All week I have been reading Ron Howard’s twitter updates about doing the voice-over for the new Arrested Development episodes. Of course, every time I read one of those tweets I got super excited because the narrator was one of my favorite parts of Arrested Development. However that got me thinking about V.O. s.

If you know anything at all about screenwriting (or have seen the movie Adaptation) you know that voice-over narration is one of the most controversial screenwriting devices. Most screenwriting books and teachers will tell you to avoid V.O.s at all costs and they are considered to be a sign of lazy storytelling.

Nevertheless, as with everything in life, there are many exceptions. I am not completely against the argument to avoid voice-over narration as I can think of many examples of unnecessary, redundant, annoying use of this device. But I can also think of cases where the V.O. added to the story in a wonderful way! If you browse the net you will find countless articles about movies that effectively used V.O.  (American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, Memento, etc.) However, here at TV Republik, we care about television, so… A couple of superb shows came to mind when I thought of good voice-overs. Here are my favorites:


Dexter’s V.O. is one of my favorites on TV. Dexter is probably one of the most brilliantly written characters of all times. I have always been in awe of how the writers managed to make the character so likable given the fact that he is an unapologetic serial killer. If the show was told from an outside perspective, it would have been impossible to relate to Dexter. However, the writers created a window into Dexter’s inner thoughts which allowed the audience to fully understand the character’s motivations and desires. This window into Dexter was the result of two devices: The Dad Figure (a manifestation of Dexter’s conscience) and Dexter’s thinking process heard through his own V.O. The amazing thing about being able to ‘hear’ Dexter’s thoughts is that they are almost never aligned to what he actually says and does. This ever present contradiction between what he thinks and the way he presents himself to the world makes this V.O. interesting, funny at times and absolutely worth it.

Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is totally “in” again, I even think it might be getting more buzz than when it was actually on the air! With all the articles endlessly praising theshow, you must know by now that Veronica Mars was not just another teen show, so I won’t get into that. What I want to talk about right now is Veronica’s voice-over which was very predominant throughout the whole show. In this article we are discussing two types of voice-over: Almighty narrator and Character narration. Characters voice-overs (like the one on VM) are the trickiest because you may argue they are unnecessary and you could achieve the same purpose by writing scenes without the use of voiceover. However the V.O. of Veronica really worked. First of all, everything she said via V.O. was informative but moreover poignant, sarcastic and entertaining. Much like Dexter, there were several occasions where the V.O. contradicted her actions or dialogues. Second, Veronica Mars had a lot of film noir influences: a private investigator, dark characters an isolated idiosyncratic location, the music, the tone, etc. In that sense, the voice-over not only fitted perfectly with the story it was almost mandatory.

Grey’s Anatomy

Surprisingly enough I don’t hate the voice-over on this show, even though I don’t think it is ‘absolutely’ necessary. I think it works because it is used sparingly at the beginning and end of the show (sometimes before act breaks) and it sums up the entire theme of the episode. The V.O. is usually nicely written and sometimes it is more profound than the actual episode. The voice-over is generally from Meredith’s perspective, however once in a while they like to switch it up and use the V.O. of random characters. I really don’t like it when they do that! I can buy into Meredith’s philosophical ramblings (she is the title character after all), but the magic is broken once we start hearing other people’s thoughts. So as long as they keep it brief and in Meredith’s voice, I am OK with it.

Arrested Development

Ron Howard
I already said I love this voice-over, now let me elaborate on all the reasons why:  1) It was Ron Howard’s voice! I didn’t realize it was him until later but from the moment I heard it I knew it belonged to someone I had known for years and I loved that. 2) It was hilarious! Some of the best jokes were delivered flawlessly by the narrator! It added so much to the story and script. It wasn’t there just to annoy or explain, it was part of the fun. 3) The voice did not belong to one of the characters; the narrator was omnipresent and almighty. From all the V.O. types, I like almighty narrators the better. For all those reasons I absolutely love Arrested Development’s narration and the show would not be the same without it.

Pushing Daisies

This amazing amazing show probably had my favorite V.O. of all times! Pushing Daisies was a fantasy almost fairy-tale-like show and the narrator, with his bed-time-story-voice, made it feel even more magical. The narrator was almighty, but unlike the others, this one had and embraced the role of ‘exposition fairy’ which is precisely what should be avoided in voice-overs. At times, our almighty narrator was in charge of telling us how the characters were feeling, sometimes it was completely unnecessary, but he did it in the most poetic and sweetest way. Other times, his exposition was SO on the nose it became funny. It went to the extreme where the narrator would say one thing and then the characters would repeat the exact same line. It was superb in a way that took everything you should not do with V.O. and turned it into brilliance.

In summary, V.O. can sometimes be a sign of lazy storytelling, but it can also be a brilliant when used properly and these are only a few examples.
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The TV Empress is a Media Management graduate, screenwriter in the making (and financial engineer in the meantime). She has serious plans to take over global television. You can follow the TVEmpress on twitter @TVRepublik

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