On NIP/TUCK last week, one of the characters had a long conversation at a bar with someone who wasn’t there — an old lover who ran off to France. But as I was watching the scene, I realized what seemed like a novel notion just a few years ago — characters talking to full-bodied ghosts/figments of their imagination — has rapidly become a cliche. Now the technique is being used everywhere you look on TV and in every genre you can think of. SIX FEET UNDER, NIP/TUCK, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, GHOST WHISPERER, LOST, MEDIUM,
MISSING, and MONK are just some of the shows that regularly employ the "talking to people who aren’t there" gimmick. I don’t know for sure where it started (SIX FEET UNDER?) but it’s become a staple now of dramatic television. And it’s stupid. Think about it — when was the last time you, or anybody you know who isn’t institutionalized, believed they were seeing and talking to someone who, actually, wasn’t there?
(Oh, and a caveat — this rant is coming from someone who has used the gimmick once or twice himself).
25 thoughts on “The Invisible Character”
Ever been to a church? 😉
It was considered pretty radical and refreshing when used in the British TV drama EDGE OF DARKNESS in 1985; Bob Peck played a policeman whose activist daughter died under mysterious circumstances while investigating a nuclear power company. As he set out to unravel the truth, she’d fall into step beside him and they’d converse.
He showed no surprise at her appearance, and treated her presence as entirely normal. So the sense was that this was a dramatisation of his interior process. But given that most British TV was (and still largely is) committed to a very literal-minded style of naturalism, it seemed quite bold at the time.
Today I just think we call it “blogging.”
Oddly, I talk to the Cylon chick, too. I’m usually nude and covered in vaseline, but oh, do we talk.
Who was it who did the schtick about people talking to themselves? He asked what if they were all in sync, actually? Like the guy on the other end of the conversation was real, just 30 miles away, and everyone thought he was crazy,too.
And what’s sad about the Cylon chick and Tod is the Cylon chick tells him he’s an idiot. I think she also talks to Wendy when Tod’s asleep, comparing notes.
Oddly, in real life, I often talk to myself when I’m not there. But who wants to see THAT on television. Since when is television real life?
My dad still talks to Papa Dave. I daydream about people who are no longer in my life, so I always liked the interactions on SFU but as the seasons went on it became less and less “real”….
And Martin Sheen spoke with the ghost of his personal secretary on West Wing.
Just like Luke Skywalker would chat with Obi Wan.
Then again, Odysseus would confab with Apollo and Moses yacked it up with a brush fire, so it’s not that new of a cliche.
You can also add NCIS. I love the show, but they killed off a main character last season and I thought that would be the last of her. Turns out each of the cast was seeing or talking to her for the first couple of episodes this season.
Re: “Monk”: I never thought that Adrian believes that he’s speaking to the ghost or apparition of his dead wife Trudy.
My impression is that Adrian works out problems and has introspective discussions with himself in a “What-would-Trudy-do/say?” manner and it appears to us, the audience, as if he’s talking to Trudy. Trudy’s “appearances” have been limited to times of great stress (“Cobra” and “Medicine,” for example) or confusion (“Other Woman”) for Adrian and she has always appeared to him in dreams or when he was in a dissociative state brought on by panic (“Cobra”).
IMO, if Adrian is actually speaking to Trudy’s ghost, then that would be stupid.
It’s a shorthand for getting at the internal thoughts of a character without having any other characters become privy to those thoughts. And while it’s fairly stupid, it’s smarter than the alternatives that it’s replacing. [Voiceover narration and ‘character opens up to complete stranger’. And ‘Herman’s Head’.]
We can’t forget the classic of all time, Hamlet.
Talking to people who aren’t “there”… Isn’t that just a metaphor for Hollywood?
American Werewolf in London?
Wait, he wasn’t a ghost, just a rotting decayed undead –
Cool movie, though –
I sometimes talk with my dead husband. And my father, who died over 10 years ago.
yes, Julia, but do you actually see them sitting there as flesh-and-blood?
Currently, the opening scene of the movie “Proof” has Gwyneth having an extremely long conversation with a character who turns out to be imaginary too.
Think about it — when was the last time you, or anybody you know who isn’t institutionalized, believed they were seeing and talking to someone who, actually, wasn’t there?
There were two of them where I used to work – and one of them not only talked to her dead husband, she saved a seat for him at the table when she ate lunch in the cafeteria.
How about Jerry Healy’s Cuddy carrying on conversations with his dead wife.
And she answers.
And his girlfriend does not find this unusual in the least.
“Think about it — when was the last time you, or anybody you know who isn’t institutionalized, believed they were seeing and talking to someone who, actually, wasn’t there?”
If TV were meant to be a reflection of true life, it would be boring as hell. IMHO, people watch TV, see movies and read books to entertain themselves with a good story and get get away from the ordinary grind. There will always be cliches and trends. Every creative idea has been done before, in some form. Whatever idea you think is stupid – sooner or later someone will re-invent it and do it well. I can appreciate any story idea that is well done, and that is the important thing to me. No, I’ve never seen anyone talk to someone they actually believe is there in the flesh, but I also haven’t seen spaceships, aliens, magic or any number of other things I regularly see in a good story. 🙂
I did this fifteen years ago with a romantic comedy script that got everyone excited for about ten minutes, then died because it was — apparently — too unconventional. Guess I was ahead of my time.
I see dozens of people talking to themselves everyday — having loud, animated conversations complete with hand gestures — then I realize they are talking on cellphones, especially the hand-free kind with little earpieces. It’s getting harder to tell the lunatics from the cell-phone users (if there’s an appreciable difference).
It’s not “stupid.” It’s magical realism. When it works, elements of the fantastic are woven into the story with a kind of deadpan sincerity. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and SIX FEET UNDER do it brilliantly.
Love the way it was done in A Beautiful Mind. Of course, the main character had a few problems…