When you watch as much television as the kind of person who spends his or her time perusing entertainment websites ordinarily does, you're bound to find yourself saying the following phrase every once in a while: "It's been done." It's unreasonable to expect that any new series won't borrow an element or two from programs past. In fact, every show does it — comedies, dramas, mysteries, science-fictions. Each category has its share of tropes that it lends to a variety of series. Usually, these common facets are subtle, vague, intangible... not the sort of things that jump out and identify themselves as genre staples. But lately, the members of television's fantasy community seem to have banded together to uphold the maintenance of an extremely specific, vividly absurd element that even a casual friend of network TV will immediately recognize as a veteran of the mighty Lost. I'm talking, of course, about the smoke monster.
For all you heretics out there who never watched Lost, the smoke monster (which is literally just that) was introduced early on as a force of evil patrolling the island setting, making victims of the Flight 815 passengers, and evoking mating calls reminiscent of taxicab receipt-printers. When we first caught a glimpse of the mysterious beast at the beginning of the series, we (and our island friends) were shocked and frightened. The few instances of nefarious non-solid matter offered by small-screen installations in the past — Star Trek: The Next Generation's mud creature Armus, The X-Files' black oil — had not prepared us for the gaseous supervillain introduced on Lost. Not even Tim Curry's Fern Gully antagonist could appropriately prime the world for the Man in Black's vapor form.
And now, the smoke monster is making some very impressive rounds in the contemporary small screen community. The second season of HBO's Game of Thrones introduced a dark, mist-like shadow beast springing from the loins of the nightmarish Melisandre. Another HBO series, True Blood, has gone to the well with the Ifrit, a fire-and-smoke creature of Arabic lore that visited the vampirous heroes throughout the fifth season. On the ABC program Once Upon a Time, fairy tale menace Rumpelstiltskin unleashed the magic of his supernatural homeland unto mortal Earth in the form of a looming purple haze (not that kind). Over on The CW, Supernatural's Winchester brothers have faced off against more than their share of smog-like demons. And newly introduced into the brazen reality of ABC's 666 Park Avenue (which stars Terry O'Quinn, the very man who once took smoke monster form on his island alma mater) is a sea of ominous black fumes, conjured by the opening of a hell-sent parcel.
It's getting to be a problem. Sure, there is something particularly haunting about the ability to take the shape of your container. Yes. the connoted threats of lung disease and rising global temperatures adds to the certain horror surrounding the victimized characters in question. But smoke monsters can't be all we have left to fear. FDR was wrong, people — there are plenty of other things to be scared of, and fantasy television needs to stop latching onto the go-to terrors of the miasmatic ne'er-do-well.
But while Game of Thrones, True Blood, Once Upon a Time, and 666 Park Avenue are the only victims of this epidemic so far, there are plenty of other fantasy series ripe for the picking. What could be next? Might The Vampire Diaries attack Mystic Falls with a heap of devilish smog that feasts on age-old bloodsuckers? Could the Portland detectives of NBC's Grimm find themselves facing off with a hazy demon from the depths of wherever the demons on that show come from? Could the titular antihero on Beauty and the Beast find himself undertaking yet another transformation into a regretful cataclysm of toxic effluvium? And will Leslie Knope form a petition to take down the smoke monster formed by the Sweetums Corporation's incessant pollution on Parks and Recreation?
So to all those who haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet, we thank you. And we beg you to abstain. Smoke monsters might provide an ample threat, but what's even scarier than a smoke monster is the smoke monster trend. Why can't television let go of this treacherous beast? As much as we all loved Lost, it is time to cork the bottle and find new things to fear. And there are plenty! Bats, clowns, mummies, Sasquatch, Zambonis, triangles, scarves, Cincinnati, dreidels, Hugh Laurie... anything else, really. Just open your minds, TV shows. And say no to smoke monsters.
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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