Sugar Puffs or Frosties? As many a millennial has found out over the Christmas period, making the seemingly trivial choice between two brands of cereal can feel like a far more profound and existential undertaking. ‘Bandersnatch,’ the latest episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series, is for ardent fans the most ambitious piece of television ever made, which could spawn a whole generation of television shows where the viewer will decide what happens. For others, it is a one-off gimmick that we’ll remember as “that novelty episode of Black Mirror.”
This writer falls very much in the former camp. The possibilities for other shows are endless. Let’s take one example of a genre where the format would work brilliantly: the murder mystery. If the edits are seamless and continuity errors are ironed out, a show where the viewer makes the decisions for the detective would make for highly captivating viewing. In an age of more cerebral TV, these “Choose Your Own Adventure” shows would mean that viewers would be kept on their toes intellectually, they would have to remember the narrative details (how many of you had to keep redialling that phone number?), they would be more invested in the lives of the protagonists, and in the show itself.
The moral element is also a springboard for innovation. Let’s take another genre: the modern drama series. Shows such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones feature characters who tiptoe the moral knife-edge, who are often given the choices between being good and being evil. In a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ version of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark could have lived beyond the first series, and Joffrey Baratheon could have been less nasty (or maybe even nastier). Of course, the difficulty with a whole series is that multiple endings in one episode would mean multiple versions of the subsequent episode, so perhaps this format in a ten-part series wouldn’t be viable, but it could work in a three-part series, where three endings in episode one lead to 27 endings in episode three. Mathematics aside, the appeal of making moral choices for powerful characters is very real. Just look at the blockbuster video game franchise Grand Theft Auto, or the similarly labyrinthine Fallout series.
But where I think the potential is greatest for the format is for comedies. Unlike other genres, comedies – especially sitcoms – don’t have a narrative arc as such. By the end of an episode the main characters are often back to how they were at the beginning, perhaps with their egos bruised, but otherwise one episode doesn’t usually affect the next. This means that a “Choose Your Own Adventure” comedy would not be about the ending, but instead about how funny or far-fetched the plotline is. Meaning that the curiosity is there to see if one can re-watch an even funnier version of the episode they’ve just seen.
Of course, this might not happen. A lot of people want to wind down when they watch TV – to literally, ahem, Netflix & chill. But as long as there’s a market out there for people with an abundance of intellectual curiosity (and an even higher abundance of time on their hands) then the golden era of television is really about to begin.
Image credit: 412designs via Pixabay