Why must TV keep flashing back and forwards? An annoying trend in drama

by | Apr 16, 2013 | All, Reviews

If I have a pet hate in TV dramas it’s when they flash back and forwards in time. For some reason it no longer seems fashionable to stay in one time period. Dramas like BBC1’s The Syndicate and sadly the current series of Scott & Bailey have been playing around with their time periods and I think the constant shifting is ultimately detrimental to my enjoyment of the show.  

In the case of Kay Mellor’s lottery drama I find the format completely flawed. You spend an hour with one character only to have them briefly appear in the next episode so you never get that progression. When the action flashes back to the day they won the lottery or the day after it’s like starting all over again. It means you’re back at square one almost like Groundhog day. The characters you invested in the previous week are long gone and you have to start fresh with a new character and their story. Why not combine everyone? The Syndicate could be a fast paced, funny ensemble piece but the decision to flash forward and back and focus on an individual means, to me at least like we never really move any further forward. We’re not spending the right amount of time with each of the characters, there isn’t that incentive to care when you know you’ll be back at square one the following week.

Sadly the same can be said about the return of one of my favourite crime dramas Scott & Bailey. I will tell everyone who dares to sit near me, follow me on twitter or serve me in the supermarket how much I enjoy this ITV series. For some reason though, 2 episodes into this third series and something feels different. The decision to jump forward eight months between the end of series two and the start of three I can cope with but the quite frankly bizarre decision to jump back those eight months in the second episode I found jarring and utterly baffling. The first episode was truly gripping with one of those trademark Scott & Bailey interview scenes I have grown to love. Nicola Walker was absorbing as the prime suspect so how could those involved in the series feel it was the right thing to ignore all we’ve seen in episode one and jump back into Rachel’s quite boring story in episode two? Luckily the writing by Sally Wainwright and performances from our three female leads remained solid but I couldn’t help but think this was the wrong thing for them to do. It has meant that the series hasn’t felt like it has got going yet. Much like The Syndicate I feel we’ve gone backwards rather than moved on and that’s largely because well.. we have.

I don’t know whether producers, directors and writers think messing around with the timeline in drama is an interesting thing to do but it happens far frequently and often I find it completely unnecessary. The term ‘journey’ is not one I’m fond of but I have to confess I like going on a journey with the characters and investing my time in them and I find it almost impossible to do that when they keep jumping back and forwards in time. I appreciate there are some cases where it has its place in dramas like Lightfields or The Village but in the majority of the cases I don’t see any wrong in starting at the beginning and finishing at the end.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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