Television is a frustrating medium.
As I’ve created Snowy Fictions, I’ve written occasional blog posts regarding the format. These are mostly reviews from shows I love, such as Killing Eve. Or, with Game of Thrones, I added commentary. Yet I struggle with television.
It’s hard to keep up with shows. Finding serials that I’ll enjoy is troublesome. Both are unfortunate situations, and it begs the question. Why inconvenience yourself to find the next great television show when you can just re-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Often, investing in a television show can backfire. I don’t regret watching the first four seasons of Dexter, but I wish the final four, especially the last, did not exist. That’s a shame. Television is great for long-term storytelling and character building. Yet it’s very easy for a studio to throw all of that away. Or worse, the show may get cancelled, like Hannibal.
That said, there are shows that I initially struggled with, yet absolutely adore. Two come to mind. Breaking Bad and The Shield. Both of them are high quality. Yet they understand that people invest time in a show, and they’ll probably pay you off. I think of the ending to The Shield and a thousand thoughts rush through my head. But one of them is that the story only works in television format.
When producers want to explore a ‘theme’ or a concept, they can go into significant depth over seven seasons. Certain tropes, such as sliding morality and grey characters, do exceptionally well in television. Even if a show is ultimately cancelled, as was Firefly after less than fifteen episodes, it remains charming on rewatches.
I remember watching Orphan Black, a show I cherish, and stressing whether it will be renewed. My thoughts made sense. It was a great science fiction show, and I was pleased with all five seasons. Yet stressing was a bridge too far. Although I’m not blaming anyone for it, I wonder if I’m not the only one who experienced that.
My argument isn’t that ‘television sucks today.’ I haven’t watched enough contemporary television to make such an argument. That said, I can argue that it’s more enriching to re-watch an old favourite serial than take the risk on a new show.
We live in an age where there are so many shows available, that we may be picky and use high standards. There is nothing wrong with that. A point I can never stress enough is that it’s okay to dislike certain media and refuse to watch particular shows. I’d also argue that these running shows don’t really market themselves well.
Go onto Netflix and look at their catalogue. Every show uses a similar graphic design. This creates a ‘sameness’ and a gentrification of fiction. And that is a shame. Shows shouldn’t try to be like each other, they should try to stand apart. By all means, writers can incorporate influences and tropes from other media. Joss Whedon did that with the Buffyverse. Yet originality is hard to market. Plus, it’s risky.
I remember the show Pushing Daisies, which was sadly short lived. It had an energetic fusion of colours, a rich setting and a clever sense of humour. Although it has an adoring fanbase to this day, it’s clear producers interpret Pushing Daisies as not successful.
Film is like television. There are so many movies, including indie and a big studio, that it’s hard to keep up. The competition for video content looks intense. Yet most movies are done after 2 hours, with no sequel or ‘hook’ in sight. This allows the viewer to make peace with the story, ending the way it does. Television requires an original strategy, as they are less likely to please the viewer.
Films can turn into sequel cash cows. And unless they are done well with heart and energy, that remains a negative.
Beloved shows often feel like pawns on a chessboard. I remember the Netflix Marvel shows, such as Jessica Jones and Daredevil. Yet, that universe and what the stories were building to, meant nothing. This is because of Netflix’s interactions with Disney regarding Marvel characters. It’s sad and rather depressing.
Television tells stories that are the lifeblood of fiction. They can move us, challenge our thinking, and cause us to look deeper. Yet the way television is structured makes that hard. Chances are, I won’t be able to watch every television show. And that’s okay.
I’ve got my DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s something I can make peace with.