Roger Ebert defined an “idiot plot” as a movie where the whole thing could be resolved in just a few minutes if any given two characters would just have one conversation. There are a lot of these movies, in pretty much every genre. They’re irritating, and I bet Roger saw a ton of them in the many years he spent reviewing films. However, what has started irritating me even more is the kind of movie where the plot shouldn’t even happen, because the characters’ basic awareness of the world in general and pop culture in particular should have made them not do things.
Okay, so I watched A Simple Plan and spent the whole thing comparing it in my head to an episode of Remington Steele with a similar plot. But a little plowing through pop culture could have produced several other stories with similar plots, and it just happens that the Remington Steele one is the one I’ve seen the most often, because I like Remington Steele.
But that’s just it. Every once in a while, I find myself watching something, and I think, “Wait, wasn’t this an episode of [some random TV show from probably the ’80s, or else Law & Order]?” (At that, didn’t Law & Order once do the “found money” plot?) So I guess we have to assume that those TV shows or movies from the ’50s or whatever don’t exist in the world of the thing you’re now watching, because it should at least come up.
Like you would think that, after Scream, there would be certain conventions of horror that couldn’t get used anymore, and yet there they all are. There are probably several whole books out there about the treatment of women in horror movies, and it hasn’t changed. The thing that surprised me most about Anaconda was that the black guy not only isn’t the first to go but actually survives the picture. (Spoiler, yes, but don’t bother seeing Anaconda anyway.) And it isn’t just the conventions themselves, it’s that the characters are following the conventions completely unironically.
There are also, I think, a lot of movies where people shouldn’t be behaving the way they are because humans just don’t behave that way. It gets a bit frustrating as well. However, it seems to me worse when it’s behaviour that would be reasonable if we hadn’t ever seen all the variations on it where it doesn’t work. I think the short version of the rule is that, if you’ve seen someone do it on Nick at Nite, you should assume it will fail for you, too.
Okay, there are exceptions. Sometimes, it’s failed on Nick at Nite because all the people in the episode in question are idiots. However, I think the end result of a lot of these plots comes from human nature. The money plot? People can’t keep a secret, but once you see the possibility of a lot of money, a lot of people do things they wouldn’t otherwise in an attempt to keep that secret. Many, many stories are based around the basic premise that people are bad at keeping secrets. So if your conspiracy relies on keeping anything secret for long, pop culture should have taught you by now that it’s bound to fail. To say nothing of history, of course.
There’s no short name for this. I guess you could call it the “didn’t you see that episode?” plot. And I must confess that I’m failing to think of other examples of it, but that’s because I usually dismiss anything with a “didn’t you see that episode?” plot from my head as quickly as possible. In most cases, I’d rather just see the original episode of whatever-it-is.