Am I alone in my love for episode recaps and teasers? I feel strange admitting one of my favorite components of TV episodes occur at the beginnings and ends of each show: the one-minute recaps of last week’s episode and 30-sec teasers for the following one.
To me, these little marketing objects are looser forms of trailers. Trailers are often assailed as overly slick and formulaic; but often they artfully summarize or generate buzz for a film or television show. They help to set the tone for the program and let viewers know how the network perceives it.
Recaps and teasers are similarly formulaic, even more simplistic. They cut together past and future clips set to a simple score. But some series use those constraints to their advantage. As television has become artier, so too have these bits of what John Caldwell might call “televisuality.”
The recaps for Game of Thrones are among my favorites. Each one features a score of what sounds like a somber, lilting guitar set against a single note that gradually and eerily crescendos. It’s a great way to frame the series, in which the plot gets more and more dire, step by step, through small and horrific actions of a group of dispersed individuals. Damages features a similar recap, where the music builds gradually for a couple of minutes, ending in soft howl. Boardwalk Empire‘s recap music has a strange combination of elegance and toughness, perhaps revealing a broader tension within the show. All of these shows are about the dangerous pursuit of power. Things end badly in such quests.
Meanwhile The Hour, Mad Men and Downton Abbey are more majestic. As period pieces — and better period pieces than Boardwalk — they want to give viewers a greater sense of traveling through time. The Hour‘s teasers are quiet and understated, emblematic perhaps of British culture in the 1950s. Downton Abbey and Mad Men‘s teasers are notoriously oblique, revealing emotions rather than plot points (Mad Men‘s makes sense given Matthew Weiner’s vocal disdain for spoilers).
There are others I admire, including the recaps for Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy. Am I missing any standouts? Who are the unsung heroes who create these little nuggets of TV?