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With FOX’s Gotham premiering next month, I’ve been thinking about prequels.  Specifically, has there ever been a prequel that was a good idea?

That’s not to say that a prequel can’t be entertaining.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a fair example, though its story is so disconnected from Raiders of the Lost Ark (the only real continuous element is Dr. Jones himself) that I’m not sure it should even be considered a prequel.  It’s just another installment in a series of independent adventures, where the order doesn’t really matter.

And in general, it seems that the best prequels are the ones that have the least connection to the original.  The Star Wars prequels are probably the most notorious example of a screenplay that is simply over-explaining things the audience didn’t need explained.  Every attempt to add background to a known character ended up making that character less intriguing.

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s marvelous basic principles of creative writing is “Start as close to the end as possible.”  Give the audience some credit: if you begin by showing a character in a situation, they’re able to make a pretty good guess how that character got there.  Don’t waste their time by telling more than you have to.

The inherent problem with prequels is that they, by definition, break that rule.  If the original was written well, it starts exactly where it needs to start. A prequel essentially adds chapters before the beginning, and now the story no longer starts where it should.

I suggest that the only way to make a good prequel is to tell a brand new story. Instead of explicitly telling a story that’s was already implicitly understood, explore parts of the background that weren’t in the original. In other words, don’t make it a prequel.

I’m cautiously looking forward to Gotham, bad reviews notwithstanding. But my enjoyment will hinge on how well the writers avoid connecting dots that the audience has already connected on our own.  Give us something new. Tell us something new about Jim Gordon that stands on its own, and that doesn’t cheapen the character we already know.

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What are you stuck on?

The bow-tied apple-bobbing boy at 0:24 is “stuck on Band-Aid.”

The super-cheery firefighter at the beginning is “stuck on Band-Aid brand.”

The former is how I remember the jingle (which, apparently, was written by Barry Manilow) from the commercials of my 1970’s youth.  “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.”  But already by 1980, the Marketing folks at Johnson & Johnson realized their brand was so successful, it had become a generic, and they tried to push back by reminding you that it’s a “Band-Aid brand” adhesive bandage.

Of course, this screws with the meter of the jingle.  But they weren’t about to throw away a tune that had so thoroughly infiltrated the nation’s collective mental playlist, so they simply shoehorned the extra word in there.  As a result, it sounds rushed — it sounds like an afterthought, because that’s what it is.

But the brand identity people don’t care. They would rather break the jingle than erode their brand.

I don’t know why this bugs me, but it always has. It offends my sensibilities. It reinforces my prejudice that Marketing people have no souls. (Disclaimer: I have friends in Marketing. I’m quite sure they have souls. At least, when they’re at home they do.)

I just can’t stop noticing it.

  • Jell-O’s jingle said “Make Jell-O gelatin and make some fun.” Just like J&J did, Kraft crammed the word “brand” in there (“Make Jell-O brand gelatin”) with no regard for the meter.
  • I used to have a Lego idea book containing a note to parents, which politely requested that we refer to their product as “Lego bricks or toys” rather than simply “Legos.”  Cory Doctorow called attention to this just a few years ago,  though I disagree with his characterization of it as “vicious.”  Anyway, for my brother and I, the phrase “Lego bricks or toys” has served for 30 years as a shortcut phrase for this sort of uphill battle lawyers and marketers try to wage against common usage.
  • An early ad for Vaseline Intensive Care said the product “lets the healing begin.” They later replaced it with “smooths the healing right in.” I suspect this call came from Legal (a department rivaling Marketing in soullessness): the first iteration was arguably making a testable claim, and they had to replace it with something more vague.