I’m not sure how I feel about Seth Green’s neck exploding. (If you haven’t been keeping up with Grey’s Anatomy, I can hardly blame you, but just to catch you up: Seth Green’s neck exploded at the end of the last episode. Tune in tonight to see if that kills him. I’m going with no.)
Part of my indecisiveness is because I’m very fond of Seth Green, and his neck exploding worries me. The bigger issue, however, is that it is ridiculous to have a storyline where (buckle in!) someone’s neck explodes in the same episode where a paramedic has a seizure because she has a brain tumor and this causes her to crash into another ambulance which causes serious injury to both the paramedics in the other ambulance and to her partner, who just happens to be a white supremacist, not to mention their patient, who has come down with an infection that will cause his sternum to be removed but who must now also have a giant hunk of ambulance–you know it’s from the ambulance because there’s a big “A” on the giant hunk–taken out of his leg, too.
After I catch my breath from the exertion of saying that all in one lungful, I’ll assure you I am not kidding.
This Exclamation Pointitis drags down several otherwise fine programs. Grey’s was once better than watchable but has slid into new lows of ridiculousness. Friday Night Lights is another prime offender: one miracle win would be not just acceptable, but stirring. But multiple miracle wins, including a story where (deep breath) the Panthers are way behind in a game where the starting quarterback and running back have been benched, so a third-stringer delivers the stirring halftime speech that rallies the team so they’re within striking distance when the good guys throw an interception, but the third-stringer causes a fumble that the Panthers run in for a touchdown–mind you, the last couple are all on the same play–leading the suspended QB and RB to make up in the middle of the game to get back on the field, where they call a play specifically designed for the third-stringer who has never played before tonight, but that’s okay because he doesn’t catch the ball and the game is over, but that’s also okay because the flag flies on the latest pass interference penalty ever called, and since the game can’t end on a defensive penalty the Panthers get another shot and the recently liberated RB scores the winning touchdown, and everyone in the stadium chants the third-stringer’s name for drawing a pass interference penalty and are you kidding me?!? (pant, pant)
Some television is well-suited to piling up the improbabilities; speculative fiction, for example, is all about putting characters in extraordinary situations, just to see what will happen. Ever wonder whether the best or the worst of humanity would win out if all civilization fell simultaneously? Fire up the Battlestar Galactica, where sexy robots kill 99% of the human population and octogonal blood can cure diseases. Shows like The West Wing and House, while wildly compressing the number of people who would work on their puzzles, have settings that loan themselves to multiple dramatic moments. We really do believe White House staffers might face several crises every day. The only reason House’s department exists is to be funneled the crazy cases no one else can solve.
But several shows with more earth-bound settings are stretching their stories well beyond plausible deniability. I’ve no doubt someone’s neck exploded in a hospital at some point in the history of mankind. I believe paramedics have lost consciousness while driving. I’m even sure someone somewhere in the world was once wheeled into an emergency room with a hunk of ambulance in his leg. What I can’t believe is that these things all happened in the same hospital on the same day. I understand that these shows have to go beyond reality to tell dramatic stories–and even sympathize with that pressure–but sandwiching every freaky medical case or every thrilling football miracle into a single episode not only creates eyerolling scenarios, it chews through story at the kind of breakneck pace that explains why many shows can’t excel past the first season or two. If these kinds of shows keep it up, audiences will have to decide if it’s harder to suspend disbelief over the plots, or over the fact that the shows are still on the air at all.