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Time in Television Narrative

Time in Television Narrative: Exploring Temporality in Twenty-First-Century Programming

Edited by Melissa Ames
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Time in Television Narrative
    Book Description:

    This collection analyzes twenty-first-century American television programs that rely upon temporal and narrative experimentation. These shows play with time, slowing it down to unfold the narrative through time retardation and compression. They disrupt the chronological flow of time itself, using flashbacks and insisting that viewers be able to situate themselves in both the present and the past narrative threads. Although temporal play has existed on the small screen prior to the new millennium, never before has narrative time been so freely adapted in mainstream television. The essayists offer explanations for not only the frequency of time play in contemporary programming, but the implications of its sometimes disorienting presence.

    Drawing upon the fields of cultural studies, television scholarship, and literary studies, as well as overarching theories concerning postmodernity and narratology,Time in Television Narrativeoffers some critical suggestions. The increasing number of of television programs concerned with time may stem from any and all of the following: recent scientific approaches to quantum physics and temporality; new conceptions of history and posthistory; or trends in late-capitalistic production and consumption, in the new culture of instantaneity, or in the recent trauma culture amplified after the September 11 attacks. In short, these televisual time experiments may very well be an aesthetic response to the climate from which they derive. These essays analyze both ends of this continuum and also attend to another crucial variable: the television viewer watching this new temporal play.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-294-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION Television Studies in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 3-24)

    The trends of contemporary popular television programming have received a great deal of attention both within and outside scholarly circles throughout the past few decades, even more so as the medium continues to evolve into the twenty-first century. The increasing complexity and experimental nature of television narratives have been well studied by both academics¹ and laypersons through various fan forums.² This collection adds to this discussion by limiting its analysis of such televisual texts to those solely in the first decade of the new millennium. This collection offers an analysis of twenty-first-century televisual texts exclusively—something that has not existed...

  5. I. PROMOTING THE FUTURE OF EXPERIMENTAL TV: The Industry Changes and Technological Advancements That Paved the Way to “New” Television Ventures

    • 1 TELEVISION’S PARADIGM (TIME)SHIFT Production and Consumption Practices in the Post-Network Era
      (pp. 27-42)

      In a twenty-four-hour period between Sunday, May 23 and Monday, May 24, 2010, viewers said farewell to three of the most influential dramatic series in television history:Lost,24, andLaw & Order. Though24(FOX, 2001–2010) andLaw & Order(NBC, 1990–2010) strongly influenced scripted programming,Lost(ABC, 2004–2010) undoubtedly captured the zeitgeist of the prime-time serial in the first decade of the twenty-first century, which American TV institutionThe Simpsonsrecognized.

      The Simpsons(FOX, 1989–Present), whose impressive longevity has outstripped these other series’, made its own meaningful contribution to conversations from those two nights: Bart Simpson,...

    • 2 “A STRETCH OF TIME” Extended Distribution and Narrative Accumulation in Prison Break
      (pp. 43-55)
      J. P. KELLY

      As a number of scholars have argued, the accelerated pace of the “network era”¹ has led to a culture in which the present tense has become the dominant temporal order.² According to these accounts, culture, technology, and the economy are accelerating at such a pace as to leave us feeling left behind. Within this perpetually accelerating “chrono-digital ecology,” as Robert Hassan has described it (237), time is an ever-dwindling resource and without sufficient means to contemplate the past or plan for the future our lives are reduced to nothing more than a series of fleeting present-tense experiences. As Hassan elaborates,...

    • 3 “IT’S NOT UNKNOWN” The Loose- and Dead-End Afterlives of Battlestar Galactica and Lost
      (pp. 56-68)

      I like to think that Ronald D. Moore and the writers of the “reimagined”Battlestar Galactica(Sci-Fi Channel, 2003–2009) wrote Admiral Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) rousing speech to his fleet as a self-reflexive commencement of the writers’ and viewers’ “long and arduous” “journey” through the latest manifestation of a TV-III,¹ cult-quality² serial—a genre of contemporary television far more popular than these labels might first let on. How does one write a show that continually teases its audience into believing that the truth is out there, that suggests there will be satisfying resolutions to all of the show’s mysteries,...

    • 4 ZERO-DEGREE SERIALITY Television Narrative in the Post-Network Era
      (pp. 69-81)

      The year of 2010 saw the demise of two popular television dramas. While Fox’s24(2001–2010) entered its eighth and final season, ABC’sLost(2004–2010) entered its sixth and, likewise, final season. As historically situated siblings and narrative experiments in televisual structure and style, both programs are serial electronic bodies that enact their own duration and speak to their contemporary “times.” If24’s renegade antiterrorist Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is inverted as a “real-time” interface (ahumanprosthesis in service to electronic technologies of martial automation),Lostsimilarly inverts character-based narrative. It plays out the destinies of its...

    • 5 “PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM … AND DEAN” Temporality and Meta-Textuality in Supernatural
      (pp. 82-94)

      In his article “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television,” Jason Mittell argues that due to numerous contextual factors, such as increased media savvy on the part of the recipients, “television’s reputation as a producer’s medium, where writers and creators retain control over their work,” and numerous technological advancements, “American television of the past twenty years will be remembered as an era of narrative experimentation and innovation, challenging the norms of what the medium can do” (31, 29). Indeed, the present volume is testament to the fact that one of the most widely found types of narrative experimentation is connected to...

  6. II. HISTORICIZING THE MOMENT: How the Cultural Climate Impacts Temporal Manipulation on the Small Screen

      (pp. 97-109)

      The last decade has witnessed the emergence of a number of American sci-fi TV shows that have demonstrated an increasing experimentation with temporality, such asLost, Flashforward, Alias, 24, Fringe, andThe Sarah Connor Chronicles, among others. This chapter will approach the complex temporal structure of these shows by focusing on the fact that they often concentrate on a major event that structures their entire narrative. Nonlinear temporality may then be seen as related to a preoccupation with the topic of psychological trauma, which has been receiving increasing attention during the last fifty years in diverse disciplines and media representations...

    • 7 THE FEAR OF THE FUTURE AND THE PAIN OF THE PAST The Quest to Cheat Time in Heroes, FlashForward, and Fringe
      (pp. 110-124)

      Fictional narratives have traditionally depended on a narrative time that is linear in nature. This temporal structure “carries with it the implication of an arrow of time, pointing from the past to future and indicating the directionality of sequences of events” (Davies 34). Although this has been the narrative norm for a majority of fictional texts across media, a great many tales have arisen that question and/or disrupt this directionality. One thematic motif that participates in such narrative disruption is the “do-over.” The last several decades have found this theme increasing in popularity in the American culture realm and it...

    • 8 LOST IN OUR MIDDLE HOUR Faith, Fate, and Redemption Post-9/11
      (pp. 125-138)

      InUnderstanding Media, Marshall McLuhan credits Edgar Allan Poe with offering “an incomplete image or process” in his stories in order to “[involve] his readers in the creative process”; Poe, claims McLuhan, “grasped at once the electric dynamic as one of public participation in creativity” (430). Like Poe, but moving forward in time approximately 150 years, the producers of television’sLost(ABC, 2004–2010) also offer “an incomplete image” to involve the viewer in the creative process. During its six-season run,Lostattracted a cultlike following, in part because of its plot, and in part because of its narrative development....

    • 9 “NEW BEGINNINGS ONLY LEAD TO PAINFUL ENDS” “Undeading” and Fear of Consequences in Pushing Daisies
      (pp. 139-150)

      The ending ofPushing Daisies(ABC, 2007–2009) looked much like the beginning. Mirroring the first scene of the series, the camera pans out on Digby the golden retriever running through a field of yellow daisies as the narrator (Jim Dale) notes, “At that moment, in the town of Coeur d’Coeurs, events occurred that are not, were not, and should never be considered an ending. For endings, as it is known, are where we begin” (“Kerplunk”). The parallel structure and optimistic ending of the series, in contrast with the abrupt manner in which it ended, facing struggles through a writers’...

  7. III. THE FUNCTIONS OF TIME: Analyzing the Effects of Nonnormative Narrative Structure(s)

    • 10 “DID YOU GET PEARS?” Temporality and Temps Mortality in The Wire, Mad Men, and Arrested Development
      (pp. 153-164)

      Critically acclaimed and thriving commercially,Mad Men(AMC, 2007–Present) has been the subject of widespread debate. It has attracted the attention of television scholars, philosophers, cultural historians, commentators and columnists, newspaper critics, ad executives, fashion designers, and bloggers, to name but a few. There are books, journals, essays, magazine entries, newspaper articles, and thousands of blogs devoted entirely toMad Men. In this chapter, we aim to explain at least some of the appealMad Menhas for critics and viewers alike by concentrating on the textual and temporal nature of one scene that has generated much discussion: the...

    • 11 TEMPORALITIES ON COLLISION COURSE Time, Knowledge, and Temporal Critique in Damages
      (pp. 165-177)

      If what Daniel Purcell, one of the protagonists inDamages(FX, 2007–Present), describes is a twisted joke in itself, an additional turn of the screw consists in the fact that his statement about ignorance produced by an obsession with the past and the future applies directly to the television showDamagesitself. Thismise en abyme, that is, a passagewithina narrative that reflects the narrative as a whole, is the moment in whichDamagesmost explicitly lays out its narrative program. For a few seconds, the show puts its cards on the table and lets the viewer...

    • 12 FREAKS OF TIME Reevaluating Memory and Identity through Daniel Knauf’s Carnivàle
      (pp. 178-189)

      Many things are hard to understand in Daniel Knauf’s award-winning seriesCarnivàle(HBO, 2003–2005).¹ Characters share dreams, communicate without speaking, and have memories of events they could not have attended. The grotesque and confusing nature of this American TV series, suggested by one critic to be fit for those who thought David Lynch’sTwin Peakswas too simple to follow, forced its producers to cancel the planned six seasons after only two seasons (twenty-four episodes) (Rouch). The series is set in the United States during the first half of the 1930s and features a traveling carnival making a living...

    • 13 THE DISCOURSE OF MEDIUM Time as a Narrative Device
      (pp. 190-202)

      This sequence of scenes sounds like it comes from a television show with a complex narrative likeLost(ABC, 2004–2010), but it is just another episode ofMedium(CBS, 2005–2009; NBC 2009–2011), the seven-season series about a woman with a gift. Allison Dubois (Patricia Arquette) is a medium who sees visions of the past, present, and future. These visions, along with other paranormal elements, emerge within various temporal structures that are used throughout the series to further episodic narratives. The flexible way time is used in the show creates new narrative possibilities for plot structures and for...


    • 14 MAKING SENSE OF THE FUTURE Narrative Destabilization in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse
      (pp. 205-217)

      In demarcating the characteristics of science fiction (SF), most scholars, critics, and fans position the genre first and foremost as the narrative of the future. Speculative scenarios, futuristic settings, and a general otherworldliness have driven SF narratives since the genre’s inception. As many SF scholars are beginning to realize, however, the conventions of the genre are changing as technology continues to catch up with the old SF imagination. In other words, we no longer need to look to the future to find SF tropes, because we live in that future right now. Nowhere is this thematic shift more evident than...

    • 15 WHY 30 ROCK ROCKS AND THE OFFICE NEEDS SOME WORK The Role of Time/Space in Contemporary TV Sitcoms
      (pp. 218-231)

      The relatively new and yet robust subgenre of situation comedies taps into all that technology has to offer narratives and, with viewer participation, stretches the limits of time and space. These sitcoms, or at least some of the more recent, sophisticated ones such asArrested Development(Fox, 2003–2006),The Office(NBC, 2005–Present), and30 Rock(2006–Present), link in complex ways many and varied imagined worlds with that of the less elastic and more finite real one associated with the viewer. In this regard, these sitcoms constitute a new chronotope, to borrow a term from Mikhail Bakhtin, who...

    • 16 CHANGE THE STRUCTURE, CHANGE THE STORY How I Met Your Mother and the Reformulation of the Television Romance
      (pp. 232-244)

      “Kids,” an off-screen narrator announces to a teenage boy and girl. “I’m gonna tell you an incredible story: the story of how I met your mother” (“Pilot”). The story begins in 2005, when twenty-seven-year-old Ted Mosby’s best friend, Marshall Eriksen, proposes to his longtime girlfriend, Lily Aldrin. Though Ted is happy for them, he quickly becomes concerned about the sorry state of his own love life, complaining to friend Barney Stinson that soon Marshall and Lily will have a family and he will just be “that weird middle-aged bachelor their kids call Uncle Ted” (“Pilot”). Then, fate steps in: “It...

    • 17 LIKE SANDS THROUGH THE HALF-HOURGLASS Nurse Jackie and Temporal Disruption
      (pp. 245-256)

      Showtime has emerged in the last few years as a serious contender in the premium television league with its super-hits likeDexter(2006–Present),The Tudors(2007–2010), andWeeds(2005–Present) challenging HBO’s reign over the “quality” (Emmy-winning, adult-oriented, original) television category. Four of its series—Nurse Jackie(2009–Present),Weeds,United States of Tara(2009–Present),Secret Diary of a Call Girl(2007–Present), and, most recently,The Big C(2010–Present)—are half-hour shows that center their narratives around a strong female protagonist who eschews conventional morality for personal or professional gain. Jason Mittell notes that “HBO...

    • 18 THE TELEVISION MUSICAL Glee’s New Directions
      (pp. 257-270)

      Debuting in 2009, Fox’sGlee, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck, and Ian Brennan, has become the first successful musical television program to grace American screens. Television has, of course, always included music. Talent contests likeThe Gong Show(NBC, 1976–1978), televised music videos on channels like MTV, and, perhaps most notably, variety shows likeThe Ed Sullivan Show(CBS, 1948–1971) have played major roles in television history. However, up until this point, narrative fiction punctuated by break-out song and dance numbers has primarily been restricted to film and stage.

      When Quinn sings “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,”...

  9. V. PLAYING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX: The Role Time Plays in Fan Fiction, Online Communities, and Audience Studies

    • 19 “NOTHING HAPPENS UNLESS FIRST A DREAM” TV Fandom, Narrative Structure, and the Alternate Universes of Bones
      (pp. 273-284)

      In the tradition ofRemington Steele(NBC, 1982–1987) andMoonlighting(ABC, 1985–1989), the current Fox seriesBones(Fox 2005–Present) aims to be more than just a crime procedural, striving for a mix between drama and romantic comedy. At the center ofBonesis the relationship between forensic anthropologist Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her partner, FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz). In this chapter, I will discuss the wayBonescreator Hart Hanson manipulates conventional storytelling methods to explore a romantic relationship between the two lead characters without disrupting the larger narrative of the program. I...

    • 20 TWO DAYS BEFORE THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW Time, Temporality, and Fandom in South Park
      (pp. 285-296)

      South Park(Comedy Central, 1997–Present) is infamous for its crude sense of humor, frequent use of profane language, and depictions of sex and violence that often involve children. It also happens to be one of the most popular programs on television and has become a cultural institution unto itself. It is somewhat ironic to analyze the show because it often directly criticizes those who attempt to take it (or anything else) too seriously. It is difficult to seriously discuss the show on a more practical level because it is hard to establish a reasonable, stable context through which to...

    • 21 LOST IN TIME? Lost Fan Engagement with Temporal Play
      (pp. 297-309)

      In May 2007, the finale of the third season ofLost(ABC, 2004–2010) was aired. A double episode entitled “Through the Looking Glass,” the finale employed a significant time puzzle. In its final few moments, the program offered viewers an abrupt revelation: what was presumed to be a flashback was actually a flashforward. The surprising scene, set in the present day, showed Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) and Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly), two of theLostcastaways, off the island and discussing the funeral of a fellow character, with Jack declaring “we have to go back, Kate … we have...

  10. About the Contributors
    (pp. 310-314)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 315-324)