Drama vs. Melodrama


Thanks to its recent arrival on Netflix Streaming*, I’ve been knee-deep in “Breaking Bad.” I’ve already become a fan, and that’s saying something since I’m often not a fan of such straight dramas. Call me a neanderthal, but I usually prefer action and or other such cheap entertainment. That’s not to say that BB isn’t entertaining (or even that it is a straight drama, because it has firm roots in comedy/black comedy land), but it’s really an awkward transition to mention that I also enjoy “Fringe.” 

But a recent episode of “Fringe” coupled with my exposure to “Breaking Bad” has illustrated the difference between drama and melodrama as clearly as I’ve ever seen. Spoiling to follow.

So at the end of season 3, Walter Bishop’s son Peter (Joshua Jackson) went into this giant machine to save both our world and a parallel universe, but in doing so erased himself from existence. Consequently Walter Bishop believes that his son Peter died as a child, yet through these early parts of Season 4 Walter has been haunted by strange images of a man he does not know. We know who he is, ’cause it’s Pacy from “Dawson’s Creek.”

Now, in previous seasons we’ve always known Walter as generally “crazy,” and the show has had fun with this as well as given a half-baked pseudo-scientific reason for his insanity (he was a bad man before his partner — the equally brilliant William Bell — removed parts of Walter’s brain to save the world and his soul or something). With these Pacy ghosts appearing to only him, Walter fears he’s going insane again.

And that’s the difference. If this were a straight drama (as “straight” as a drama could be that involves monsters and parallel universes), Walter would be just plain going crazy. He would be losing his mind. That’s in a drama. That’s how it would be done on “Breaking Bad.” But since this is melodrama, that means that Walter’s not JUST going crazy, but there is a reason for his insanity, and that reason is actually insane.

Melodrama tends to try and explain everything, as though everything is explainable. Drama simply presents these problems and lets the characters deal with them.


*Should I just call it “Netflix” now, since technically that’s the name of the business? Or will it remain — to the general public — “Netflix Streaming,” like how we still say “cell phone” even though they’re all digital now? I don’t have all the answers.


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