Episode 41: A Show About Nothing

The Overthinkers urge television characters not to kill themselves, christen Easter the least telegenic of holidays, bid speculative farewell to two beloved sci-fi franchises, and say some things that are likely to be unpopular about Joss Whedon.

Matthew Wrather hosts with panelists Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and John Perich to overthink:

  • Pointless deaths on television
  • Television suicide: Don’t do it! You’ve got so much to live for!
  • Easter: The least telegenic of holidays
  • Crank 2: The type of all narrative
  • Two kinds of high schools
  • Shows that may not rise from the dead
  • Joss Whedon: A critical assessment

Overthink This
our pop cultural picks for this week

Tell us what you think! Email us or call 20-EAT-LOG-01—that’s (203) 285-6401. If you haven’t yet, take the very short survey! And… spread the overthinking by forwarding this episode to a friend.

Download Episode 41 (MP3)

7 Comments on “Episode 41: A Show About Nothing”

  1. perich OTI Staff #

    Sharing the link to this podcast on Facebook, I was struck by how Biblical a crew we had this week (“Matthew, Mark, Peter and John discuss Easter!”).


  2. lee OTI Staff #

    By the way, I can’t believe we forgot to mention _The Passion_ in our discussion of Easter related pop culture.


  3. toni #


    You talk about how suicide is lazy storytelling. That when it’s being used in a story in an accurate way it’s bad storytelling and when it’s good storytelling it’s not accurate.

    So my question is, do you think there is a way to portray suicide in fiction (okay, in tv or movies) in an accurate and compelling way? Or does it always awake doubts of cynicism
    towards the writers in the viewer?

    (As a sidenote, maybe the reaction in a viewer when witnessing a suicide in fiction tells more about their views towards suicide instead of their amount of knowledge of storytelling?)

    Also, what are your views on the suicide plots in movies like Dead Poets Society, What Women Want and Rules of Attraction?


  4. perich OTI Staff #

    @Toni: Short answer – I think suicide works in fiction when the depression is foreshadowed but the act of suicide is not.

    So if the character frequently stresses out, or spends a lot of time moping, and then unexpectedly kills themselves, that’s believable.

    If the character spends a lot of time sitting around with a gun barrel in his mouth – a la Lethal Weapon – it feels phony to me.

    And if the character never demonstrates any depressive tendencies, and then offs herself – as with BSG or House – it’s just poor writing.

    Under that metric, I think the suicide plot worked in Dead Poets Society. It wasn’t bad in What Women Want (although it was played a bit for laughs, if I recall). And I’ve never seen Rules of Attraction, so I can’t answer that one.


  5. fenzel #

    @toni –

    I’d say that suicide suffers from a similar lose/lose situation in its depiction in fiction as rape – its cultural resonances and symbolisms are often disrespectfully distant from its realities.

    I discussed this on an earlier podcast – about how there is a cultural notion of rape that is not much related to real-life rape, but which is difficult to dislodge to the point where bringing up real-life rape in fiction often inadvertantly invokes unfortunate resonances.

    I don’t like the suicide in _Dead Poets’ Society_ very much. The one in _What Women Want_ would be a lot better-written if the woman weren’t of the obvious “passive, pretty-but-sad” type. It still associates suicide with a sort of effeminance, physical weakness or overnarrativization.

    It’s certainly possible to depict it in very clinical ways – it’s not impossible – but then you run into the problem of how many stories really want to have a big, stinking, clinical suicide right in the middle of them?

    The real problem is usually a lack of imagination on behalf of the writer – throwing in suicide as a cheap way to raise the stakes, like a Barry Manilow key change.

    I often joke that there are certain things that happen in certain media much more often than in reality – my chief example is jumping in video games: in video games, people jump all the time. In real life, how often, on average, do you jump every day? It’s a much bigger part of your video game life.

    Suicide occurs with way overblown frequency in fiction. It twists reality. Much like the worlds of video games end up all being multi-level open scaffoldings because everybody jumps all the time, the worlds of movies or TV shows where suicide happens really really suffer in their emotional architecture. People tend to have very unrealistic and implausible attitudes about grief and loss if a different friend commits suicide on at least an annual basis.


  6. Mike from LA #

    My favorite unnecessary death of a fictional character has to be Donnie in the Big Lebowski. Or maybe since unnecessity and illogic are the guiding forces of everything that happens in that movie, Donnie’s death really actually makes perfect sense, and that doesn’t even count.


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