Does Every Geek TV Series Need To Require Hours Of Homework?

I love Easter eggs. I want you to keep that in mind as you read this. I actually like fan service. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm a fan. Service me. After all, who's going to appreciate little nods to a universe that's been around for a long time more than fans who have either just discovered and devoured what's already out there or someone who has been a fan from the beginning? Hell, if they ever get around to making a franchise out of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels and Menolly's cave flute is in the background of a Harper Hall scene, I'll be the first to point it out. I'm not about to suggest that everything that is made has to be accessible to every single person who has the privilege of watching something on a screen.

However, some shows and films are getting to the point where they absolutely require homework for you to get a full picture of what you're watching. I'm not just talking about Marvel and Star Wars shows or films here, either. Did any of you watch "Westworld?" I loved the show. I even wrote chapters for the book "Westworld Psychology: Violent Delights." Rewatches and pausing to take notes are obligatory if you're writing a chapter for a book, but before that, I was just a fan. Despite how much I loved the show, I was taking notes long before I was assigned a chapter. I took them so I could understand what was happening. 

Violent delights

The entire show was convoluted. I loved it, but I felt like an idiot sometimes, trying to figure out how other people noticed that the different aspect ratios meant different time periods, or how I had to keep my phone open to the Wiki page to remind myself what was going on. I love a good mystery, but at some point, shows like this become too dense for their own good. Gosh, some fans even watched a Finnish (I think) language version with the subtitles on and figured out where the theme park was. That is commitment! I never ended up watching the third season because I just couldn't psych myself up for the research I had to do to remember who was an ally, who was a host, and which side everyone was on. I think this is part of the reason that "Eternals" didn't work as well as it could have. So much was shoved in there that you had to know a lot beforehand to keep everyone straight. As pretty as that film was, the story was weak compared to all the superfan nods shoved in there. The reaction bears that out.

Sometimes, it's fun to dig for clues. We all did it with "WandaVision." I loved that show as well (other than that CGI finale), but we were all expecting so many Easter eggs and clues to what the hell was happening that we all imagined Mephisto in every corner. In the end, so many fans were disappointed that all those obvious (I'm sorry, but they were) nods to a particular big bad didn't pan out, that what was essentially a meditation on grief and a tribute to TV shows past lost a lot of its appeal. Being deliberately obscure and/or adding so many misdirects is starting to become more of a pastime for TV and film writers than just telling a good story. 

Just tell me the story

Some of the blame for this lies with us, the audience. We of the geek community try to dig for every nuance in a 15-second teaser video to try to spoil things for ourselves, and Hollywood is just responding to what we're doing. I just believe that it's gone so far that we have to psych ourselves up to watch something that we may end up speaking about at the water cooler the next day, virtual though that water cooler may be. Did I draw the wrong conclusion? Will I be teased for not figuring out something that my friends thought was obvious? (For me, it's sometimes, did I miss that teensy tiny Easter egg that was blurry in the background and that I could only see if I did a freeze-frame at just the right moment without any reason to?) 

I am aware of the wrath I'm inviting by saying this, but some of DC's films have suffered from this in the same way that Marvel has. There was a whole lot of lore shoved into the Snyder cut. (You can stop throwing tomatoes at me. I'm wearing a raincoat.) Whatever you thought of the film (some of it was better — some of it was worse in my opinion, and you're very much allowed to have yours), the main story was obscured by throwing in every little nod they could possibly come up with. Sometimes it's okay to just tell a story. 

Some shows get it right

"Game of Thrones" suffered from this issue as well, and until the final season — which was garbage — it was a great show. However, I still had Wikipedia open while I watched, and I read the books several times each. One of the issues with the final season (and yes, there are spoilers ahead) is that, while there were nods to what was happening with Daenerys, there weren't enough. Maybe some of you picked up on it, but for most people, it was an abrupt turn when she broke bad. I have theories on why that is, and it's not just because the showrunners were running off to do a different project. I think they spent so much time trying to cram everything from the books in and setting up mystery after mystery that they forgot about storytelling. Fans spent so many hours looking for clues and references to obscure things that they couldn't catch it all anyway. More attention should have been paid to her character development, and less to putting every little detail from the books in. Good show or not, it was exhausting to watch.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be Easter eggs in things. I loved hunting for them in "Hawkeye," noticing the similarities to the comics, and guessing if a certain character was, in fact, Madame Masque. The reason that show worked where others have fallen apart though, is that I didn't need to know these things to understand a story that was solid already. It's why I recommended "Hawkeye" to my non-comic book fan parents, where I didn't with "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." It's why my Mom would call me to explain some of the things in "Game of Thrones," and not with "Outlander." It's probably why she gave up on "Westworld" as well.

Thank goodness for wikis

Often this happens because a lot of shows seem to be advertisements for what's coming next. "WandaVision" suffered from this in a way that "Hawkeye didn't." (Yes, "Echo" is coming, but setting it up was so deftly handled that you really didn't see the ad for another show. Her story was narratively perfect for everything else that was going on.) With viewers having access to every Hollywood deal these days, we know what's coming, so we take it upon ourselves to hunt for clues, and we're being given what we've asked for. 

That takes away from the enjoyment as well. We know when someone is joining or leaving a show and when someone is connected to one. Be honest. You were upset that Doctor Strange and Reed Richards didn't show up in "WandaVision," and you were slightly disappointed that you know the big reveal in the latest "Spider-Man" film. However, you were likely delighted by the cameo in "The Mandalorian" because not only did it not leak (at least that I saw), but you didn't have to try to hit the books figure out who that was. It didn't matter if you knew who Bo-Katan was or what the Darksaber was. You could look things up if you wanted to, but you didn't have to. All the information was given to you with the storytelling. It's an example of how to do Easter eggs right.

Storytelling 101

There is something to be said for just writing a good story. Maybe pepper these things in after you have that part done. "Wouldn't it be so freaking cool if ... " is a fun thing to add, but maybe have a solid narrative before you start like "Hawkeye" and "The Mandalorian." Stories are supposed to connect with people and maybe give an insight into another way of thinking. They're supposed to evoke something emotional in you, and that something isn't supposed to be panic that you might not understand what's going on unless you have years of history with a property. Of course, a story doesn't have to connect with everyone. It can just be for fans. Still, it should be the story that makes you care, not how it connects to everything else or how many nods to other stories you can shove in there.

I'll get off my soapbox now. I have a lot of reading to do before I turn on my TV.