In many tv shows and films, the voiceovers lend zero added value

gossip-girl-gossip-girl-2024112-1024-768I’m still watching, and loving, Gossip Girl, but I’m also really put off by the voiceovers by the mysterious “Gossip Girl”. Perhaps there are one or two situations in which the GG voiceovers say something revelatory or interesting, but in general they’re incredibly obvious. For instance, the show will cut to a picture of some girl messing around when she should be studying on a test and then Gossip Girl will say, “Oh no, looks like little Jenny Humphrey is all play and no work.”

Like, umm, yeah, we’ve got eyes. I don’t know why anyone ever thought it was a good idea to have voiceovers that describe what we are looking at. The most egregious offender, in this instance, was the most recent Great Gatsby film. In that case, every single one of the voiceovers was either banal or flatly untrue. For instance, when Caraway first meets Gatsby on the stairs, the voiceover goes on and on and on about how brilliant and magnetic his smile was, when, err, we can see the smile. We’re looking at it. The smile is okay. Leo DiCaprio knows how to smile. But it’s not the greatest smile that ever was. And when the voiceover tries to sell the smile so hard, then it just reveals what it’s not.

In Gossip Girl, the voiceovers seem to be consistently misused. They’re almost never used in the most obvious way, which is to deliver background exposition about things that are difficult to dramatize. For instance, the voiceover never tells (i.e. gossips to) us anything about some kind of secret history that the onscreen characters might share. The voiceover never serves as counterpoint, in order to highlight some kind of irony in the scene: some truth that’s the opposite of what’s being said or shown. It’s really the most flat-footed element of an otherwise very deft show.

The only show with good voiceovers that’s coming to mind right now is Scrubs. In that case, the voiceovers worked because they were used to set up the show’s frequent cutaway jokes. But they were also used, in many cases, to quickly fill us in on background details and set the scene at the beginning of the episode. And, also, to tell us what was up with the various patients we were seeing. The voiceovers also worked because JD had a very warm, very humane voice. And he was also one of the main characters of the show, so the voiceovers continued his narrative arcs and character development. However, even in Scrubs, the closing voiceovers were frequently saccharine, moralistic, and unnecessary.