When it comes to TV terminology, spoiler is the only word that seems to matter — especially if you're yet to catch up on a show. But unless you work in the TV industry, chances are you'll find it a bit difficult to keep up with so many technical terms when you read about your favorite series.
In an attempt to make your binge watching an easy task, here's a brief guide to the words you'll want to know to help you come up with your own theories and foreshadowing — with no cliffhangers attached.
Back in the day, completing 100 episodes was great for syndication, which allows multiple channels to air a show, outside of its original network. Nowadays, however, the 100th episode of a popular series is a huge event, and it usually aims to reward the regular audience in many ways.
Memorable 100th Episodes: Grey's Anatomy's "What Difference A Day Makes" shows Derek and Meredith passing over their wedding plans to Izzie and Karev so that they could have their happy ending. In #Buffy's "The Gift", Buffy sacrifices herself to save the whole world. And, in the 100th episode of #Friends, Phoebe gives birth to her brother's in-vitro babies.
Binge watching has become widely popular, especially through #Netflix, with its original series premiering all their episodes at once. This way, viewers no longer have to wait a whole week to find out what happens next. Instead, audiences get to watch every episode of a season one after the other, with no breathing time in between.
When an episode only features the main cast, a very common location of the series and hardly any effects, it's called a bottle episode. These are where the producers might be trying to save to some money because of a low budget for a season, or maybe because of an expensive premiere or finale.
Memorable Bottle Episode: Once again, Friends makes the list with its "The One Where No One Is Ready" episode. In fact, this episode turned out to be so successful with fans that the producers decided to include at least one bottle episode in each season after that.
A callback is a reference to something that happened in previous episodes. It may be a joke said before, a place revisited, a revamp of a memorable moment or a simple mention of a character who has already died. Callbacks are different from flashbacks because they're not literally equal to previous events, but merely similar.
Memorable Callbacks: In the Season 7 of #TheWalkingDead, "Say Yes" was an episode filled with specific callbacks to previous seasons — from a reference to the tank in the pilot episode of the series, to Glenn's fake-out death in Season 6.
This literally means to leave fans hanging from a cliff as they wait for the next episode or season to reveal a mystery. A perfectly executed cliffhanger usually does the job of hooking audiences and bringing them back for more, while a carelessly thrown in cliffhanger may cause fans to feel disheartened and, ultimately, drop the show for good.
Memorable Cliffhangers: #Lost is a terrific early example of the modern cliffhanger, enticing mysteries such as "the hatch" and the flash-forwards in Season 3. If you're looking for an example of a cliffhanger that crossed the line, just take a look at The Walking Dead Season 6 finale, which made fans wait for months to find out the fate of their favorite characters.
Traditionally, a cold open sets the focus point of an episode before the title credits roll. You see the story start to unfold before the first break, enticing viewers to stick around. There is, however, the possibility to use a cold open to recap what happened on previous episodes (hence that famous "Previously on..." in the beginning of so many shows).
Memorable Cold Opens: A classic cold open is the one featured in Saturday Night Live, which usually ends with the guest breaking character and saying the famous opening: "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night Live!". #GameofThrones generally goes with recaps for cold opens, but last season, "The Broken Man" surprised fans by starting off with a character (who was presumed dead) going about his business.
An Easter Egg is a carefully placed element that evokes a previously shown moment. It usually carries a fun tone — a kind of an inside joke for the most avid fans to spot —but it may also be used to hint at character deaths or tragedies to come. An #EasterEgg that doesn't pay off, or one that doesn't add up to anything in the story and is simply put in to throw viewers off, is called a red-herring.
Memorable Easter Eggs: The Walking Dead debuted its first season on AMC with a nice nod to the network's biggest success at the time, Breaking Bad. In "Tell it to the Frogs", Glenn gets to drive Walt Jr.'s red Dodge Challenger. But perhaps the most famous Easter Egg in the show is the decaying of the opening credits throughout the seasons (as in the gif above).
Every time an episode focuses on a supporting character or secondary arc, that episode is called a filler. Fillers are meant to literally fill the episode count for the season, and usually don't add much to the main plot of the show — its story starts and finishes within the episode.
Memorable Filler: Recently, The Flash finally made good on a long-term tease to bring a musical episode into the Arrowverse. "Duet" was no doubt a wonderful episode, but it did little to nothing to advance The Flash (or Supergirl) season plot.
Foreshadowing is a technique used to indicate something that will likely happen in the future of the show. This may seem like just another Easter Egg for the regular viewer, but foreshadowing means much more than having hidden messages in any given scene. As a general rule, you'll only notice that something was previously predicted (or foretold, as you'll have it) after the mystery has been solved — or, in case of book adaptations, if you've read far in advance.
Memorable Foreshadowing: Let's once more take HBO's moneymaker Game of Thrones as an example (since foreshadowing is apparently a favorite of the producers). Clear spoiler alert if you're not caught up, but most of the first seasons of the show — and certainly all the Stark deaths — were foreshadowed in the pilot episode. On their way back to Winterfell, Ned Stark and his sons find a litter of Direwolves (the Stark Sigil) by the road. The catch here was that the mother wolf had been killed by a stag, which was the sigil of King Robert Baratheon — whose line was responsible for more Stark deaths than we can count.
With every new gimmick invented by a groundbreaking series producer or director, the TV jargon will only increase, but this list is a pretty good start to understand the subtleties of a series episode. With so many leaks and spoilers out there, showrunners are bound to resort to more creative ways to keep viewers entertained, and hunting for Easter Eggs or callbacks while you watch an episode can certainly add to the fun.
Did I leave out something you'd like to know? Do you have some other memorable examples? Let me know in the comments below!