It’s the first day of Fall. You know what that means? TV show premieres! I watch an absurd amount of shows and a good chunk of them are starting again in these next couple of weeks. I’ve always been a big TV watcher, not having an internet connection until around tenth or eleventh grade. Consequently, I think a lot about these shows and television in general. Something I’ve noticed and has been nudging the back of my brain as of late is how the structure of these shows have changed through the years.
Let’s focus on hour long dramas. Traditionally a season consists of about 22 or so episodes. Nowadays we are seeing more and more 10 to 13 episode seasons, or at the very least seasons being cut in half and treated, essentially, as separate. This worries me. I believe that the driving force of any and every story is and should be character. There’s only a limited number of plots, but characters are infinite and the different characters are what changes the plot and transforms it into something unique and worth watching.
Now, I get that there are logistics and valid reasons behind these shorter seasons. There’s A LOT more shows today than there were even 5 years ago, so there’s more to compete with. You have to get to the point ASAP and not make the viewer feel like they’re wasting their time. Another factor is Netflix and binge watching being a common thing now. Sitting through a new season of Orange Is the New Black or Sense8 can be done in a day or two. You’ll still feel confused and delirious after, but it’s doable. Try that with 22 episodes and you will feel like death incarnate. I’ve done it. Don’t. So when faced with this, what do these producers or whoever decide to cut? “Fillers”. I’m using quotes because I don’t believe such a thing exists. “Fillers” are VITAL to shows. It’s thse episodes where you have some time to catch your breath and get to know the characters more. It’s these episodes where the seeds of attachment are planted.
Many people would probably argue that these episodes are boring. “Nothing happened”. That’s impossible, you’re just not looking in the right places. I find it actually quite disrespectful to the writers and the characters. Do you really care that little about the characters that you only want to see them chase after plot devices and exposition to finally reach a conclusion that you will more than likely be disappointed with? Even within these limited structures some shows find the time to really show you these characters with small “domestic” scenes where they are actually living their life instead of entertaining yours. Often times these scenes are comedic and that’s a big no-no if you wanna be a serious show for serious people. I find that these shows that want to take themselves too seriously are the most common offenders at character bastardization.
I think this can be best illustrated with two shows that I actively watch. One of them I shamelessly love watching, while the other has me tied up in its fifth season purely out of habit at this point. These shows are Pretty Little Liars and Once Upon a Time, respectively. Some would think it was the other way around. I don’t know why PLL receives such a bad rap (probably because it’s on ABCFamily?) because I feel like i know these characters so intimately and that makes the show that much more enjoyable. This is amazing, considering they’re constantly running around trying to solve this huge, convoluted mystery. Each of these four girls have their distinct moral code that dictates how they do everything, from destroying incriminating evidence to figuring out how to pass a test. They manage to somehow go to prom while uncovering the secret identity of a supposedly dead sibling, not without looking at other people’s embarrassing drunk pics first. Through all the chaos, they take the time to develop and show us who these girls are and it becomes impossible to not get invested in them.
OUAT on the other hand, I see people revere. For about five years I’ve been following this show and hating it more with every season. Its number one problem is that it has too many characters. I get that you want to explore what these versions of beloved characters are up to, but it’s become absurd with someone new popping in practically every episode. This makes it hard to spend time on our main cast. Honestly I don’t even know where the cutoff is anymore. I mean, is Grumpy main cast? He’s always there and somehow crucial. But I digress. The second thing that makes it hard to like is it’s overall message. Mary Margaret “Snow White” Blanchard is always preaching love, hope, and goodness. But only on her terms. And everyone somehow seems to agree sooner or later. The moral compass has two settings and if you’re not with the good guys you’re a foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach. This limits the characters immensely. You always know what they’re going to do, which is why they have to keep throwing more in to keep the viewer on their toes.
TV nowadays has become exhausting. Something has to be happening the whole 42 minutes you’re watching the screen to keep most audiences interested. It’s disappointing that we have to sacrifice character for the sake of plot. People are always saying to embrace the little moments in life. I think we should all learn to embrace the little moments on television too. Very often they can be the most memorable.