So like, I have opinions about how shows should structure themselves. Specifically like adventure-y, action-y shows like the Hundo. It’s built upon my years and years and years of watching shit like Buffy, Farscape, Charmed, Roswell, etc. (Micheal Geurin ILY)
This is basically my Grand Plan for when I inevitably am given a CW show. Inevitably. You know I’m for cereal because I’m going full adult capitalization on this bitch.
Overall Show Structure
First of all, I think a show should know how long it wants to run. There should be an end date in mind rather than letting it just go on forever until it dies in a last, pathetic choke for relevance. Yeah, lookin’ to you SPN. As far as I’m concerned 3, 5, and 7 seasons are the best options for intended length but I think an argument can be made for other choices.
I’m going to focus on a 5 season structure because it’s the one I think is best from both a story telling and fandom supporting stance. So, lets brush quickly on why I think 3 and 7 seasons are also good options.
3 Season Run
This form of the story is clear, concise and focused. There’s nothing extraneous in a short run like this and I think there’s a lot to be said for clean story telling like this. In a 3 season run season 1 shows us who characters are and what their relationships are; season 2 tests those relationships and asks characters to stretch themselves; season 3 breaks those relationships and the tensions first overcome in season 1 as the tearing points.
7 Season Run
Telling a story for this long is a big ask. A lot changes in that many seasons and honestly, I think this is the longest possible run before a show loses coherency (crime procedurals can escape this but I think they’re a unique breed). The 7 season show follows the same structure as the 5 season run but the last 2 seasons pull from a dangled bit of information in season 3. This’ll make a little more sense as we dig into my season break down. You’re also almost certainly looking at some pretty big central cast choices by the end of 7 seasons.
5 Season Run
Okay, so my personal favourite, the 5 season run. I think this is the best length for a show of this type, action adventure stories that are ultimately about people. In a 5 season run you build characters, break them down, and let them reform themselves. 5 seasons is enough to really explore the depths of characters with time and focus but not so long that you end up repeating personal stories in clumsy ways. In broad brush strokes seasons 1 and 2 set up who are characters are and what their relationships will be; season 3 picks away and their sense of self and leaves them at their lowest point in it’s finale; seasons 4 and 5 build them back up, reaffirm who they are and why it is that they’re doing this.
Season By Season Breakdown
A good first season is a hard one. You need a small, tight story with small, personal stakes. This is where you set up the core of your show (hopefully the central cast that will carry all the way to the end of your run) and tell us who we’re rooting for. We’re given 3 or 4 characters who are going to be at the heart of our show and we need to learn who they are. It’s important that they have interpersonal tension and that by the end of the season they have a stable, working relationship.
This is also when you want to keep the stakes low. No one saves the world in the first season. Where do you go from there? The first season is about personal danger and personal stakes. We shouldn’t even meet the real antagonist this season. Our plucky heroes duke it out with lackies and maybe a lieutenant, a second or third in command. We hear about but never meet the Big Bad. The season ends with the heroes defeating the small scale. For Buffy that was overcoming a prophecy of her own death. For the Hundo that was repelling an attacking force from their home. Small scale, personal. It shows us who our characters are but doesn’t ask to much of them.
All those relationships we set up in season 1 are going to be tested. We’re going to meet the Big Bad who was calling the shots last season and we’re going to take a swing at them. But season 2 also leads directly from season 1, maybe there’s a time jump but it’s short. Maybe there’s a new direction but it is born out of the ashes of the season 1 finale hook.
Our core group expands, they stretch their wings and test what their relationships do under the stress of higher odds. Season 2 feels pressure on a bigger scale, the core group aren’t the only ones at stake now. Maybe it’s family and friends, or their town. The Big Bad has seen that they really are a threat and is playing for keeps. In a fatal show we should suffer a loss that hurts in the final episodes. There is a victory but it’s not without it’s losses
We get a departure from our first two seasons. Season 3 can take a time jump, it doesn’t have to fall directly on the heels of the second season. But something late in season 1 comes back up. A good way to play this is to take the antagonist from a two episode arch shortly before the conclusion of season 1 and make them a big deal. This is a good time to make the antagonist here someone with whom the Big Bad in the first two seasons had their own tension with. The heroes do this antagonist a favour when they take out the Big Bad but it proves that they’re a force to be reckoned with.
This is a good season to narrow down, break a couple of those relationships. Swinging at the Big Bad last season cost our heroes something. In season 3 we know that heroes don’t have plot armor, the Good Guys don’t always walk away. The loss of a friend and the knowledge that this probably wont be the last loss weighs heavily on our heroes. They handle it differently and it starts to rupture the fabric of the group. Tension in the season is born of a question of how or if our group will stick together.
This is a good season to have one of our heroes play on the dark side a little. Maybe our new antagonist isn’t totally wrong about the way they view the world.
The end of this season should see this antagonist dead and our heroes tentatively recommitted to the cause. A Pyrrhic victory at the conclusion of this season can make sure our heroes don’t want those deaths to be in vain.
At some point in first half of the first season a lacky mentioned some Ultimate Villain that our first Big Bad was afraid of. Yeah, that mother fucker is back in the game. Or heroes are only tentatively recommitted to the cause, they’re as dark as we’ve ever seen them and they’re not all comfortable with the things they’ve done to get here. So season 4 is going to make them earn it. This is a season where they’re asked to prove that they are hero types, to make hard calls, to stretch themselves.
But we also get victories. Someone they helped in the first or second season comes back as a guest star, is involved in their lives in a positive way because they helped them. This is where we get to see our heroes really commit, really see that they’re a force for good.
At the end of season 4 the Ultimate Villain isn’t defeated but they know what they have to do. They have achieved the first half of defeating this villain, maybe it’s securing a Magic Item, or a certain location, maybe it’s just figuring out who the fuck the villain actually is and what that means. But at the end of season 4 our heroes are poised to take their step at the Ultimate Villain. This is where we have our “I aim to misbehave” speech. Going into the fifth season our heroes are hard, are focused, and are ready to take no prisoners.
We should get a victory march. Season 5 should be an absolutely adoring ode to why we love these characters. It shouldn’t be easy for them, hell no. It should cost. We need one of the core group to die, absolutely. And die senselessly, die because the group make a stupid arrogant call because they’re the Heroes and they forgot what that can cost. Season 5 should pull away the arrogance that they learned in seasons 2, 3 and 4. By the end of season 5 they defeat the Ultimate Villain and walk out on top, but they do it by being the characters we first meet, the best versions of themselves. They have had all their rough edges buffed away by seasons of hardship and then they have the arrogance that winning gave them kicked out by hard, aching losses. But at the end of the finale the surviving cast should be their best selves, alive and well because they were the people that their friends could count on and because their relationships have helped make them the best they can be.
So. Yeah. Someone give me a show.