Has TV really become too ambitious for its own good? There’s an argument to be made, and Sam Adams makes it well:
by Sam Adams
The current era of Peak TV owes much of its existence to the increasing sway of serialized storytelling. The availability of TV seasons on DVD and then streaming allowed TV creators to think in seasons rather than seasons rather than episodes, putting their characters through genuine changes rather than hitting the reset button every time the end credits rolled.
But treating TV seasons as unified wholes has its drawbacks, too. As I wrote over the summer, the canard that TV has become more like novels allows writers and showrunners to gloss over a multitude of flaws on the episodic level, with the justification that it will all make sense in the end. Sure, it was manipulative to lead viewers of “The Walking Dead” on for an entire month with a phony death, but maybe the deception won’t seem so egregious when Glenn is stuck under that Dumpster for hours instead of weeks. For shows designed to be binge-watched, episodic divisions become almost irrelevant, mere mile-markers on the journey to the finish line. (I’d argue that binge-watch shows still need those mile-markers to give viewers the periodic dopamine hits of incremental progress, but that’s an essay for another time.)
As Alan Sepinwall writes at HitFix, “More and more — particularly on cable, but now even on many broadcast shows — dramas are being structured for marathon viewing, rather than the weekly schedule in which they originally air. Serialization was once a dirty word in network television, where researchers used to claim that even a show’s most devoted fans watched one out of every four episodes on average, and where the president of entertainment at FOX had to lie to her bosses that ’24’ would have self-contained episodes in order to get a greenlight. Now that DVRs are commonplace, almost nobody airs reruns anymore, and the big aftermarket isn’t in syndicated repeats but selling shows to the streaming outlets, serialization is not only accepted, but in many cases preferred.”