When it comes to pacy plotting, Spooks on BBC1 is pretty good. It’s also quite a model of editing what are, in essence, pretty bland scenes together. ‘The Grid’ is basically a dark room with a few tables and computers and that’s where at least 30% of the action happens. The exterior action is mainly shots of people walking down streets intercut with other shots of people sitting in cars or also walking down streets. Then there are very ordinary looking safe houses on Peckham council estatesÂ and disused warehouses where all the villains threaten to remove bodily parts from the heroes. No wonder they like to stick in a spectacular explosion every so often. When you realise the action is largely banal and repetitive it shows that the dialogue is very clever in transforming the mundane into a cliffhanger — and quite a bit of it can be classed as ‘telling’ — ‘he’s got a dirty bomb in that suitcase that will kill half of London’ suddenly gives a whole new meaning to another shot of a bloke walking along a street with a bag. It’s very clever and makes good use of the characters being hard-bitten secret agents to ensure they never let the dialogue-driven pace flag with sentimental asides.
Another good example of well-structured ‘plots’ are in the more classy reality series like ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘The Restaurant’. These are edited into little dramas with a very clear narrative arc — the obstacle or challenge is defined, the contestants try to overcome the obstacle, they succeed or fail and then have a short review of how they performed with the help of Raymond or Siralan to ensure they take away some self-knowledge. The climax is the firing but there’s a short period of resolution and reflection afterwards. You can almost set your watch by the plot points on ‘The Apprentice’ — about 7 minutes for the task to be set, 12 minutes or so when they’ve decided how they’re going to organise themselves, 20 minutes when they first start blundering into disaster, 30 minutes when the outcome of the task is teetering between success and failure, on about 37 minutes they’ve finished and prepare for the boardroom, at 52 minutes someone’s getting a roasting, 56 minutes when someone gets fired, then there’s the taxi ride.