Helix premiered last week, and in all the reviews there was always one moment that kept popping up – the monkeys. (No more details to avoid spoilers.) There was no dialogue, no movement, but the visual was arresting. Moments like that can make TV shows. CSI would take you inside of a body to see what it looked like, on a microscopic level, to die. Life and Castle both made a point of making dead bodies into works of art. A woman with feathered wings would fall from the sky. A feather would land softly then float on a pool of blood, only to cut to Castle just chatting with his family.
Bryan Fuller is amazing at visuals. I think that’s a huge part of the reason why Hannibal has been so successful, but go back and watch Dead Like Me. Yes, the deaths were often hilariously (intentionally) convoluted, but also led to striking visuals like the potty seat tree.
Death can be an effective visual, but also hard to watch. I think that’s part of the reason why fairy tales have come so into vogue. For a while, I’d read through the list of scripts being ordered to pilot in the trades and the whole list was “cop show, cop show, cop show, lawyer, doctor, lawyer, cop, doctor, doctor…” Now we have Vampire Diaries, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, Sleepy Hollow, Reign, Beauty and the Beast, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Dracula, etc. And there’s a host of pilots in the pipeline that range from standard procedurals to fairy-tale musicals. But while each of these stories will have their own unique look, they all understand that television is a visual medium, and they need to take advantage of that. Even in the writing, you have to describe the actors, lighting, and setting so your reader feels like they’re reading a TV show. And an unforgettable visual right up top is one important way to make that happen.