The subtle set up

I watched the pilot of PUSHING DAISIES, and I picked up a new trick on the art of the set up.  Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old adage that if a gun goes off in the third act, you better set up the gun in the first act — the audience should see it sitting on the mantel, for example.

However, with sophisticated audiences, the set-up often telegraphs the end.  I was watching an episode of CHARMED, as is my wont, and the demon mentions in, oh, Act II, that his power is to bring people back to life.  As soon as it came out of his mouth, I knew one of the sisters was going to die and somehow this power would bring her back to life.  Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened.

In PUSHING DAISIES, there was a much more subtle set up.  Now I don’t want to spoil the end, but when the set up was occurring, I had no idea that’s what it was.  Two sisters are synchronized swimmers, and one of them lost an eye.  You wouldn’t think that was set up for anything.   Trust me, it is, and the subtlety makes the payoff all the more sweet.  Interestingly, there’s something that isn’t set up at the end of the pilot, but because everything else is, you basically don’t notice it.

In that same episode of CHARMED, I saw another example of the subtle set up.  The writers had to get Piper alone.  They set up that she felt like a loser teenager around her high school’s head cheerleader, then sent her to a reunion where she ended up doing whatever the cheerleader said.  This was the set-up.  The pay off was the cheerleader had her taking out the garbage.  She ended up alone, and you almost didn’t see it coming.

Gotta be tricky these days to stay ahead of the audience.

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Filed under TV, Writing

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