The Compensatory Element of Storytelling – Charm


This post comes off the back of my having finished rewatching BBC’s Robin Hood series. When we think of what makes a good story – which we here at WhatElseIsOn do a lot, it’s kind of our thing – regardless of whether it’s a book, movie or TV show, terms like character development, theme and story structure. There’s much more of course, but these will serve as examples. My favourite writer Chuck Wendig has said that a great story should do two things – make you think and make you feel. Optionally, make you laugh.

So why then do stories that do only one of these things entertain. Why do they gather massive followings? I’ll be honest, I don’t know the answer – I’m absolutely typing as I think here. But I have two shows that I have seen that seem to gain their followings almost entirely through charm – Chuck, and Robin Hood. And thinking about both these shows, what they lack in terms of making you think, they make up for with absolute bucketloads of charm.

Let’s take Robin Hood. Robin and his men(and woman), are all likeable. But they never change or develop much. If there is a hint of that happening in the show, the characters in question either immediately revert back to their old ways(as in, it generally takes about half an episode). Little to no development going on here. The action scenes are ridiculous to the point of them being farcical(for example, in the first episode, Robin saves Much from being thrown from the battlements by two guards by throwing a sword from the courtyard below lengthways into their helmets causing them to stumble back.) I shall avoid spoilers, but there is quite a drastic change in season two but it was really only implemented for a bit of drama. The villains in the show are about as two-dimensional as they can get – the sheriff is a full on moustache twirling guy one step away from doing an evil laugh atop the castle towers. The stories are basic, ninety per cent of the time revolving around Robin and the gang stealing a great deal of money that the sheriff has kept somewhere hard to get at in the castle.

So why then is it so beloved? And it is beloved – go to youtube, type in robin hood – there are countless fan videos made in the show’s honour. In this case, the spirit of the tale almost certainly helps – it’s the reason that the story of Robin Hood has been around for the last millenium. It’s the story of people taking a stand against those who would trod on the hardworking people of the nation – and we all know they’re about today in nicely tailored suits.

Then there’s the characters – they may not change over three years, but that’s because they don’t need to. They’re extremely likeable as a group. Whether it’s Allan never being funny, John being the Yoda of Sherwood(“Him, I liked”), or Robin being the most noble goody two shoes we ever did see, the shows just fun. It doesn’t matter that Robin shot an arrow that ricocheted off of three different surfaces to land in the Sheriff’s sandals between two of his toes so that he could be yanked upside down – what matters is it was satisfying and fun to watch. And we got that cheey as hell freeze-frame of the gang at the end.


Chuck is in the exact same boat. MAJOR SPOLER HERE – the series ends with Chuck trying to get Sarah’s memory back with a kiss because Morgan saw it in a Disney movie. That is in no way exxaggerated – that’s actually how the show ended. And you know what. It was absolutely epic. Again, zero character development here. The one time I can remember them actually changing a character was for comic effect.

It’s been a lot longer since I’ve seen Chuck, but much of the same elements were at play in that show. Ridiculous action sequences, cartoonish villains. It was all crazy. And, yet again, that show has a massive following, as evidenced by the fact that it still has enough momentum for there to be talks of a movie.

Guys, this was a bit of a directionless post. As I type now, I’m still considering whether or not to post it, but I think I’m going to. What really drove me to write this was the Robin Hood thing – I’d been talking with some colleagues about what we were watching, and I told them Robin Hood. I love Robin Hood. It’s a fantastic show. But everytime I find myself in the position of trying to sell it to someone, I find myself stalling. But you know what? It doesn’t need everything that great stories are supposed to have. Sometimes when you’r crafting a story, you’ve just got to let yourself, and your characters, have fun. You, dear writer, might never be able to shot an arrow into the air only to have it land between a guards fingers – but Robin Hood is not bound by the same rules you are.

Now go and be charmed by the outlaws of Sherwood.

About the Author:

Rumored to have been born with a games controller in his hand, Noel Gleeson works as a Java Developer in Ireland and loves all things pop culture.


About English Den

Experienced, qualified and professional English teacher working in Warsaw, Poland. Interested in pop culture, and using pop culture to teach languages. Available for private or in-business classes. International classes also available on Skype. Contact for further information.
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