their way to convince the reader that the dead hero in question is not only dead but most sincerely dead. The problem is the more a writer really tried to convince the reader the character is bereft of life, he breathes no more, the harder it is to bring back that character when the inevitable next big crossover event needs a big "least expected return ever" plot twist. I mean, when you go out of your way to eliminate the possibility of a robot duplicate or an imposter who died instead and have done everything possible to convince the reader that their beloved and departed hero is indeed ashes in an urn or moldering in the ground, where are you left to turn?

Well, you journey up to Heaven and go get 'em back! 

Take Green Arrow. Oliver Queen was in one of those terrible fixes that super heroes get into in which certain death seems...well, certain. One by one, however, writer Chuck Dixon checks off the boxes as the situation is constructed so there is no avenue of escape, there is no doubt that it's Oliver Queen in peril and what happens next is absolute and final. In this case, a bomb goes off and Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, that battling bowman himself, gets blasted to molecules.

No less a witness than Superman himself with his super peepers confirms that Oliver Queen is dead, he's deader than dead, he's the deadest of the dead in Deadtown.

Really dead.

Four years later (which is FOREVER in the world of comics), Oliver Queen is headlining his own comic again.

Now the machinations of how Oliver is returned to life will make your head spin. Writer Kevin Smith lays down a LOT of exposition and obsessive fan boyish links to various other comic books and events to bring Ollie back to the world of the living. But here's the kicker: it's just Green Arrow's body that has been brought back to life with a mind that only THINKS he's Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. The true essence of who he is, his very SOUL, is missing and due to some bippity-bobbity-boo, the world's in a mess of danger if that isn't set right so there's only one thing to do. So the story takes us to Heaven so Ollie's soul can be convinced to come back and hang around in his skin some more, you know, for old time's sake.

Yes, the afterlife essentially becomes another location on the DC Universe map along with Metropolis, Gotham, Star City and Ivy Town. And now the one way street from life to death becomes a revolving door.

And even within the context of the fictional universe these heroes inhabit, this is becoming a bit of a joke. One civilian commented in a story that it's hard to take these super hero deaths seriously, they're always coming back.

In TV, killing off someone is a good ratings booster but, like comics, there are certain patterns that can be observed.
  • Is the actor or the actress up for a contract renewal?
  • Is it a sweeps month?
  • Has the character been written out of episodes a lot leading up to this moment?

But the most obvious way of knowing who will NOT be killed is this: is the actor or actress in the opening credits? Usually, the trope is if a person is in the opening credits, they won't die.

So TV producers have to deal with some of the same issues as comic book creators in order to defy expectations and keep the audience engaged. So find someone in the opening credits...and kill them!

Last night, the expectations of death in television were seriously upended in, of all places, an episode of Family Guy.  Now, I haven't watched Family Guy in years. I was genuinely amused by some of the earlier episodes but found later ones too tasteless and, worse, less funny. Well, that's my feeling, your mileage may vary. Still, one episode that I have fond memories of was the Crosby/Hope Road Picture Pastiche of "Road to Rhode Island", spotlighting Stewie and Brian. It was an episode that was funny and fun yet also rather moving.  The evil would-be world conquering baby and the urbane talking dog made a most unlikely and very interesting duo.

So on Sunday, November 24th, the wisest member of the Griffith family, Brian, died. As is sadly the case with dogs, Brian was hit by a car and died of his injuries at a vet's office.

THEY CAN'T KILL BRIAN! He's in the opening of the show! He's singing and dancing with his fellow stars! How can Brian die? HE'S IN THE OPENING OF THE SHOW EVERY FREAKIN' WEEK!

Naturally, I figure Seth McFarlane and crew are up to something but for now, the production staff are playing this straight. Yep, Brian's dead and the Griffin family's going to get a new dog.

Eventually, sooner or later (perhaps in time for the February sweeps), Brian will make his most unexpected return.

Even if we have to go to Heaven and get 'im!



Update: December 7, 2013

For the December15th episode of Family Guy: "Stewie devises a master plan to get the one and only thing he wants for Christmas."

Click here for the story.

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