I was watching Amazon’s animated TV showwhen you understand something. The series is about a tough guy who rolls into a small town and opens a can on the local bad guys. It hit me, The A-Team. To be precise, a unmarried The A-Team series.
Season 1 of Reacher covers a novel from the series of books it’s based on, and season 2 will do the same. But in the 1980s, TV heroes embarked on a whole new adventure everyweek.
In other words, what Jack Reacher needed an entire season of eight-hour episodes, The A-Team did in one hour (minus commercial breaks).
That day, my wife and I watched the first episode of Inventing Anna, a Netflix series that dramatizes the true story of notorious con artist Anna Sorokin. It seemed modest and disrespectful, so we decided to keep watching. But first – and I know you’re doing this too – we checked how long it lasts.
Nine episodes? Sorry, but this is too much.
There’s no shade to any of these shows, but it feels like a lot of current TV shows are fairly story-driven. Seriously, not every story needs eight, nine or 10 episodes.
Television creators tell us time and time again that the beauty of our prestige television age is its limitlessness. A TV series allows space and time to explore the depth and breadth of a story, develop character arcs over the years, and unfold events without the time constraints of a movie. This is true and beautiful. We’ve enjoyed many incredible TV shows that demonstrate this point brilliantly: from Mad Men to Ozark to The Sopranos to Game of Thrones to WandaVision.
However, there is a huge tsunami of new TV releases every week on all the many streaming services that are currently catching your eye. But watching shows like Reacher andto name a few, you start to wonder why they needed so many episodes — if they even needed to be a TV show at all.
You can (and should) exit any show you don’t enjoy. But then there are the shows you enjoy so well, they’re just welcome. I liked Reacher, but the only character arc in the first season is a sequence of characters arcing through the air as Jack Reacher cleans them out of their socks. It’s not a show that lets its subplots breathe, you know?
I’m not going to close Reacher, so I’m going to move smoothly into the Boba Fett Book. I argueit was supposed to be about Boba Fett in the first place. But Disney has stuck with two masked bounty hunters, and it’s too much. The episodes of The Mandalorian were lively, delicious, but the first season of The Book of Boba Fett proved to be full of eight episodes. I loved Temuera Morrison’s raucous performance and colorful sci-fi action, but he could have easily been squeezed into The Mandalorian.
Meanwhile, since I started writing this piece, word has surfaced that Fox is adapting the 2012 cop movie End of Watch into a TV series. I like End of the Hour. It’s a good movie. It doesn’t have to be completely 100% serial.
What made End of Watch exciting was some great found footage footage of familiar LAPD action, anchored by crackling performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Outrage over police brutality has grown in the intervening years, and body camera footage has played an important role in exposing officers’ heinous actions. So the updated End of View might have something profound to say about the police (and perhaps the way we portray law enforcement on television). But can you sit through a whole series of quick found footage, or does the trick work best in a one shot film? Because without this remarkable trick, End of Watch is just another cop drama.
Unfortunately, classic films are increasingly being treated as fodder to feed the streaming age’s insatiable appetite for content. Paramount comes to mind as a movie studio that also owns a streaming service (formerly known as CBS All Access), so it brings out its archive of classic movies for television. . But do we really need new versions of Flashdance? and The frickin’ Parallax View? 1969’s The Italian Affair is literally my favorite movie ever, and I don’t want to see the reported TV update.
So why is everything a TV show now? Extending these stories in extended episodic form is driven not by narrative concerns, but by the content-changing commercial needs of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, and all the other streaming services you don’t know about. phone plan.
Maybe they want to increase the amount of time their viewers spend watching their content, which for streaming services equates to old ratings. CNET broadcast expert Joan E. Solsman says, “Statistics about a show’s total viewing hours can be important for bragging rights, buzz, or catering to flatter talent.” “But the number that services are most interested in is congestion: how many subscribers are canceling. Total watch hours of an account is a big indicator of whether someone is on the verge of canceling.”
The sheer amount of content thrown at our screens is part of an ongoing arms race as each service tries to entrench itself in your life. “Streaming’s programmatic capabilities are virtually limitless,” says Solsman. “The only real limit is how much a service is willing to spend. And lately, services are going hand in hand.”
Movies vs. TV
So what’s the answer if these stories are stretched too thin like episodic TV? Making them as movies is an obvious solution. It’s worth noting that the influx of TV shows coincides with a growing wave of movies on streaming services — Netflix releases a new original movie every week. Fortunately, it’s easy to compare movies and TV shows these days, as many new TV shows are old movies stretched over several hours. For example, Tom Cruise played Jack Reacher in two films in 2012 and 2016.
But I’m not saying they were better than the new TV show, because both versions have their strengths and weaknesses. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few instances where the TV series was as good or better than the movie: The TV show Fargo was a dark delight, and His Dark Materials was an opportunity to get things right in 2007. the movie didn’t make it.
Another good movie/TV comparison is HBO Max’s surprisingly compelling Peacemaker series. John Cena starred as DC’s comic book superhero(anti-)hero in last year’s Suicide Squad, but I doubted that one joke could sustain an entire spin-off TV series. However, I was happy to be proven wrong with how layered the TV show is. Like Marvel’s Hawkeye series, Peacemaker takes a character from his big-screen movie adventures and brings them to the small screen with more intimate, character-driven storylines.
So movies aren’t always better. But at least they take less time.
In our media-rich culture, brevity is a virtue. I get paid to watch TV for a living and I still feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff on offer. One of my favorite series is A Very British Scandal, a delightful three-episode series ripped from the headlines. Real life dramawas both excellent and could have benefited from a tighter episode count.
In fact, there are a number of adaptations that have made headlines this year into multi-episode series. falling,and Super Pumped dramatize the stories of Theranos, WeWork and Uber, but I grit my teeth at the thought of spending hours on them. Like classic movies, real life is increasingly becoming fodder for streaming “content”. Peacock’s eight-episode Joe vs. In Carole, I’ve literally watched an entire series about these people.
Streaming services should remember one of the best things about TV: flexibility. If you’re wondering how Reacher could fit into more stories, check out another old favorite of mine, the Sharpe series. Fans of Sean Bean or historical action adventure will know that each season of Sharpe consists of three feature-length television movies, each adapting an individual novel from author Bernard Cornwell’s series. The longer episodes did justice to each book’s story and characters (even if they were all the same, if we whisper), while the number of episodes meant you got a new Sharpe every week.
And check out one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Band of Brothers, which helped usher in an era of prestige television. HBO’s hit show did all of World War II! In the time it takes Jack Reacher to clear a single city, Easy Company chases the rogue Nazis out of Europe.
We never looked at Anna’s invention. My wife just read the magazine article. And me? I decided to stop worrying about it and just watch The A-Team.
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