To Dan Erickson, creator of the enigmatic TV series Split, released in February, they had advised against going to Reddit, a site that is a bit forum and a bit social network that hosts conversations on various topics, including TV series. “For about six minutes I managed to resist, but then I went there every day: it’s addicting.” Referring to Reddit users, Erickson, who as the creator of the series has decided the plot, twists and turns, had added: “sometimes they have better ideas than mine.”
For those who think, write and distribute the series, the users who on the Internet try – often succeeding – to hypothesize and anticipate where and how the story will go, represent many things: an opportunity to ensure that it is discussed and watched. and a stimulus to do better, but also, from other points of view, a risk.
There is in fact the real danger that a series will be ruined by users who unmask its evolutions ahead of schedule, and there is also the possibility that, to ensure that this does not happen, the authors end up making series that are too hermetic, tangled and inscrutable. .
The fan theories, the theories and hypotheses of spectators who are quite passionate about a film or a series, have existed for some time but have only become relevant thanks to the internet, which has allowed many people to collaborate in the analysis and elaboration of every type of theory. Years ago, the professor and expert of media culture Jason Mittell spoke of “forensic fandom”, For the way in which some series were investigated and debated online.
Speaking of online theorists, journalist Shirley Li wrote aboutAtlantic that “they are fans who dismantle scenes in search of clues, listen to dialogues with the attention of an undercover agent” and who above all are people who “don’t just want to watch something, they want to have the power to solve it”.
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The first series in connection with which fan theories manifested themselves most intensely was Lost, which aired between 2004 and 2010, the period in which social networks such as Facebook and Reddit were founded and began to spread. Those theories – often taken up, reworked or even directly proposed by important sites – partly made the series’ fortune, which due to its characteristics lent itself very well to be dissected and interpreted.
When many of these theories were obviously disregarded, complaints came from those who had envisaged a different ending. Series co-creator Damon Lindelof didn’t like it at all. He left Twitter and talked about the “harmful obsession” of having to stand up to the many fan theories.
From Lost onwards, several other series have attracted the attention of those who make hypotheses and theories online. Some sites, rather than reviews or comments, dedicate themselves, episode after episode, to collect and sometimes directly elaborate conjectures and assumptions on the evolution of certain series, especially those series that – before Netflix and the binge watching – came out on a weekly basis. Among the many, it happened to do so also at Post: with game of Throneswith Westworld and, more recently, with Stranger Things.
In some cases, the proliferation of online theories has brought good to the series, increasing interest and deliberately putting viewers in the position of having to collaborate to develop theories, or at least keep up to date on those developed by others, so as to better connect all the points and then enjoy the series on a deeper level. That’s partly what happened, at least in his early seasons, with Westworlda series full of puzzles and mysteries, which even the protagonists themselves are often unaware of.
Westworld – which in its first season is set in an “Old West” theme park populated by anthropomorphic robots who rebel against humans – has been criticized by some as too crazy, and by others because, on the contrary, while it was still on the air, Reddit understood much of what there was to understand.
At the same time, however, the series was also appreciated for its ability to stimulate reasoning and for its being structured in such a way that (even through clues and details put out of the series, for example on the sites connected to it) viewers could solve certain puzzles even before the protagonists: «the twists are used to hit the characters of WestworldHe wrote Vox “Not his spectators.”
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Instead, the series was almost only criticized Mr. Robot when, only after the first episode of the second season, a theory began to spread online that in the plans of those who had created the series should have revealed itself only after several episodes. In that case, many viewers found themselves watching several episodes almost without suspense, gradually finding confirmation that their theory was correct. That theory spread while the next few episodes were still shooting and Sam Esmail, the creator of the series, said that on the set, the prevailing reaction was: “oh shit, we’re screwed.”
More recently, this sort of competition between writers and theorists has been talked about for the series Yellowjacketswhich many have related to Lostand even more for SplitErickson’s series about a group of office workers whose memory is split so that while they work they remember nothing about life outside of work, and vice versa.
Speaking of his frequent spins on the Reddit channel of SplitErickson told theAtlantic to have reacted with some anxiety to the fact that, by correctly interpreting a single sentence that he had judged insignificant, certain spectators had discovered the identity of a character prematurely. “In hindsight I think we shouldn’t have put that sentence, or that we should have made that detail even more obscure.”
Always atAtlanticJonathan Lisco, one of the writers of Yellowjackets he said that by now, for a series like this, it is “inevitable” that while writing new episodes we end up talking about fan theories, that certain theories become the starting point for certain plot twists and that this “cross-pollination »Between spectators and screenwriters can do well but also« mess up ».
To want to see it positively, the presence and relevance of these theories creates more passionate and competent spectators than serial mechanisms, which consequently leads to less lazy and increasingly intriguing and original screenwriting choices.
However, it must be borne in mind that, despite the relative success of pages, forums, subreddits, articles, YouTube channels and podcasts dedicated to the dissection of certain series (as well as sagas, series and various cinematic universes), in many cases the majority of viewers of a series he just watches it, perhaps discussing it with friends or family but without even going to read theories made by others. It is one thing to solve a puzzle in a thousand, on the internet; another is to try to do it yourself from the sofa at home.
It follows that, although the writers and authors of certain series must keep in mind the challenge represented by the fans who, elaborating theories, sometimes take us, there is also to keep in mind the possibility that, in order to stimulate, satisfy or overcome certain particularly avid and witty spectators can miss many others who are less attentive. To try to satisfy a few thousand users on Reddit, in fact, you risk getting lost and confusing too many other viewers who just wanted to be entertained, an hour every week, by a series, without venturing into too many complex puzzles to solve.
The difficulty, for those who think and write TV series, therefore lies in the fragile balance between different needs of different types of viewers, and in having to keep up to date and informed about the theories, but at the same time free from excessive influences. Erickson, who is currently working on the second season of Splithe had said that at one point he had also had to move away from Reddit, “because it can be counterproductive to have all those rumors buzzing in your head, interesting as they may be.”
It is not said, however, that every series must always be an enigma to be explored, a riddle to be solved or a mystery to be revealed. “They often have these Machiavellian theories about someone playing the triple game against someone else,” said Tony Roche speaking of the third season of Successionof which he is executive producer: “but too many times people make us smarter than we really are.”
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