The Care and Feeding of New Viewers (and I’ve now spelled ‘Whedon’ correctly) #dsxp #darkshadows

On the collinsporthistoricalsociety.com interview, someone pondered my decision to start new viewers so late into the series. This was a better platform for me to respond. The website that hosts Cousin Barnabas, which may be a wordpress site, doesn’t seem to be as iOS friendly as this one. Or at least,  friendly to the app that I’m using. (Blogsy… ask your doctor if it’s right for you.)

I appreciate the support! Still, I stand behind my suggestion to break in new viewers with volume 13. And keep in mind, that is extremely drastic! By volume 13, we’ve skipped Bill Malloy, the Phoenix, Jason McGuire, all of the beginning of Barnabas, 1795, Cassandra, Adam, Nicholas Blair, the Jennings Brothers, and the haunting of Collinwood by Quentin. Yep, you read that right. Now, let me explain why. And the first caveat I have to proffer is that I don’t believe that any of the previous material is worthless. Hardly! But newbies are in no way prepared for what DS is or has to offer. I get inundated with questions about my favorite episode or my favorite season, leading me to pause and stammer like William Shatner in his prime on the $20,000 PYRAMID. I mean, where do you even start to explain the impossible task of picking a favorite episode out of 1225 on the show that ran five days a week, 52 weeks a year? (Actually, this recent process has given me several great places to begin if I have to haul out a single episode here and there. But I’d rather not do that.) This is a show that is meant to be watched in large swaths, even if you break that up over many months.

So, newbies have no idea what viewing the show is actually like. Or of the commitment that is required. I think they see it like Star Trek or The Prisoner, where you can show a single episode and give them the basic idea of the program. They also have (and this is not as snobby a criticism as it’s going to initially sound) an attention span that has probably been crafted by modern television. I think they’ll look at it like TRUE BLOOD or one of the Joss Whedon TV shows, when in fact it’s much for like THE WIRE. Yeah, try showing someone a random episode of that television show. Lots of luck!

Unless you start from day one/episode one, you will be in the position of doing expository translating and explaining. It’s just going to happen. Given that, you might as well start them at the most interesting point in the series – and by interesting, I mean the point in the series that has the most wacky stuff going on at the most frequent pace. The idea, for me at least, is to get them hooked. Volume 13 is that point for me. It begins the 1897 storyline and if you look at that volume, it has more crazy stuff in it than any prior three or four volumes of the series, combined. And it gets even crazier with volumes 14 and 15! Because it launches the 1897 storyline, there really isn’t a lot to explain. You can give them a scorecard report in about three minutes that should catch them up with the rest of the show. Or at least the parts of the show that they’ll need to know to understand what’s going on.

If they don’t enjoy the 1897 storyline, I cannot believe that they will enjoy anything else in the series. You should also probably disown them as a friend or romantic interest. (I’m just trying to do your favor.) I could be very biased in that, but I really do see that as the show’s best storyline – or at least the most charming and action-packed storyline. Mission Control has had great success in attracting new fans with that DVD volume.

It’s a bit like DS9. If I hear one more person say “I tried watching the first few seasons, but I stopped midway through season two because nothing was happening,” I’m going to find the nearest empty elevator shaft and use it… maybe on myself. My best advice to them is what I call the “Worf Rule.” In other words, if Worf is on an episode, it’s from a consistently good season.

I had that “middle of season two blah” attitude about DS9 for a long time. I, too, stopped watching midway through season two. But I resumed midway through season three and was delighted. Later, in reruns, I caught seasons one and two and they became wonderful texture for the rest of the show. However, they are just texture.

I will never go so far as to suggest that everything prior to the 1897 storyline is just texture. Ever! It’s just that for me, the 1897 storyline is the most consistently interesting place to bring in new viewers. If they enjoy that, you can really skip the Leviathans and all the rest of it, and re-start them at maybe around the time of Maggie’s kidnapping and go up to the beginning of 1897. And if they like THAT, then they are a diehard fan. You can skip ahead to Leviathans and the 1970 parallel time storyline and everything after. And then if they like THAT, you can fill in the blanks with all of the pre-Barnabas material. I know that’s completely out of chronological order, but it probably orders the show from the most interesting storyline to the storyline that requires the most patience.

The other way to watch it, if they’re all ready to make a commitment to the show, is even crazier. But it’s interesting. Start them at the beginning of the 1795 storyline. When that concludes, go ahead to the beginning of the series when Barnabas gets unchained. Skip a re-run of 1795 and resume with Victoria’s return. I’ve always wanted to watch the show that way myself. Because it very much makes Barnabas the central character, and we understand Sarah’s reminder to him to be a good person even more resonantly. in other words, we get to follow Barnabas’s timeline, and we get to see the show from his point of view. It makes the evil that he displays at the beginning of his storyline in 1967 all the more distressing because he is a deeply distressed and confused man at that point.

So, yes, by all means if someone wants to get to know the series, let them do so. I just suggest a bit of strategy to break in the uninitiated to the strange way the show has at unfolding stories.