Pop Culture Pet Peeve: TV shows with bad special effects

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Image Credit: ABC

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Special effects can be awesome. They can transport us to space with a stranded Battlestar or the USS Enterprise, take us everywhere from Metropolis to Middle Earth, make mythical creatures like dragons or sphinxes or three-headed dogs come alive — oh, I could go on forever. I love them, and I love what hardworking VFX teams are able to pull off.

But I’m not in love with unnecessary effects, especially when it comes to TV shows. When the special effects teams for certain shows are already tirelessly working away on a tight schedule (and often a tight budget), there’s no need to squeeze in elaborate shots that require green-screen heavy lifting. Fake backgrounds and awkward-looking scenes just take me out of what I’m watching. (Unless it’s Sharknado, of course.)

Exhibit A: Ringer. (Side note: Does anyone remember Ringer? …Bueller? Bueller?) The Sarah Michelle Gellar-helmed CW drama was axed after airing its first season, but aside from giving us plenty of groan-worthy lines between Gellar’s twin sister characters, it also gave us the following green-screened-to-death scene:

Just check out that background. It may represent the glistening body of water Sarah Michelle Gellar A and Sarah Michelle Gellar B speed across in their boat, but it only looks tortured, awkward, and most important — needlessly green-screened. They couldn’t just, I don’t know, set the scene somewhere else?

Exhibit B: Once Upon a Time (and, obviously, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland). If you’ve seen the show, you know what I’m talking about: fairies flitting across the screen as the human actors gaze at the wrong spot, Jiminy Cricket looking like the product of a hallucination, every fairy tale or otherworldly realm looking like an overly photoshopped work that characters seemingly float in front of. And I know these scenes aren’t meant to look realistic, but when the unrealistic parts of these fantasies look hastily created, it lowers the quality of the entire show. Just because a show is based in a fantasy world or includes non-human characters, it doesn’t mean everything has to be created by the visual effects team.

Exhibit C: Terra Nova (oops, another canceled show… I sense a pattern here). When Terra Nova debuted, I was all for the dinosaurs. And then the dinos actually appeared on screen, and my jaw dropped, because they looked absolutely, well, see for yourself:

They looked… fake. I remember laughing at first sight. As someone who has re-watched Jurassic Park too many times to count, I could only think of how much money execs put into creating the dinosaurs on Terra Nova, and how two-dimensional and unrealistic they looked compared to the technology used in the 1993 film. It was disappointing. Sure, the dinosaurs were an essential part of the plot, but they looked jarring, especially when cutting between shots of the actors and shots of the dinos.

Because TV shows work on a tight budget and schedule, I hope Hollywood can figure out a way to use their VFX specialists only for the scenes that truly need some magic and stop wasting their skills constructing backgrounds and characters that only make audiences raise their eyebrows.

Still, maybe I’m the only one condemning the extraneous use of green screens and special effects on TV; after all, the effects on Game of Thrones usually look fantastic, and like I said, I’m a fan of how the technology can expand worlds on screen. Do you think I missed a glaring example of a show with a little too much so-called magic?


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