1:00 pm EDT, May 20, 2013

The J.J. Abrams Effect: Resurgence of Genre TV or Too Much of a Good Thing?

Since J.J. Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot, hit it big with LOST, the pressure has been on to get new genre shows on the air. Sometimes they’ve been successful and other times, they just fall flat. Notably, however, the successes seem to always be linked to Abrams, Bad Robot, or former LOST producers striking out on their own. These shows often spend more time on character development than the other LOST clones out there, but is it too much of a good thing?

One of the staples of Abrams’ post-LOST work, including Revolution and Person of Interest, is the use of flashbacks. For those in the know, LOST was full of flashbacks. Sometimes these trips to the characters’ past were well done, but sometimes if you weren’t paying enough attention, you lost track of where they were in the time stream. Both of Abrams’ subsequent shows have doled out information on the main characters in pieces over time. Person of Interest is a prime example of how dishing out the history of your characters slowly over time creates a deeper connection between the character and the viewer. Also, it has the handy device of the Machine to keep you fully aware of what you’re seeing, and where it falls in the overall timeline. Since Revolution is currently in its infancy, it hasn’t built up quite as much connection. However, it does appear that they are slowly dispensing backstory to build well-rounded characters.

Another thing Bad Robot shows have done well since leaving the Island is creating intriguing mystery. Once again, Person of Interest seems to exemplify the use of a season-long (or in its case seasons-long) arc. To the writers’ credit, it’s not as silly as putting the plug in the hole in the glowing cave at the middle of the Island. The Machine’s existence and purpose is revealed piece by piece. But you don’t have to wait six seasons to find out what’s really going on. This time, the creative team has been giving answers along the way and then posing new questions. To an extent, this move of answering questions in a semi-dystopian setting is paying off on Revolution as well. The writers answered the “what caused the blackout” question mid-way through season 1. Again, they are learning to keep the viewers engaged while still creating a drama that makes people want to keep tuning in.

While the productions of Bad Robot and its former writers have largely sustained genre television as a commercially viable enterprise, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. There are certain notes that all of these shows seem to hit, and that can lead to burnout. Sometimes the LOST nods are obvious and somewhat amusing…the first few times they happen. Oceanic or Ajira flights on Fringe or Once Upon a Time are rather minimally intrusive shout outs. Apollo candy bars have also been known to appear on Once Upon a Time. The number of LOST nods on Once Upon a Time is especially interesting, considering it is not a Bad Robot produced show. Showrunners and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz were long-time LOST writers and producers, however, so this goes to show how the LOST/J.J. Abrams influence has spread beyond the Bad Robot brand.

It’s one thing when these shows include small nods to their common roots or have a similar feel now and then (they all seem to involve a lot of wandering around). It’s another when they adopt some of the worst aspects of their roots wholesale. Again, Once Upon a Time is the prime example. Early in the second season, several of the characters found themselves in the present day Enchanted Forest. All of the Enchanted Forest has been affected by a curse except for a Safe Haven. Safe Haven was forcibly reminiscent of the Temple, which figured prominently in the early sixth season of LOST. The Temple story arc was not one of LOST’s shining moments, and neither was the Safe Haven arc.

It’s clear that J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot have had a lasting effect on the genre television landscape. In some ways, this is a good thing, as it means that genre shows often feature an interesting, non-linear story structure and a decent attempt at character development. It becomes more problematic, however, when the shows start to all have a similar feel and start embracing each other’s worst elements. Has pop culture reached the Bad Robot saturation point? Considering that Abrams and company are now in control of both Star Trek and Star Wars, the answer is, apparently, no. For more opinions and recaps on your favorite shows, check us out at more-tv-please.com.

We want to hear your thoughts on this topic!
Write a comment below or submit an article to Hypable.

Introducing the Hypable app

Free for iOS and Android