The Big Blacklist of Clichés


I don’t watch much TV anymore, probably because 90% of it is reality shows that interest me about as much as the slime trail left by a fat slug while the other 9% is terrible cop shows that interest me only slightly more. The TV I do watch is the 1% that manages to either be A) Not be complete trash or B) Feature a favorite actor of mine. Occasionally a show gets lucky and manages to get both A and B working in tandem, which is why I’m watching The Blacklist featuring James Spader. Mr. Spader won my undying devotion through his absolutely tremendous performance as Alan Shore in Boston Legal, another show cut down before its time.

Plus the man can rock a suit like no one else I've seen.
Plus the man can rock a suit like no one else I’ve seen.

Unfortunately The Blacklist has been on a bit of a break so that one of the biggest wastes of money, effort and time in recent memory can once again be shown on NBC while their viewers pretend the Olympics are actually a worthy human pursuit, and not a blackhole of awfulness. Fortunately it all ends today, and next week I can once again enjoy one of the only good shows on television. So while I’m waiting, let me tell you why you should be watching it:

As I, and many others have pointed out, there is nothing really original left to write about and yet that doesn’t mean we stop trying. But some writers do stop trying, and when they do, we get clichés: the princess in the tower, the evil wizard, the uncanny deductive powers of the latest cop show. A cliché isn’t just an idea, character or scene that we’ve seen countless times before, it’s a cut-and-paste replication of same. A cliché shows an absolute lack of creative thought, something a writer uses because they just can’t be bothered to actually put time and effort into their story. Obviously this is all very subjective, but overall it comes down whether you feel what you’re seeing is a genuine display of creativity or merely a recreation of something better in hopes of duping the audience into liking it. The writer saw something people liked, and instead of using that to inspire his own creation, simply copied it wholesale and hoped it would be just as popular. Cop shows are a perfect example:

I don't even know what show this is, and it's sad I can't tell the difference between any of them.
I don’t even know what show this is, and it’s sad I can’t tell the difference between any of them.

Look at this list. LOOK AT IT! I don’t want to guess how many entries there are on that page, or how many of those shows died after only a few episodes. Somewhere in the history of television a cop show became successful and I guarantee it wasn’t because it was about cops. It probably had good characters, an interesting plot, or a unique perspective, something that drew the audience in and made them want more. But those things take a lot of hard work to create and it’s not something you can summarize on a graph in a board room filled with TV executives; so instead of trying to put some effort into creating something people want to watch, they try to copy something that’s already popular. And since they don’t or won’t understand the real reason people like the show, they fixate on something that can be easily copied.

“Hey, it’s got cops in it! Maybe if we make a show about cops, we’ll have an award winning show too!” – Countless TV Executives throughout the history of television.

And the result is a show so boring and formulaic that it ends up being cancelled after the first few episodes. That’s what clichés will do to you if you use them too often.

I love political thrillers and spy movies, but there’s one cliché that pops up constantly in these genres that I absolutely despise . I call it the “you can’t touch me” defense, and you’ve all seen it. The hero has finally cornered his foe, but just as he’s about to kill him, the villain says: you can’t touch me! In theory this is because the villain is too powerful politically. I hate this because this usually is just an excuse for a writer to keep the villain alive and stretch out the story. Then the rest of the story revolves around trying to find evidence or something that pops the villains bubble of protection. And every time this plays out I all but scream “just shoot him already!” Fortunately the Blacklist and James Spader show us the seldom used advantage of a cliché: using it to create a surprise. Since we know a cliché the moment we see it, our mind mentally prepares for the outcome we’ve been trained to expect, and a wise writer will use this to his advantage to surprise us.

I was already rolling my eyes when Reddington’s enemy began with the usual “You can’t touch me!” speech, but before my eyes could even complete a full rotation or the villain could even finish her speech…

He fucking shot her!

Raymond "Red" Reddington of NBC's the Blacklist, played by James Spader
Like a fucking boss.

At the risk of sounding like a complete psychopath and ending up on yet another FBI watchlist, that shot was so god damn satisfying. After years of watching the “can’t touch me” defense working, this shot was the release my pent up murderous frustration demanded. What made this scene even better was the simple and casual way that this scene played out. In upending a cliché there’s always the risk of going too far in the other direction, much like Shrek eventually came full circle and became the very cliché it was originally parodying, The Blacklist might have tried too hard to flip this scene. Reddington could have given a long winded speech or killed her in some ridiculously elaborate way, but he didn’t. He shot her and explained to her exactly why she wasn’t untouchable in the span of a few sentences.

Its in those few sentences that Reddington manages to destroy yet another hated cliché. “I have information you want, if you kill me you’ll never know!”

Reddington beautifully points out the flaw in this argument:

“If you know… then somebody else knows too.” -Raymond “Red” Reddington, NBC’s The Blacklist

Exactly!

That’s the trouble with secrets, they’re very rarely contained to one person and if they are, you’ll never know if they’re telling the truth because there’s no one else to corroborate. Reddington knows this and that’s why he promptly adds several holes to her body and leaves her bloody corpse to be disposed of by his fixer. Of course that’s not to say the Blacklist doesn’t have troubles of it’s own, it does, but the Blacklist is doing something very few other TV shows do: it’s trying. So many TV shows don’t even bother trying anymore, especially the ones on ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX. They’re afraid to take chances and push the envelope the way that Breaking Bad did. Obviously Blacklist is no Breaking Bad, but its unique enough and puts in enough effort to tell a good story that its worth the watching.

Plus the man can rock a suit like no one else I've seen.
And again, it has James Spader. What more do you need?
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2 thoughts on “The Big Blacklist of Clichés”

  1. Great read, again! 🙂
    I don’t know the series and I don’t like cop-settings either, but it sounds very satisfying to see a worn-out cliché exposed and blown out of the water 😀

    1. Thanks Lang, good to see you again! Figuratively speaking of course. Some exciting stuff happening in my life which has slowed down my blog writing but hopefully soon I’ll be able to start doing more frequent updates again. 🙂

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