‘I had to lie to my co-workers for months’: the art of making a great TV turn | Television

Aactors Jameela JamilD’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, and William Jackson Harper sits in a row, heads bowed forward in anticipation. The viral video in which they are caught is called Cast of The Good Place React to Season 1 Finale, and it has 870,000 views.

About 28 seconds into the video, Jamil and Carden bring their hands to their mouths in shock, Harper lets out a grateful “OHHH!” and Jacinto shakes his head in disbelief. The stars of the show were recently told that their characters were not in the sky – as the series’ creator Michael Schur made them believe while filming The Good Placethe first 12 episodes of – but they were in hell, “The Bad Place”, all the time.

The audience reacted with similar shock and joy; the revelation is ranked sixth on the Ringer’s list of the 50 best movies and TV shows of all time. The twist is a precisely measured mix of simple and unpredictable: the audience thought that four troubled people had been mistakenly sent to heaven and tried their hardest to fit in and learn how to be good. High jokes and horrors occurred until our protagonist Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) realized that there was no mistake: this was a complex form of psychological torture designed by a demon named Michael (Ted Danson).

The la Red Wedding in Game of Thrones a Breaking BadThere’s an extremely shocking zoom on a plant pot, we all know how amazing it is to watch a deadly twist: the geese on our arms, the uncontrollable “OHHH!”.

This year, another show has continued that long tradition. Apple TV + s Separationwhich aired in the spring, was a delicious buffet of “Someone-we-believed-was-dead-not-dead”, and, “Oh-not-this-character is-the-exact-opposite-of-what- – But while the TV twist may seem like an act of witchcraft, there is an art to writing one. crew?

“It was weird because I was like,‘ This is a show that is basically about ethics, and I’m going to lie to my co-workers for months now, ’” says Schur of The Good Place. To avoid leaks and stop the actors from overstating their roles, he kept the twist on a need-to-know basis: of the six main cast, only Bell and Danson knew. “I found out later that Ted blew it all over town,” he says, “but luckily none of the people he said decided to let the cat out of the bag.”

The good and the bad ... (from left) Ted Danson as Michael, D'Arcy Carden as Janet, William Jackson Harper as Chidi, Manny Jacinto as Jianyu, Jameela Jamil as Tehani, Kristen Bell as Eleanor in The Good Place.
The good and the bad … (from left) Ted Danson as Michael, D’Arcy Carden as Janet, William Jackson Harper as Chidi, Manny Jacinto as Jianyu, Jameela Jamil as Tehani, Kristen Bell as Eleanor in The Good Place. Photo: NBC / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal / Getty Images

Schur says this seeing 1995s The Usual Suspects – with its revelation of the real identity of villain Keyser Söze considered one of the best twists of all time – “was one of the greatest experiences of my life”. Schur wanted The Good Place to have a similarly big revelation, and see if “I could do something like this in this day and age where everyone guesses everything and people are very, very wise.” In 2017, Redditors rightly predicted an upcoming plot change in season two of Westworldand showrunner Jonathan Nolan therefore had to rewrite the script.

For Severance creator Dan Erickson, it’s not a bad thing when fans discover plot twists. “If absolutely no one guesses the twist, it’s almost unbridled. It means your choice is too crazy, ”he says. His science fiction series focuses on employees at Megacorp Light who have split their home and work so that everyone has no memory of each other’s lives. Office rookie Helly R is bothered by the procedure, which leaves her feeling like she is always at work. She tries to stop, but her “outie” at home won’t let her. In the final episode of season one, we discover that Helly R is Helena Eagan, daughter of the CEO of Lumon.

“Even right after the second episode,” Erickson says, he spotted “circles” of people discovering Helly’s real identity, both online and among his own friends. “At first I was like,‘ Oh, no, did we make it too obvious? ’, But it’s a balance. When people look back, [you want it to seem like] it didn’t come out of nowhere. ”

It’s a subtle dance. “You take it even half a step too far and everyone guessed the turn,” Erickson says. In the writers’ rooms, Schur often quotes Aristotle that the best endings are “surprising, yet inevitable.” “If you don’t leave enough bread crumbs, it won’t feel inevitable, but if you leave too many, it won’t feel a surprise,” he says. So how exactly are you Hansel and Gretel the right amount? Both Schur and Erickson say humor can be used to mask clues.

Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore and Thandiwe Newton as Maeve Millay in Westworld.
Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore and Thandiwe Newton as Maeve Millay in Westworld. Photo: Home Box Office (HBO) / HBO

“In our second episode, Ted Danson sees a dog and runs up and kicks it in the sun and it explodes,” Schur says, explaining that he hoped the audience would be too busy laughing to think hard about the scene. “After all, you’re like, ‘How come we didn’t know this guy was bad?’ He kicked a dog! ‘”In Severance, a seemingly minor character, workplace counselor Ms Casey (Dichen Lachman) is shown to be the wife of protagonist Mark Scout (Adam Scott). Mark’s “innie” doesn’t know he has a wife; his outie thinks his wife is dead. The series ends with the should-seem-cheesy-but-actually-spin-itchy words: “SHHHHE’S LIVE!”

“We wanted to hide it in plain sight,” says Erickson. To that end, Ms. Casey was originally presented as a satire of corporate welfare procedures. Erickson brings Star Wars. “She is OK The Empire Strikes BackYoda is this evil little hermit guy before you find out he’s the Jedi Master Luke is looking for … We’re not looking for another reason for him to be on screen because he’s making us laugh. “

However, some twists break all the rules, with very few crumbs placed in front of them. In the first episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy suddenly had a sister, Dawn, and the characters acted as if she was there all along (slowly, during the season, viewers discover the in-universe reason for Dawn’s appearance). One of the show’s writers, Jane Espenson, says no one could have predicted the twist. “It was a funny suggestion about Dawn’s arrival, which was designed just to be noticed in retrospect,” she reveals. (At the end of the fourth season, one of the characters, in a dream, remarks: “Come back before dawn.”) “Obviously anyone who watched that and said, ‘I bet they’re featuring someone named Dawn’ Espenson notes, however, it was important to include it so that the writers would not be accused of inventing things as they went. is mostly compensated as you go, “she says,” but you do your best to keep a little ahead of it. “

From left: Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris and Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
From left: Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris and Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Espenson believes that now there are few logical moves that show that no one will anticipate (“Kill a main character, jump on time, reveal a different culprit … they are so well known now”). The temptation, then, is for illogical twists, or red herrings. In one Severance scene our main characters find a strange room full of kids. I ask Erickson if he put it there to distract the audience from discovering other twists.

“I wasn’t allowed to put the goats there until I had a pretty good explanation of how it would pay off,” he says (though viewers are still waiting for a response). Erickson and executive producer Jackie Cohn used the term “Hurley Birds” to warn each other of nonsensical developments. Hurley was a central character in ABC’s twist-tactics Lost, and in two episodes of the show, a strange bird flies by and shouts its name. “Then it’s never referenced again, the whole show,” Erickson says. “They probably thought they could find something to do with it later – we’re trying to avoid that.”

However, it can be daunting to write more turns after pulling off a successful one-shock season. Espenson believes that viewers suffer from “twisting”, where people expect even the twist to have a twist. Schur says, “It’s a bit like M Night Shyamalan movies: you watch the trailer just thinking, what’s the big turn? It’s a little annoying to think I’m just going to be pressured here again.”

Erickson is “terrified” to think about expectations for season two of Severance: “It’s hard to play the same game over and over again,” he says. You might think he’s mastered the whole thing, but there’s no step-by-step science to the perfect trick. “I still don’t quite understand what makes my twists work.”

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