As someone who prioritizes television and movies over real-life priorities like work, sleep, basic hygiene, and contact with other humans, I’ve seen enough sitcoms and Hollywood rom-coms to last me a lifetime or two. It’s hard, when you’re consuming so many “end-of-the-world” and awkward family reunion plotlines to not pick up on some common patterns. While some of them, like basic TV tropes, make sense, others, not so much. For example:
1) When characters stuck in traffic honk incessantly.
You’ve been trapped in your car listening to the local Top 40 radio station on loop for two hours, furiously texting your significant other castration threats if they watch the next American Horror Story episode without you. You’re angry. I get it. Really, I do. Wanting to watch Jessica Lange sass some dysfunctional/demonic/diabolical fictional character is a perfectly legitimate reason to administer death threats to someone you love. It is not, however, a reason to honk in a 12-mile long traffic pile-up. Nothing permits that kind of behavior, unless you’re on the verge of giving birth or you’re delivering Jesus to some lab in Utah for scientific study, and even then, the 50 cars ahead of you are not going to “part the seas” just because you’ve learned how to make your car make noise.
2) When characters manage to save the world on no sleep whatsoever.
As much as I love watching Kiefer Sutherland scream at explosions and feign death to save the United States from self-destructing on 24, I find it difficult to accept the show’s basic premise, that each episode represents one hour in the life of Jack Bauer, without wondering how Jack budgets his sleeping time. Though I understand that the show cannot devote a whole hour to a static shot of Jack napping, at some point, they should at least provide some explanation as to why he has not fallen over from exhaustion, besides allowing us to assume that he is some super-human agent who has substituted patriotism for this basic human function.
3) When two characters are having a conversation in the car and the driver does not crash immediately.
If I were an alien sitting down to watch a television show for the first time, I would automatically assume that every car the characters drive has a built-in autopilot function that just runs in the background to prevent fiery wrecks. The longer the characters spend gazing into each other’s eyes and offering philosophical musings on love and life in the middle of the highway, the closer I get to the edge of my seat, waiting for the driver to hit a tree or a car or rogue orange cone and go flying off the road. I steal a glance at the radio station button for two seconds and I drift into another lane, while characters on TV and in movies can stare longingly at the person in the passenger seat for 2 hours before considering turning back to the road.
4) When characters can maintain a perfectly witty conversation without any pauses at all.
Maybe I don’t understand wit because I don’t have any, because it takes me at least 24 hours to generate a funny response to a comment a friend made to me in passing, but the sarcastic banter that I see on-screen comes off as a bit unrealistic. As “mumblecore movies” featuring fast-paced conversations and facetious dialogue invade the Hollywood box office, I start to question my own response time and whether or not I should be cracking intelligent jokes after every sarcastic comment, or whether there are real, naturally funny people out there that can hold a witty conversation with someone for longer than 5 seconds without blurting out something embarrassing.
5) When a character wakes up looking perfect.
Just once, I want to see Jessica Alba roll out of bed with messy hair, droopy eyes, and a trail of dried drool on the corner of her mouth. Do filmmakers think we want to ruin our self-esteem by watching an actor or actress wake up looking flawless? Is that something I should want? I’m confused.
6) When characters abruptly hang up the phone (or use a phone at all).
Whatever happened to “no you hang up…no you hang up…no you hang up”? I’d much rather watch that on screen than see someone end a conversation with “Just do it grandma!” and hang up the phone. That we still show people having conversations over the phone is kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? I mean, why would Harry call Amy to see if she wants to go out if he can just text her, or Facebook her, or send her a magical delivery owl? Shows like House of Cards have integrated the world of texting into their narratives well, but others are still stuck in the early 2000s.
While yes, many of these decisions are made to clean up the story and prevent people from having to sit through shots of tedious tasks, some of them still deserve an explanation.