I’ve mentioned my fondness for voice overs in TV shows before, but I feel like it’s necessary to go further in depth. Let’s face it, this is part one of 500 posts. I hope you’re in your pajamas and you’ve got your popcorn ready for snacking. You’re going to be here for a while.
Believe it or not, there are different types of TV voice overs. If you’re not really into voice overs, it’s easy to jumble all of them together. Fret not, with my wonderful, twisted sense of humor, here is a short guide to help you navigate the confusing world of TV voice overs.
The “This is my life, and I hate it” voice over
Full of unlimited angst, apathy for society and witty one-liners, the narrators of these voice overs are not happy with their individual lives and are dealing with their problems through self-deprecation, negativity and sarcasm. The voice overs are sprinkled throughout the episode. At times, some appear to be thoughts that the characters are thinking at that very moment. Two such examples of this are Dead Like Me and Veronica Mars
George Lass is a young woman who unexpectedly dies from an exploding toilet and becomes a reaper. Not surprisingly, George is disappointed that she’s done nothing with her life and that she has to stay away from her family. The interesting thing is that although we see just a small glimpse of her life before she died, it appears that her personality didn’t really change. She’s always been sarcastic and apathetic. Over time, she becomes less angry and is more accepting of her situation, but she is who she’s always been.
Veronica Mars is a teenage girl who works for her father, a private investigator and has learned a thing or two from her. She’s trying to solve the murder of her best friend, Lily. Veronica’s life went downhill after Lily’s death and, as a result, she, well, hates everyone. Unlike George, she went through a drastic personality change due to a series of events that are briefly shown in flashbacks and told through voice overs. Although Veronica does change over time, its clear that she’s never going to be the person she was before Lily’s death.
The “I am detached from my life, and I might be a sociopath” voice over
Cold, methodical and detached from society for whatever reason, the characters of these voice overs are often dealing with difficult situations, like the characters above, but instead of sarcasm, they find comfort in burying themselves in isolation and self-destruction. The voice overs are usually either at the beginning, end or both of each episode and are often technical and not specific to them as individuals. Two such examples are Grey’s Anatomy and Revenge.
In Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith Grey is one of a group of medical interns starting their first year of interning at Seattle Grace. We quickly learn how damaged Meredith is, mostly due to issues pertaining to her mother. She is deemed by her colleagues as “dark and twisty” in the beginning. Little by little, Meredith finds her way and carves a nice little life for herself. Unfortunately, life keeps throwing her and her fellow colleagues horrible situation after horrible situation.
The voice overs are usually of a medical context and are completely devoid of Meredith’s personal life and situations. It’s as if she’s doing the narration of a medical documentary. Though they don’t really add anything to the story line, they add to the tone and overall feeling of the show.
Revenge is about a young woman named Amanda Clarke, who is now under the identity of Emily Thorne, seeking revenge on the family that destroyed her family. Like Veronica Mars, Amanda goes through a major change off-script and goes through a smaller change over time.
Unlike Grey’s anatomy, the voice overs aren’t as consistent. For the most part, there is usually a detached, technical voice over at the end of each episode, but there is no voice over in the beginning. The exception to this is the first episode where Emily gives a more detailed voice over where she talks about her past and how her story is one about revenge and not forgiveness. In some episodes, there are no voice overs.
The “What to do if you need to make a bomb out of cleaning supplies” voice over
A complex mash-up of the other two, in this vice over, the narrator is throughout each episode, but the voice overs consist of mostly technical instructions, as if it were a how-to video instead of a TV show. A good example of this is Burn Notice.
Michael Westen is a burned spy who is trying to find out who burned him. Not surprisingly, the situation is more complicated than he thought. Meanwhile, he helps everyday ordinary people with their individual problems, mostly dealing with criminals wanting to kill them for whatever reason. The voice overs add a layer to Michael’s cold interior and we see he really is a spy with a vast pool of knowledge and unlimited skills.
Michael reveals virtually no personal details in his voice overs and is simply providing information, whether that’s how to build a bomb out of cleaning supplies, the reality of being a spy or thoughtful observations.
In the beginning of the first episode, Michael explains what being a spy is really like:
“Covert Intelligence involves a lot of waiting around. Know what it’s like being a spy? Like sitting in your dentist’s reception area 24 hours a day. You read magazines, sip coffee and ever so often, someone tries to kill you.”
Sounds like fun. I’m in.