Popping the balloon on the over-used lexicon of “game changer”

“Game changer” just does not mean what it used to. In fact, it means virtually nothing these days simply because the over-use of the term has diluted the very meaning of it. When did the phrase “game changer” turn into such a snooze-fest? Back in the good ole days, when you heard that a television show was going to air a “game changer” episode, it meant something so much more thrilling — something so significant and unexpected that viewers were shocked and could not believe their eyes. A “game changer” used to mean that a key character was being killed-off, someone was coming back from the dead, or there was going to be so mind-blowing that you could not foresee it happening. But nowadays, it could mean anything from the addition of a new character, a character losing their job, or even less gasp-worthy, a character getting pregnant.

Great examples of “game changers” were LOST, 24 and TORCHWOOD’s willingness to kill off key characters. Another show particularly adept at game-changers was the J.J. Abrams’ series ALIAS, such as when it took down SD-6 with one swift blow during the second season or when it surprised viewers with the 2 -year time jump. Game-changers are risk taking and shocking. The viewer should be sitting on their sofa wondering why the world felt like it had just tilted.

In recent television, FRINGE’s reveal that there was an alternate universe qualifies as a game-changer, but the over-hyped Fauxlivia’s pregnancy did not feel as mind-bending. Likewise on V, the fact that Anna could bliss humans did not feel as big a game-changer as it should have been. Nor the fact that Katie was carrying a super-human baby on NO ORDINARY FAMILY. True game-changers would have been to find out that Father Jack was a mole working for Anna since the beginning on V; or that Katie was a plant by Dr. King to keep an eye on Steph’s research from the get go. Even the fact that Orwell was afflicted by a similar mental illness to her father’s in THE CAPE did not feel as startling, as it should have been.

To be worthy of the label “game changer,” something must be not be foreseeable. It must be unexpected to such a degree that everyone is talking about it, altering the way you look at a show completely. Unpredictability is essential: a previously unknown relationship, a major deception such as a traitor or mole, an unveiling of another layer of reality, a shocking and unexpected death of a key character. All of these things send a show spiraling out of control or in a different direction.

Anything that can be foreseen or which is just a blip on the radar of a show feels less game-changing and more like a predictable event within a storyline. Perhaps over the years, television viewers have simply seen too much and things that would have surprised us a decade ago, now feel much more mundane. Having just seen that DEXTER killed off Dexter’s wife, Rita and that LOST killed off Sun, Jin and Sayid in one quick swoop, even primary characters are not safe on television these days and we have come to expect that shows will take such risks – even with beloved characters.

Other classic game-changers in television included: Angel losing his soul in BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, the Cylons taking over New Caprica on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, the death of Marisa Cooper on THE O.C., the Veronica-Logan kiss on VERONICA MARS, watching Michael kill Ana Lucia and Libby on LOST, and Fox Mulder’s abrupt departure from THE X-FILES. Each of these events were shocking, surprising and game-changing for each of these shows. It propelled storylines in new directions and left viewers wondering what the heck was going-on.

Imagine today if such scenarios played out: if Peter is the real villain of FRINGE; if DEXTER were killed leaving his sister to avenge his death; if the crew of Destiny were enslaved by the Lucian Alliance for an entire season on STARGATE: UNIVERSE; if Clark Kent or the Powells lost all their super-human abilities for an extended period of time and had to live normal lives on SMALLVILLE and NO ORDINARY FAMILY. All such scenarios would be truly game-changing. Unexpected, horrifying and mind-boggling.

It would be a fun change of pace to truly see a genuine “game changer” on television and not feel let down when the hyped game-changers are merely a minor reveal and not shocking at all. Let’s bring back true “game changers” so that we may all savor the fun of being surprised once again!

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