Continuity: Examples from TV

My beautiful wife and I have just celebrated 11 years of marriage. Most of those years have been fantastic, even if there were challenges to overcome. Marriage is awesome when you both put in the effort to look after one another and keep the marriage healthy. It pays dividends like no other investment.

One of our traditions that has developed over the years is we like to celebrate our anniversary by completely relaxing. We buy the latest season of Law and Order SVU and NCIS and then binge watch over a weekend.

Today I’m going to blog about the observations I made on continuity watching both seasons. Continuity is important for all series, whether book or TV.

Admittedly the importance of continuity is variable. In a show like 24 which is a long movie sliced into episodes, continuity must be high. In space travelogs like Star Trek, each episode can be disconnected, needing only broad story arcs or ongoing, glacial-speed, character development.

After watching both SVU (season 18) and NCIS (season 14) I have observed both a good and bad example of continuity. Before our weekend of relaxation, we re-aquainted ourselves with both shows by watching the last disc of the previous seasons.

SVU had us hooked. In the last two episodes of season 17 the Assistant District Attorney, Barba, picked a fight with the powerful Corrections Union. The Union didn’t take kindly to his ‘meddling’. Twice in the last episode the ADA receives death threats up-close-and-personal. We couldn’t wait.

I personally hoped they’d drag out the threat for at least several episodes. However I feared they’d resolve it in a neat bow in a single episode, making it both a shallow threat and a hollow victory. Never did I consider it wouldn’t be mentioned again. At all. The threat somehow disappeared. This is completely lacking in continuity. Very disappointing and a rude betrayal of the audience.

Contrast that to NCIS. After 13 seasons, character Anthony DiNozzo was saying goodbye to the series. Having done 306 episodes in the series, DiNozzo, has been an important and long-running character. How the show handled his departure was excellent.

While they could have killed him for shock factor, it would have put a lot of viewers off-side who had come to like him over the years. Instead they removed him from the story in an epilogue to the romance that was Tony and Ziva. After Ziva (who left the show in season 11) is killed by a mortar attack, Tony discovers they have a daughter. And so, using that as the premise, he leaves NCIS to travel with his daughter to France, which Ziva loved. He leaves the series on a positive note, “moving on to better things.”

Now as I said, Tony was a foundational character. Had he disappeared without a trace and never being mentioned again, it would have been strange. As a long-term colleague and friend he should be missed and reminisced about. All throughout season 14 there are references to Tony, a ‘fight’ over who gets to buy his apartment, and his dad popping in and out of episodes. The references add to our closure and also make his ongoing story seem more real.

So there we have two examples from TV: SVU commits the cardinal sin of continuity (ignoring continuity on a cliffhanger) and NCIS beautifully eases a long-term character over the horizon.

This is obviously just my opinion, do you have anything to add?

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