Commentary: ‘The Patient’ And Why Marketing Is A Necessary Evil

by Frank Martin

Marketing is a bit of a necessary evil in terms of storytelling. On the one hand, it’s needed to let people know that a story exists. This isn’t so much a problem for big properties such as Marvel or Star Wars, things that have a built-in audience that will flock to see more stories in the universe just because they are fans. But for new stories, they need to make the public aware of its existence, and so marketing is necessary. But there is a big upside to going into a story with no preconceived knowledge whatsoever. Starting a film or TV show for the first time without knowing the premise or the characters can be a refreshing experience. But marketing can ruin this as it intrinsically spoils the premise.

A great example of this is the Steve Carell show The Patient. The premise sees Carell as a therapist trying to help a serial killer. At first, he has no idea what his patient’s problem is. In order to get truthful with his therapy, the serial killer, played by Domnhall Gleeson, kidnaps Carrell and holds him hostage so that they can have honest conversations and do real psychotherapeutic work.

The pitch is interesting and should rope psychological horror fans in immediately. Nevertheless, the show opens on a bit of a mystery. Carell’s character wakes up in a mysterious bedroom in chains. He has no idea how he got there or who kidnapped him. It’s a terrifying moment that viewers get to share with him. But if the audience learned about the show through marketing, they already have the answers to the questions Carell looks for in these opening moments. That element of resonating with the character’s situation is not as strong because the marketing needed to sell the premise. That’s why it’s a necessary evil. On the one hand, it helps draw in an audience and gain exposure for a story, but it also can ruin that sense of discovery as the audience learns about the story for the first time.

The Patient is now streaming on Hulu.

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