What's with all the TV voiceovers?
…It was a dark and stormy afternoon, with the dim light peeking through the blinds of my office window as I sat at my desk, thinking. ”Why am I hearing all these voices?” I wondered. Not in my head, that is, but on TV: At least seven new shows this season use voiceover narration or feature a character who breaks the fourth wall to address the audience. There’s My Name Is Earl, Everybody Hates Chris, Kitchen Confidential, Night Stalker, How I Met Your Mother, The War at Home, and Sex, Love & Secrets (oops, make that six shows — Sex has already halted production). Add these to returning shows with narrators, including Desperate Housewives, Veronica Mars, and Arrested Development, and it seemed like I was dealing with a plague of voiceover narration, the likes of which I hadn’t heard since Daniel Stern recounted his boyhood as Fred Savage. I took a swig from the bottle of Poland Spring I keep in my desk drawer and pondered the problem…
…True, I thought, this increasingly overused device actually works well on some shows. It adds that film-noir feel to Veronica Mars. It makes sense on Mother and Chris, where the narrator is explaining something that happened in his past. And you need someone as user-friendly and non-threatening as Ron Howard to disentangle the plot and character complications on AD. Still, there was something that bothered me, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to figure it out without refueling. So I walked down the hall to the vending machine. Hey, that 60 cents was just burning a hole in my pocket anyway…
…A packet of M&Ms later, I realized what the problem was: call it getting Carrie’d away, after the annoyingly cutesy narration in Sex and the City. You know, the whole, ”While Miranda was having a big problem, I was having problems with Big” thing. That was bad enough, but the voiceovers on Kitchen and Housewives, two shows I otherwise love, make Carrie Bradshaw’s lame puns sound like Oscar Wilde. Kitchen (which, like Sex and the City, is a Darren Star product) really doesn’t need a voiceover at all; I don’t want to hear what valuable life lesson reprobate chef Jack Bourdain is learning this week. As for Housewives, Mary Alice Young’s American Beauty/Sunset Boulevard narration from beyond the grave seemed a clever conceit when the show’s central mystery was why she’d killed herself, but now that the mystery is the more prosaic question of ”What’s the deal with the Applewhites’ captive?”, her bland musings and facile ironies seem especially superfluous. This was annoying me no end; I needed coffee…
…Then it hit me: not just the caffeine, but a revelation, one that was right in front of me all along. Looking back at the first paragraph of this post, I returned to the linked article, which pointed out that the rise in voiceovers has coincided with the rise of single-camera sitcoms, from Malcolm in the Middle to Sex to AD to Earl and Chris. These were all shows filmed and edited in such a way that there was no room for a laugh track. (And no need for one either.) It seemed I had learned two valuable lessons that day. First, if self-consciously clever voiceover narration was the price I had to pay to get rid of laugh tracks, maybe it was worth it. And second: All those years ago, I really should have kissed Winnie Cooper when I had the chance…
Eva Longoria Parker, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, and Felicity Huffman star in the soap set on the dangerous Wisteria Lane