How Channel 5's Faculty Should Have Ended / by Tze Hern Yeo

I did the unthinkable and binge-watched all 20 episodes of Channel 5's 'Faculty' last night on a whim. 'Faculty' is a local TV series depicting the high stakes drama of professors and students at Straits University. Needless to say, I have a lot of feelings about the show. 

Hannah Baker Was Killed In Pop's Diner With Maple Syrup

Jason Blossom (Riverdale), Phillip Liew (Faculty) and Hannah Baker (13 Reasons Why).

When 'Faculty' premiered earlier this year on 27 February, it was hard not to draw comparisons between it and shows like 'Riverdale' and '13 Reasons Why'. These shows carried the same DNA of pilot murder dramas where the central mystery of an unsolved murder was the key narrative plot device throughout the season.

Instead of solely focusing on the victim's perspective, these shows dived into the lived in experience of the central characters as more pieces of the puzzle were teased out to audiences. 'Faculty' was rather ambitious in this regard. With an airtime schedule that jam packed the entire season into a little over a month, the show wasted no time getting through multiple character arcs interwoven with the central mystery. 

'13 Reasons Why' had its tapes while 'Riverdale' had Jughead's narration of the investigation into Jason Blossom's murder. By contrast, 'Faculty' relied heavily on the use of social media to introduce plot points and push the action forward.

Right from the get go, the show opens with a videotaped sexual encounter that is shared campus-wide. Viewers are then somehow expected to make the connection between that video and the overarching mystery, even though the events in the video are only formally addressed in Episode 18. Along the way there are constant references to the student website UniZone, the university's confessions page, and in-show Instagram handles belonging to characters that are used in real life to extend the show experience. 

While it is commendable of 'Faculty' to portray a somewhat realistic depiction of today's youth, the central conceit of millennials as heavy social media users arguably paints the characters in a one-dimensional light. Using social media updates as convenient plot points becomes tiring for viewers to stay emotionally invested especially when events in the show have borrowed heavily from real life events

Perhaps if 'Faculty' honed in on a specific aspect of social media as a plot device, we as viewers might be more inclined to find out how the mystery plays out. In this respect, 'Gossip Girl' succeeds at having used social media as the titular character's tool to expose the scandalous lives of Manhatten's elite without social media itself becoming the sole focus of the entire show. But that's another story I'll never tell.

How Much Is Too Much?

Take a look at the cast photo for 'Faculty'.

And you thought Civil War was overcrowded.

The cast of 'Faculty' boasts an impressive line up of 15 main characters (as pictured above) and at least 15 other secondary characters. To have this many storylines across 20 episodes is no easy feat for any show. Here's a quick rundown of the key storylines that moved the entire season in order of importance to the central mystery:

  1. Phillip Liew's investigation into the truth behind his sister's (Juliet Liew) murder
  2. The Jensen Family (Dean Malcolm, his wife, and son, Alex) and Juliet Liew's encounter abroad
  3. Sylvia's career as a professor at Straits University
  4. Bryan's struggle with his sexuality
  5. CK's struggle to swim fast enough in order to impress his father 
  6. Victoria's sex-for-grades scheme with Professor David
  7. Desiree's struggle as a sugar baby to pay tuition fees
  8. Professor Francis, David and Maddie's power struggle for tenure
  9. Dean Malcolm's plagiarism of Sylvia's ex-Professor's work
  10. Sylvia's relationship with her fiance, Terrence
  11. Sylvia's relationship with her ex-Professor
  12. The CK-Alex-Desiree love triangle
  13. Si En and CK's relationship 
  14. Zarina and Daniel's relationship
  15. Zarina's struggle to fit in at university
  16. Priya's job at Unizone and filming everything around campus
  17. Si En's cosplay antics with Zarina and CK
  18. Cempaka Hall events (Orientation, Pageant, Elections, Halloween, Mid Sem Party, End of Sem Party)

It was hard enough to keep track of all these storylines throughout the season let alone list them down here. I for one hoped for some breathing space in between but with so many plot points engineered to converge toward the central mystery, it certainly proved to be a slow march to the season finale. 

While not all storylines had to necessarily tie in with the central mystery of the show, 'Faculty' could have definitely benefited from a more streamlined approach at depicting the tertiary education experience. You can't have both 'Murder' and 'Uni Life' without sacrificing character development.

Uni Students Talk Like That Meh?

Actual lines of dialogue from the show.

Throughout the season there was a mix of characters speaking in both English and Singlish. Sometimes it even felt like I was watching two very different shows. Scenes involving students seemed to be written in a weird mishmash of Singlish with English expressions that local students would rarely use in their everyday life. On the other hand, scenes involving the professors appeared to be written in British English and the actors performed them with the seriousness of a courtroom drama. 

This odd combination threw me off at different points of the show when the story shifted back and forth between the drama in the classroom and the staffroom. A stronger commitment to tonality would have certainly made for more believable characters in the world of 'Faculty'.

It's Not Over Just Yet

In the final episode of 'Faculty', the students gather in the common room to watch a highlight reel of their first year experiences. The Jensen Family are brought into questioning by the Criminal Investigation Department for the death of Juliet Liew.

The show then ends on a cliffhanger about Bryan's sexuality and Desiree's possible return to the sugar baby lifestyle as Phillip looks longingly at an empty barstool where Sylvia used to sit. I could not have written a more confusing sentence myself. 

It seems the writers were pretty confident that the show would be picked up for a second season. Whether or not viewers like myself would be bothered to continue watching remains up in the air.