The opening of the show features one of the main characters, Clyde, providing an overview of the premise to the audience.
After a brief break in his narration with dramatic music playing over a series of shots from the show, Sarah Jane opens the door to greet him and asks, "Ready?" He responds eagerly and confidently, "Always," and then turns to look directly at the camera.
Breaking the fourth wall is nothing new. The opening of William Shakespeare's Richard III starts with one of the more famous examples of that type of acknowledgement of the audience. I think with the advent of television and movies, actors were able to engage individual viewers in a way that wasn't quite possible with plays and operas. Richard III talks to the audience, but the audience as a whole. With television and it's solitary perspective, looking right at the camera like that provides a direct connection with each viewer on an individual basis. The actor is no longer just generally acknowledging that an audience exists, as is the case with Shakespeare, but he/she is specifically acknowledging that YOU as an individual exist and the story (or, at least, some of the actor's specific remarks) are for your individual benefit.
It might seem like a fine distinction, but it speaks to a lack of subtlety. The show's producers are making it plainly obvious that they are trying to engage you as a viewer as viscerally as possible. With children's programming, that's more necessary as youngsters often haven't developed the type of mental skills necessary to parse that all out for themselves. So I don't have a problem with that in shows like Sesame Street or Sarah Jane Adventures or whatever.
But in watching SJA today, it struck me that that same type of viewer acknowledgement often appears in comic books as well. Generally, not in the same breaking-the-fourth-wall sense, but that basic lack of subtlety. You know that "wink wink nudge nudge say no more say no more" straight-forwardness of overtly broadcasting when you're supposed to be in on the joke? That hit-you-over-the-head with references to make sure that you don't miss the punchline that's only intended for die-hard fans.
Not every comic does that, of course. It can vary widely with the skill of the writer. But there's something about that self-referential continuity that seems to make it more prevalent than it needs to be. Like I said, that's fine if you're aiming for a younger audience who won't get it otherwise. But I wonder if continuing to spoon feed that type of thing to 20- and 30- and 40-somethings helps to keep them in some state of arrested development.
Maybe I'm being (uncharacteristically) overly optimistic, but aren't some of the best comics NOT telegraphing everything to the audience so flagrantly? Watchmen, Palestine, Maus, etc. Aren't the greats of the industry -- the Will Eisners and Jim Sterankos and Jeff Smiths -- folks who use subtlety and nuance, and don't knock the reader over the head with The Point?
Again, I'm not saying that every comic comes across so juvenile, but that so many of them do may be part of the reason why so many comic shops also come across as juvenile locations. What if we were able to ramp up creators' games across the board? What if, instead of working down to the reader as if they were 12, creators required the cerebral processing of at least a 21 year old for their audience?
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that wouldn't sell. Maybe most people do have the brainpower of a tweenager. That would certainly go a long way towards explaining a lot of what goes on in this world. But, damn, that's a scary proposition.