TV talk

Does the monster of the week live on in Primeval?

I was recently watching season one of the British show Primeval and it struck me that this show is the perfect example of the ‘monster of the week’ format. The show’s entire premise revolves around capturing, stopping, or killing monsters that enter modern times through time portals. Sometimes the monsters are from long ago; at other times they are from the future. There is an underlying story of the team assembled to stop these creatures and the phenomena causing all these time portals. As with any show involving time, things get confused when events occasionally serve to change the timeline—a convenient reason to completely shake up the show, add or remove characters, or even alter the ‘world’ in which the shows exists.

Until I stumbled on this show I’d thought the ‘monster of the week’ format had become a dying breed. Some shows like Fringe masquerade as ‘monster of the week’ until they can get up and running with a longer story arc, but it seems to be the longer stories that really build a fan base. Or so I thought. Primeval is heading into its fifth season and seems to change characters often. Even traditional SciFi favorites like Star Trek and SG1 held tightly to a core group of characters to pull fans along through their very episodic formats. The beauty of episodic shows is that they are easier to pick-up mid season or to watch in a hit or miss fashion. For show creators, it is a double sided coin—viewers don’t feel compelled to watch every week but you also don’t lose viewers who might give up if they miss an episode or two.

Do you like ‘monster of the week’ shows or do you prefer longer story arcs?

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17 thoughts on “Does the monster of the week live on in Primeval?

  1. I like when the two are combined – like Bella said about Buffy, and the X-Files and the conspiracy theory episodes. Ooh, especially the ones that you think are monster-of-the-week and then BAM! It’s really an arc.

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  2. I prefer longer story arcs when I actually watch something for any length of time… LIke both methods however and when every once in a while turn on the television it is nice to see an episode in a show that you do not have to know the background of what came before for it to make sense..
    That is why my husband and myself love to watch Twilight re-runs, even though it was built on a format to make it a series the fact that each show was different characters and plot made it interesting and if you missed a week you did not miss out on character development…

    Nice question Charlie, it made me think about what I liked when I used to be a TV’aholic!

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  3. I love Primeval! I’m an Andrew Lee Potts fangirl.

    For me it depends on the show, but overall I prefer a blend of the two with the ‘Monster’ taking the foreground. I think Supernatural (mind, I haven’t seen all of the latest season yet) does a great job of blending the “Monster of the Week” with the long story arc.

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  4. I’m more of a series fan so I like longer arches on TV, too. Sometimes I’m frustrated with a show that doesn’t have character development or story arches (that was one of my problems with Star Trek: TNG and Voyager).

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    • Also, I don’t watch live TV much. I usually buy TV shows on DVD and watch the season whenever I want to. I think that the TV format of one episode a week isn’t necessarily the best way to tell a continuous storyline – the audience can forget too much between episodes. Not to mention cliffhanger endings…

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    • Star Trek TOS didn’t have much along those lines either, but that was more the norm for those times. Enterprise actually had a lot of long form story telling. I think that is why I had trouble with it when I was watching it hit or miss on TV, but loved it online.

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  5. I’m just getting close to finishing up what has been a year long bit of research that asked exactly that question. My answer agrees with almost everything said above: you have to have a neigh onto perfect balance between the “Complete in an Episode” and the “story arc” solutions.

    The true key to long-lived success is that the viewer/reader must feel a sense of completion at the end of each episode (occational cliff hangers are excellent, but too many burns out the audience), avoid too much of the will-they-or-won’t-they trope, and yet provide the audience with enough of an arc to keep them interested. It used to be that you had to avoid stories which left the viewer lost if they didn’t see every episode, but the ease of recording or watching old episodes on the web has removed that problem.

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