UPDATE: Just to clarify, I really have watched hardly any of Merlin so far; the voiceover and score instantly made me so cross I needed to get it out of my system. I thought it probably wasn't fair to watch the rest of it while I was in such a bad mood, so will get back to it later. TREMBLE IN YOUR BOOTS BBC.
Dear British Television People,
Look, you fucks, stop insisting every last bloody series has to have a voiceover on it! You're only doing it because the Americans do it. Yes, alright, sometimes a voiceover brings something extra: in Dexter, for example, there's a whole level of irony generated by contrasting Dexter's outward appearance (neat, clean, polite) with the reality (smirking serial killer), as well as bringing some of the flavour of Jeff Lynsey's original novels (in fact I reckon adaptations get a free pass for use of voiceovers generally).
In Arrested Development, Ron Howard's narration allows focus to shift between a large number of characters with the minimum loss of momentum. The narrator himself also starts to become a character in his own right as the series goes on, although not all the viewers approved.
The rot started though, with Pushing Daisies, the start of which went something like this:
A boy runs across a field.
NARRATOR: This is a boy running across a field.
The boy's dog dies. He brings it back to life.
NARRATOR: The boy's dog died. But look, then he brought it back to life!
ME: Yes, I can see that. Because it just happened.
NARRATOR: I wasn't sure if you were looking.
ME: I was looking.
NARRATOR: But what if you blink? OH GOD, WHAT IF YOU BLINK!
ME: You're going to do this all through the entire episode aren't you?
The boy grows up and opens a pie shop.
NARRATOR: And then the boy grew up and opened a pie shop.
I decide never to watch Pushing Daisies again.
ME: I decided, right then, never to watch Pushing Daisies again.
This happens, you see, because the American networks are all too horribly aware that their show is just one of five hundred alternate distractions, and that if at any moment you get confused about what's happening on screen, you'll just wander off and fall down a mine, and never watch any television ever again. Consequently, just seeing what's happening on screen isn't enough; the viewer needs it laying out in black and white at the same time, in case they become confused, freak out, and fall down that mine again.
Which means, if you're working on television series over in the States at the moment, and increasingly, it seems, over here, the chances are you'll be asked to work a voiceover into at least the pilot episode. Which completely fucks over the whole point of screenwriting, which is to show, not tell. You may as well retitle The Sixth Sense: 'OMG He's Dead'. Voiceovers also give those screenwriters who are frustrated novelists (most of us) the chance to use all the pompous verbiage they've had stored up since sixth form. The results aren't pretty.
So here's the new rule: if there's a valid, story-enhancing reason to use a voiceover, then by all means, go mental. If the only reason you're putting one in is because some suit is worried stupid people won't be able to follow the action, tell him or her you don't want to make television for stupid people. And if fact, those stupid people mostly exist on the suit's imagination anyway. And then PUNCH THE SUIT IN THE FACE.
Right. *puts Merlin back on*
ME: ARGH THE MUSIC I HATE IT MAKE IT STOP
Still, that's ten seconds further than I got with Bonekickers.