(Note: There are probably random spoilers in here. Not that it should matter, honestly. I don't often find learning plot points about most things ruins them. Good stories are made in the way they are told, not usually in what they are about. But fair warning here just the same because who knows what I might say?)
I watch a lot of "TV." But what I'm calling "TV" my kids would call "Movies." They call everything on a screen a Movie. Except for things they watch on particular YouTube Channels, but even odd things here and there on YouTube they call Movies. (If you have half an hour the clip in that link is very funny.) I'm starting to wonder if we need new terms in general. Maybe "Features" for what I think of as movies, and "Serial Dramas/Comedies" for what I think of as television.
I want to say the main difference between movies and television has to do with telling a single, contained story, versus drawing one out in parts, possibly over years. But there are still exceptions there, because, you know, Star Wars. And I remember seeing the
movie Shoah over the course of two nights when it came out, because
its total running length on screen was over nine hours, and there are entire
British television series that can be viewed in less time. There are movies that are essentially parts of a series, such as the Up documentaries (the first one of those I saw in a theater was 28 Up as a child and I look forward to the next installment every seven years). Star Trek straddles both worlds but tells its best stories on TV in my opinion. TV allows characters and ideas to develop in ways movies don't have patience for.
(Side note about Star Trek: Whenever I watch it I think of how my grandma use to wonder why we thought it was interesting. She'd remark when she'd catch a moment of it while passing through the family room that, "They are always just standing around." Which is true most of the time. Even in the older movies. My mom and brother and I went out to see the latest Star Trek movie which involved a lot of action and running running running, and then when I realized she'd never seen The Wrath of Khan, I pulled that up on Netflix. It was SUPER dated and slow. I sill love it and there are moments in it that I think are defensibly good, but man, there were whole LONG stretches where they were all just.... standing around.)
But the really strange thing to think back on now watching things like Star Trek on TV was how at the time I had to watch all of it when it was broadcast. If you missed it you missed it. And I'm amazed how well I remember things that I could not have seen as often as I think I did. Like School House Rock. Those segments were just a few minutes on one station on Saturday mornings right before Bugs Bunny came on at 11. And yet I know them all by heart. We had reruns, but not like the kind of on demand from anywhere reruns my kids enjoy.
Today we view media in such new ways I don't know how much it matters to anyone what the original source for viewing was of anything anymore. I watch nearly everything on my computer. I'll sit down to watch something on our TV screen at home with the kids once in a while, usually on Movie Night, but otherwise I see things on my laptop, or on my screen at work. I binge watch TV series like a giant movie. I stop and start movies at work and wind up stretching them out over days like a series. I don't have cable, but never feel like there is something I can't see. It would be great to watch The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad in a more timely manner, but as long as I know they will end up on Netflix or on DVD in the library eventually I'm fine to wait. After being tortuously dragged along through Lost for six seasons I think I actually prefer to wait until a series is done and watch it on my own schedule.
That said, I wish sometimes I didn't have the ability to see so much at once. I recently watched all of Orange Is the New Black and now I have to wait what seems like forever for season two. If you have somehow missed the promotion for Orange Is the New Black on Netflix, I think it's a series worth seeing. The main character is just relatable enough for me as a white, educated, NPR-listening woman, that she was a good means of introduction to the world of prison. She makes about the same mistakes and assumptions I would probably make, and it's easy to understand how she adjusts and changes.
But the beauty of the show is that it doesn't stay with this single perspective, which would become tiresome. It branches out into the stories of the other women on the show, and this is where it delves into some fascinating territory.
Because there are so many different, interesting, complicated women. A huge cast of them. Not just one who is someone's pretty girlfriend, or one who is a mom, or one who is the funny but somehow undesirable sidekick. It took me a few episodes to figure out what felt completely different about Orange Is the New Black, and it's the fact that it's populated by women who you want to know more about, and the few men in the cast are peripheral at best. The men are drawn as simple archetypes and used as props, the same way women typically are in most stories. It shouldn't be as rare as it is that this is reversed, but it's refreshing.
Each time the flashbacks take us outside the prison walls into the past of the various characters I'm left wanting more. And I find myself scanning a dozen other people in the cast and thinking, "Her next! I want to know about her!"
The show isn't perfect, and there are moments I think it falls flat, but by and large it's entertaining and fascinating, and often both disturbing and funny.
I'm very interested in this new, straight to streaming model of producing a show. Are series like House of Cards (which I also burned through in a week and loved) and Orange Is the New Black considered TV? Because they seem to be conceived in that model, but with an understanding that they won't be watched in a traditional manner.
The best example of that different way of conceiving of a series is the fourth season of Arrested Development. I was surprised by some of the more negative reviews of the show by critics. No, it's not exactly like the old show, yes it is complicated, but seriously? It's pretty amazing, and gets better with repeated viewings. It seems to be constructed in a way that assumes you will go straight through it rather quickly, but with nods to the traditional TV form with spots for commercial breaks (which will likely never be needed). It seems to be made with the understanding that we will backtrack to fill in the pieces. The more I watch the more I catch, and the second time through is even funnier as you understand it all better. The attention to detail is kind of mind-blowing.
I'm particularly perplexed by people who somehow liked the original series and are complaining that this season isn't as funny. Methad-One Acting Clinic is funny. ("Oh, the monologues are starting!") Bob Loblaw is funny. "Take to the sea!" is funny. Kristin Wiig and Seth Rogan as the younger Bluths are funny. "I'm used to a car with some stairs" is funny. "Cinco de Cuatro" is funny. And the entire series was worth it just for ANUSTART. Tobias wants his license plate to read "A New Start" but everyone reads it as "Anus Tart" and maybe I need to grow up but that never gets old for me. My favorite line was Lucille Bluth calling Tobias "Anus Tart" when he walks in the room and the voice over chimes in to say, "She hadn't seen the license plate."
In any case, it was a different way of making a series and in my opinion it worked. Just like Dr Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog was made directly for the web and worked in its own way. I feel like we're on the brink of some truly incredible programming as there are more ways for things to be created and made accessible.
So, feed my addiction! What are some things I should be watching? Examples of series I've enjoyed: Firefly, Dr Who (reboot), Angel, Dexter, The Closer, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Deep Space Nine, Mad Men, The IT Crowd, Louie, Sherlock.... I'm open to suggestions! A lot of my work is basic physical labor where having something on in the background makes the day more pleasant. Ideas?