Opinions Vary: My Television Predicament
Rejoice, my friends! We are living in a golden age of television, when viewers have more and better options than ever before. There’s something for everyone, and that something is oftentimes quite impressive. In particular, dramatic narratives have become a go-to form for fans of creative story arcs and complex characters, presenting a more wide-ranging, novelistic approach to visual storytelling than even what most commercial films currently offer. And a pulp paragon of this form is Breaking Bad. It’s so defining, in fact, that some contemplate that it may be seen as this age’s end someday. But let’s be more optimistic than that. There is still a lot of quality TV-watching to be done and now that Breaking Bad has come to an end and fans of the show, myself included, start to turn to other shows, to find quality entertainment somewhere else, I think it’s a good time to explicate my strangely hesitant relationship with narrative television.
Truth be told, I don’t watch many TV shows. Being more of a movie enthusiast, I’d rather watch a new movie (recently released or one I’d never seen before) or revisit a classic than dive into one or several shows. I find the concision of the medium to be very appealing, as I’m able to take in great, self-contained stories without dedicating too much time, while getting much out of them. I can plow through numerous films much more effortlessly than binge-watch a television show. But I must admit: The high quality and robust output of television as of late has been extremely tempting to me, especially since watching these shows has never been easier, thanks to the normalization of on-demand, Netflix, and other watch-when-you-want avenues. Complete series that have ended (or still air, for that matter) are at my fingertips at all times, and my urge to catch up on some well-regarded shows has only intensified as the ease of watching them on my own terms, at my own pace, has become the standard. But here’s my problem: If I am to dedicate a good chunk of my time to watching a show, there has to be a relatively consistent quality to every season. And if it doesn’t work well all together, from premiere to finale, I’m inclined to stay away from it entirely. The entire series has to be, more or less, first-rate.
Narrative television’s greatest advantage over other formats is its ability to showcase nuanced development. The format doesn’t readily allow for a viewer to pick up from any point (as one can do when watching sitcoms or procedural shows). Rather, a viewer has to go along for the whole ride to get the best possible experience out of it. That way, one can see how the characters grow and evolve and interact over time. And, on a larger scale, one can witness how each successive season builds on the previous one to create an engaging story arc. But, no matter how different each season is, a series is still one complete arc; it is one whole account of what happens, what’s important to show. So if a series has some less-than-stellar seasons or stretches of aimless episodes sprinkled throughout its run, it dilutes the entire work to me; it takes away from its overall punch. Now, I know this can be asking a lot from a television show, because each season of a show tends to have its own mini-arc. And I’m aware of the fact that television shows (unlike stand-alone movies) have a myriad of moving parts and deal with different obstacles that make it exceedingly difficult to maintain a single quality throughout (Show runners and writers leave; threats of cancellation may force deviations from a current narrative). But I can only motivate myself to invest a lot of my time and energy if the show manages to move at a good pace, to find a way to progress forward without many stumbles or needless diversions along the way. And if it can’t avoid these problems, I won’t go along for any of it. Instead of taking the good with the bad, I will leave the whole.
Obviously, the reason why this absurd standard is even remotely possible is because I rarely watch narrative-driven television shows as they are airing, and some assessment on the whole series’ quality can be made after it’s all said and done. (With Breaking Bad, I started watching it after Season 4, and that’s because I’d been hobbled by a severely strained ankle playing basketball—best crippling injury of my life, so far!). Most of the time, I am very late to the party, viewing a show years after its initial run-through. But it does give me the ability see how a show has played out in regards to its standing among its viewing audience and whether or not the show has remained in its good graces. Consequently, if a show keeps the audience happy, if it hasn’t floundered in any big way, I am much more willing to give it a shot, to see what the big deal is (and hopefully enjoy it as much as anyone). However, if the show starts off well, but trails off or goes off the rails, then I can avoid it completely. For this reason, I will probably never watch Lost or Dexter, not even the better seasons, because their good aspects or exciting stretches aren’t enough to make me watch the whole series. And if I am not going to watch the whole thing, I don’t want to watch it at all.
Now, I will be the first to admit that this perspective is flawed. Instead of being born from my personal judgment, it’s largely dependent of other people’s television-watching opinions (which make this whole explanation pretty pathetic since this is an opinion piece and all). Sure, I might find something about a show appealing (its genre, its pedigree, its look, etc.), but that can only get me so far. If I don’t get around to watching it in the first place, I can only rely on the opinions of others to persuade me. To get me to watch a completed show, it has to be enjoyed by people whom I respect, who watched it from beginning to end, and believe that it’s truly worthy theirs, mine, or anyone’s time to experience the entire series. And if it wasn’t already clear, this OV piece is my own narcissistic way of opening up a discussion about what’s worth watching right now, especially in the wake of Breaking Bad. Or at the very least, this is all a way to talk some sense into me if I need it, to make your argument why I should give an intermittently brilliant show, complete or on-going, a chance. A whole chance. What, if anything out there in TVland, am I missing out on?