Keep Calm, Trope On: Time Jumps

We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.

4 years, 6 months and 2 days.

That’s a huge chunk of time. A life can drastically change over the course of a year let alone four and a half years. Yet that’s exactly how long One Tree Hill jumped between the end of season four and the beginning of season five.

I have a love/hate relationship with time jumps. Sometimes, I have been known to scream at my television in frustrations because of a time jump. However, I think in the case of One Tree Hill it can make a lot of sense. In fact, I think the four-year time jump was tremendously beneficial in keeping One Tree Hill going. How long can you possibly tell stories about high school students anyways?

Four seasons was a perfect amount of time to tell the stories of Nathan, Haley, Lucas, Brooke, and Peyton throughout their high school lives. We got to see them go from individuals who didn’t really get along, to family members who really loved and supported one another. So when we found the characters of One Tree Hill graduating from high school at the end of season four, the writers reached a fork in the road. They could continue telling their stories as they entered adulthood, or they could pick up in season five right in the middle of the most important years of their lives – their twenties.

Alas, One Tree Hill opted for the time jump whereas shows like Glee decided against it. And I really think it worked in favor of the show. It acted as a clean slate that allowed the writers to introduce a slew of new characters, problems, and story-lines.

Of course, time jumps in this instance wouldn’t necessarily always work for the better. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Vampire Diaries decided to skip past the college years, I think that would have hurt the show. The college years for both vampire shows happened to include some of the most intriguing, and dare I say best episodes of the series.

Time jumps also don’t have to be a huge chunk of time. Most shows will skip a couple months between a season finale and a season premiere just to coincide with the fact that the show was off the air for a summer.

FX

Truth be told, I tend to not like huge or even small-time jumps at all. I am currently re-watching Parenthood and between the second and third season there was a six-month time jump. I guess it kind of made sense story wise as they wanted to put the Bravermans in different places when we saw them again, versus having to deal with the same drama we dealt with all of season two. But time jumps always make me wonder what happened during the time we didn’t see.

Was there really no drama or huge hurdles that the Bravermans had to go through in those six months? I really doubt it considering they have their fair share of drama what seems like every week.

Then again, Sons of Anarchy skipped ahead fourteen months between season three to season four and I couldn’t care less about what happened during that time. We know Jax and a lot of SAMCRO was in prison, and I didn’t have any desire to watch that. It would make sense that at some point these criminals would end up in prison and it happened to be at the end of season three. That doesn’t mean the show should stop there or that the show has to become Oz. A nice little time jump can ease that transition.

Sons of Anarchy and One Tree Hill also did a great job of explaining what happened in that missing time while also not shoving it in your face. We know Tara had a tough time while Jax was in an orange jumpsuit. We know Brooke became a millionaire by working with her mother. And as the new season progressed we kept getting more bits and pieces — just enough to want to know more, but not want a whole season dedicated to explaining it.

I suppose the main reason why I generally don’t like time jumps is because of Alias. I love Alias and really wish I could re-watch it again (unfortunately it’s not on any streaming service, so I’ll just have to wait). And while I love Alias, I must admit I was furious when they incorporated a two-year time jump at the end of season two.

Source: ABC

I mean, really. Two years? They might as well as stabbed a knife through my heart.

While I’m sure some people are a fan of this jump or don’t care about it as much as I do, I just vividly remember being enraged when I first watched the show and found out that Sydney was believed to be dead for two years by everyone she knew and loved. Including Vaughn, who got MARRIED during that time.

If anything, it was just painful to watch. I can take relationship drama and all that, but to jump two years to create a rift in their relationship just always appeared lazy to me. It definitely led to some amazing acting on everyone’s part but was it really necessary? Perhaps I need to re-watch Alias again and re-evaluate but from what I can remember, I was never a fan of this particular time jump.

In terms of unconventional time jumps, that award goes to Lost. While maybe an unpopular opinion, I found the flash-forwards of Lost to be nothing but intriguing, and made me love Lost even more. But Lost also did things completely different in that they continued the story in the present – they just happened to have scenes that also showcased where a bunch of the characters were in the future.

By seeing that Kate managed to not only get off the island, but was also raising Claire’s baby, Aaron, raised so many questions that just kept me even more engrossed in the show. What happened to Claire? How did Kate get off the island? Both these questions and more were raised solely by this one flash-forward that Lost had. And there were a bunch of other flash-forwards used to raise even more questions about other characters.

Lost is an oddball when it comes to time jumps. Most stick with the One Tree Hill formula, where we really don’t get to see too much of the time that passed between jumps.

As far as my final stance on whether time jumps work goes – I’d say they work more than they fail. I don’t think that all television shows should do it at some point. The only truly necessary time to impose a time jump is in a series finale in which case it can be important to know where certain characters end up in the distant future.

But until the series finale – be very careful.

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