Friday, January 3, 2014

Serial Culture

Comic Books are to Books as Television is to Film

While this analogy describes well the improved quality, recognition, and status of both Comics and TV,for now I'm primarily referring to the serialized nature of each. In the same way that I read comics instead of books, (see:) without a concerted effort to watch films, I eschew them in favor of the shorter installments of TV series. This is a problem because I lovefilm. And having kids (the third due to arrive in May) only gives more incentive to keep my viewing commitments short. (Other parents know this acutely, but for all you non-parents out there you can be sure of one thing:as soon as your child enters the world, any attempt to sit down for 60 consecutive minutes or more will inevitably be interrupted). And since TV has entered a Golden Age of both quality and accessibility, it is even easier to justify choosing the serialized screen-time over feature length films. But see there's a problem with TV that film can mostly avoid. Even the greatest works in the medium of television can get caught up in the commercial aspect of perpetuating itself. It's obvious that when a successful TV show is on the air, great sums of money are being made. I think it's likely for many TV production teams that this is the goal; a world of characters and stories that people love so much, they will watch it indefinitely. The problem is (as any long-time reader of superhero comics can tell you) this can sometimes interfere with the ability to tell a satisfying story. And I mean, understandably, right? Who when receiving regular paychecks with lots of zeroes, and attendant fame and critical acclaim would be eager to plan a way for that to end? Almost anyone would believe they could just add in a few more years of story. This desire (as I mentioned with Superhero comics) is not unique to TV, it is a challenge that persists for anyone producing commercially serialized media. It is a central factor leading to such the explosion of sequels and prequels in cinema. And while some of the greatest works of Western Literature were initially released in serialized form (Anna Karenina, Count of Monte Cristo, Huckleberry Finn, and many others), () the medium can dilute and engorge stories that might be better served being edited down. Serialization also leads to the adoption of formulaic storylines and conventions

SPOILER for The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire

One example:Season 2 (Richie Aprile) and 5 (Steve Buscemi as Tony B.) of the Sopranos, where a previously unmentioned character is released from prison, causing all sorts of trouble and is then killed off by the end of the season. A similar formula was adopted with Boardwalk Empire's Gyp Rosetti in Season 3. While these formulas may still move storylines along, and do not necessarily diminish the quality of the show, they are predictable and largely absent from great film.And perhaps worse than this is when a series that should've ended years earlier drags on simply because it still draws an audience. It aimlessly wanders on pulling in diminishing returns for both the network and the viewers (see: The Office). The end result of which is a souring of opinion on the show as a whole. HBO's Band of Brothers is a perfect counter-example of how serialized TV can produce a holistic creative work that seems to be one complete thought; a work that expresses an artistic interpretation without pandering or obvious and embarrassing attempts to perpetuate itself. The fact that it was designed as a 12 episode "mini-series" that had no designs towards annual renewal, shows one strategy for TV to avoid the whole process of constantly selling itself to the public. A process that Netflix model emulates in a way that is very positive for the future of television. But in the meantime great films have few of the same challenges (at least once they've been released and are already widely available to us). We can look back on great films and marvel at their relative brevity and self discipline in editing. And what's most exciting to me, is that in looking back on the last couple years, we have all sorts of year end lists that can help us separate the wheat from the chaff, in a way that is more difficult when deciding what movies to go see in theaters.

As II love finding ways to organize my life, and the consumption of my favorite things. As a result annual "Best of" lists are pretty much my favorite thing ever. I don't really care about Christmas anymore, but I love December cause I know all the year-end lists are coming out. My favorite of all is . And just like my annual resolution to read one book a month I have also resolved to watch one film a week. I figure I can carve out one night, even if interrupted, where I can stay up late, and focus my mind on a great film. I tend to alternate between art house/indie films and more commercial Hollywood fare, because my appetite for each is encouraged by a taste of the other. This results in funny juxtapositions and quizzical/ bemused looks from my local librarian as I checked out one week after . But in this manner for 2013 I was able to catch up on a lot of guilty pleasures as well as all fifteen of . so for this year? ...cause hey at least I'm not 4 years behind.
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