It’s the new fall TV season and lots of old TV shows are back plus some new ones have arrived. I don’t have much to say about it as the returning ones I usually watch are pretty much the same and none of the new ones have really caught my eye. I did notice one strange little trend though that harkens back to old fashioned TV.

In the old days of television there was no real meta-story unless the show in question was a soap opera. For example in “The Rockford Files” the lead character, Jim Rockford, didn’t have a story arc. He just solved cases every week. Girlfriends came and went with each episode and were rarely mentioned again. Jim was always single and thus able to has new love interests whenever the writers wanted him to. Things were unchanging and each episode was self contained. That’s not the way things are anymore.

Most new shows have a meta-story. That’s a story that goes on all season even if it’s not the main focus of each show. Two shows I watch are “The Mentalist” and “Castle”. Both are police police shows where the main characters track down bad guys every week. Each also has a meta-story that is dealt with every so often but isn’t the reason for the show. In “The Mentalist” the main character is a police consultant but he also is hunting down a serial killer names Red John who killed his wife and child. In “Castle” the main police detective has been hunting her mother’s killer for years. There is some vast conspiracy behind it.

Neither of those meta-stories is usually on the front burner for many episodes. There have been other shows where the meta-story is a lot more prominent. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” comes to mind. That was one of the first shows to embrace comic book style continuity, build a whole “Universe”, and have a season long story arc. “Buffy” coined the phrase “Big Bad” to describe whatever super-powerful villain was gunning for them that season. “Supernatural” is a current show that follows that formula pretty well. It’s a show I watch and they mix up and use a lot of imagination in their “Big Bads”. As you might imagine it’s hard to escalate the threat level every season on a show and it can get repetitive. Not every show doesthat well.

“Veronica Mars” was a show that I liked and recently watched for a second time. It wasn’t a show that had a, now traditional, Big Bad but instead had an overall big season long mystery story going on as Veronica solved smaller mysteries from week to week. I thought it was well done but in the show’s third, and last, season they changed things from one season long story arc to three third of a season story arcs. I read this was done to make the show easier to follow and garner more ratings. I never thought the show was very hard to follow to begin with and it didn’t succeed in getting more ratings. It was a nice change of pace though. I don’t think the change hurt things.

Often these shows with meta-stories like season ending cliff hangers. Not all of them. Sometimes shows wrap up that season’s Big Bad storyline in the last episode of the season and sometimes they leave you with a “To be continued” and you have to wait until next season starts to see the conclusion. Often the cliff hanger is after that season’s Big Bad is defeated and they give you an “Everything you know has changed” cliffhanger that leads into next season’s meta-story.

So that’s the state of things in today’s meta-story TV world. So what is the small trend I noticed? Well, since it was only in two shows I watch it’s really small but it still made me laugh. It’s kind of a variation on the old “Everything is back to normal at the end of the episode” routine. In the old days before meta-stories a show occasionally liked to hit viewers with a super dramatic “Everything has changed” moment to make things exciting. Except by the end of the show the status quo was back. I’d give examples but I really don’t remember any. I used to hate it when the writers pulled that cheap stunt.

The funny thing is that a similar cheap stunt was pulled on both “Castle” and “The Mentalist” and I didn’t mind at all. I was happy to get back to the status quo because the meta-stories aren’t that important in either of those shows.

In “Castle” they had a cliff hanger at the end of last season. The main detective and Castle’s partner got shot in the chest by a sniper by someone who didn’t want her investigating her mother’s murder. The new season opened with her being rushed to the hospital and saved. They then flash forward a few months and she’s recovered and things go back to normal. It was, bam, she’s shot in the chest and then, bam, everything is back the way it was. It made me laugh. Nowadays a lot of TV shows would drag that story out for half a season but it was over and done with in half an hour on “Castle”. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad they didn’t drag out that storyline but I do find it funny. I mean why did they bother?

Nearly the same thing happened in “The Mentalist”. The cliff hanger at the end of last season was that The Mentalist character thinks he has found Red John, shoots Red John while at the mall, and waits for the cops to come take him away. Pretty strong cliff hanger but everything was resolved within the first episode of the new season. Y’see The Mentalist uses his detective skills to track down Red John’s wife/partner in crime and finds their next victim still alive. He then goes on trial where he acts as his own defense lawyer and is found not guilty of Red John’s murder even though he killed him. And, of course, it wasn’t really Red John that he killed but some other serial killer. All that in a hour. For most shows these days that would be a season and the cliff hanger would be the verdict. But they wanted the status quo back so they made it happen. Once again, I didn’t mind but it did make me laugh.

So TV is back for fall season and that is about the only thought I have on it. Well I did watch one episode of “Terra Nova”. It had strong family values and violence against dinosaurs. It seems to be going for mainstream appeal but it was pretty well done. I’ll watch some more of it. Probably until it gets too mainstream for me. I like a little edge to my TV. So what are you watching?