Like all screenwriters I consider it a necessary evil. You need to provide backstory; you need to define characters for the audience. But it’s generally uninteresting and often stops the action rather than forward it.
And yet it’s crucial. The audience needs that information. Too little exposition and the audience is confused. Too much exposition and the audience is logging onto Netflix.
What’s a writer to do?
I generally try to dole exposition out in dribs and drabs. And if I can couch it in jokes that’s the “little bit of sugar that makes the medicine go down.”
Still it’s very hard to do that artfully.
Which brings me to last week’s episode of FARGO.
They did something that just blew me away. They presented an incredibly novel way to re-introduce all of their characters.
With FARGO alum Billy Bob Thornton doing the narration, he recited the introduction to the orchestra segment from Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF. Each character (or animal) was represented by a single instrument, and on the screen you saw the FARGO character who best represented that animal. So Nikki was the conniving cat, Ray the dumb duck, etc. In four minutes you absolutely knew who each character was without any of them saying so much as a word. Visually and stylistically it was eye (and ear) popping.
That, to me, is ingenious storytelling.
The episode itself was excellent too with the added treat that PETER AND THE WOLF provided the soundtrack throughout. There are I’m sure other parallels to PETER AND THE WOLF, both in the basic story and the fact that Russian characters play a part.
Great writers always look for different ways to tell stories, convey information, capture an audience’s imagination. This is truly a golden age of television drama. Shows like FARGO raise the bar. And inspire old seasoned vets like me, even after all these years. Talk about hitting the right note.