by Kierston Drier
If you have ever tuned in to your favorite serialized show airing on Prime-Time, you have seen a cheater cut. You may not have heard the term, but the chances are high you’ve relied on it if you’ve ever missed an episode, in the era before you could download it.
A Cheater-cut is the small series of shots that break down the basic plot points in the previous episode, and often air just before the episode about to come up. It is, metaphorically, an information booster-shot, so that you’ll be able to generally keep up with what is going on in the current episode, if you missed last weeks’.
Orphan Black, is one of many shows that employs Cheater’s Cuts, the introductory footage that will recap the previous episode. Cheater Cuts can also serve other purposes- they can shine a spotlight on essential plot points, or even create red-herrings. In serialized dramas boasting multiple plots, Cheater Cuts’ are helpful, simply in helping jog the memory of a viewer, who is watching the episodes a week apart. Think of a Cheater Cut as reading the chapter summary at the back of a textbook, right before you have to take the test- except the test is your favorite TV show- and the summary is master editing.
Cheater Cuts’ are far more common in serialized drama. In serialized drama, the narrative carries over all season long, and more times than not, the entire series. As such, what happened in the previous episode will directly effect what will be happening in the current episode. However, we do see Cheater Cut’s in comedy. Far more rare, they usually occur in a special circumstance, like a season finale, where the comic story fails to wrap up at the end of the episode, and ends of a nail-biting cliff hanger…only to return next week for a sweet and heartwarming resolution. In this cases, cheater cuts’ often make a noticeable appearance, usually opening with something like “Last time on…” whereas the opening of a serialized cheater cut would likely be more subtle.
Cheater Cuts are very effective and often crucial to the story. They allow the audience to get a refresher on the arch and be ready to jump directly into the action from frame one. The eliminate the need for expositional dialogue and allow the piece to continue its’ flow with an unbroken fluidity. So the next time you miss your favorite episode of a Sunday night drama, thank an editor- a Cheater Cut may save you next week.