A Clever Anthology Series Can Become A Classic
If my positive reviews of media like The Magnus Archives, Black Mirror, and The Twilight Zone weren’t a clear indication, I have a particular fondness for anthology storytelling. It doesn’t matter if the stories are interconnected or not. It’s the structure that appeals.
The thing about normal storytelling is, by necessity, it locks itself in fast. You have the same main characters, the same rules, and the same settings. Engagement is based on connecting to the same specific characters over and over and wanting to see what happens to them during a story.
But when you’ve seen enough stories, you learn a lot about the stock characters and outcomes. There’s less and less to latch onto because of sheer predictability. Longer-form storytelling, like a television show with multiple seasons, can overcome this by showing many facets of the same person. They become old friends.
Anthologies Attack Stories From A Different Angle
But the anthology format sidesteps this. The character writing is efficient—focusing on broad likeability. More often than not, the engagement is based on intrigue and interest in imaginative story ideas. Sure, there might be a reoccurring character(s), but their main function is to get to the novel aspects faster. If there are any other unifying concepts, it’s usually a loose theme.
An Anthology Just Needs A Loose Theme To Work
For instance, Black Mirror episodes must have some way technology goes wrong or is used maliciously—that’s the only rule. It can be in the future or the present. It can be about love, war, fame, or anything else. A Goosebumps book must have some kid-friendly spin on a horror idea—and a zany title. As long as it has those things, it’s still recognizable as itself.
When there are no long-term rules for what you can do in a story, you’re free to go all-out with an idea. An entire show can’t easily be about a comedian discovering they can sacrifice parts of their life to a laughing crowd, but a single Twilight Zone episode can do so with enthusiasm. It can take the idea and run with it to a satisfying end. There’s no genuine worry about status quo, keeping your characters alive, or even keeping the world undestroyed.
The Story Has The Room To Take A Lot More Risks
And finally, outside of the storytelling creativity, the variety, and the unique feel of watching multiple episodes, it’s also a splendid vehicle to promote creators. The upcoming Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities features eight horror directors. If one episode speaks to you, it might send you down a rabbit hole of discovery. You might find a director you wouldn’t have otherwise ever heard of or enjoyed.
The anthology format is just fantastic. It slinks around my critical jadedness and brings a feeling of wanton creativity. Sure, some stories will suck—but others will be amazing. Some will feel repetitive, but others will introduce an idea that will affect all pop culture. It’s a format with that kind of power.
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