The Binge Watch

GLOW

Much has been written about the change in media consumption, particularly the small screen. Twenty years ago, we were in the era of “appointment television” and “prime time” show slots and “lead-ins” were important to the success of a show. People had to have the opportunity to be at home and in front of a TV set in order for a show to have a chance to attract sufficient viewership to make it a success. Seasons were twenty-three or so episodes long, translating into an equivalent number of weeks. Each week, the show engaged its audience, who then had to wait another week to see the next installment. The art of the dramatic cliffhanger was at a premium to keep people coming back for more.

Fast forward to today. People can watch “TV shows” anywhere, via the magic of streaming. Appointment TV is gone, and entire seasons of shows drop on the same date. Seasons are different as well, with ten episodes (or less) becoming the norm for an annual dose of a show. Thus the “binge watch” is now a thing, with viewers devouring whole seasons of shows in a weekend or less. The streaming services have also unleashed the vaults of media companies, with the full history of television accessible to the world on demand. I can imagine people experiencing the entire runs of shows like The X-Files, or even the entire spectrum of franchises like Star Trek and CSI in short spans of time.

Game of Thrones is supposed to be the last stand of appointment TV, the final bastion of “monoculture” where the world watches an episode together and spends a week talking about what happened and what might happen. It’s the morning after watercooler conversation taken to its apex by social media. And then there are shows like GLOW, where ten 30-minute episodes are considered a “responsibility” by its creators since there is no guarantee they’ll get any more time to tell a longer story and they need to have a degree of closure after the entire season drops.

It’s an amazing time, where the ways of telling stories are evolving, and the medium of the small screen is unfettered by new channels. When the business models of the media companies reach a point where “when” is no longer as important as “how good”, and all that matters is that people can just find the art that appeals to them, new vistas are opened to storytellers and artists. It’s not that things have gotten easier, it’s that things have been democratized to an extent. Once this new model is supported by more flexible and robust financing avenues for small creators to be able to deliver their work via wide streaming, then a new age of this medium will truly begin.

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Three TV Shows from 2014

Due to travelling more than usual in 2014, I had the opportunity to see a more movies and TV shows than usual. I carry my iPad loaded with things to watch, and when I don’t have to work on the plane or in the hotel, I fire up something to watch before falling asleep. Goes pretty well with a couple of glasses of whiskey or wine.

I picked the three best films and TV series that I tore through in 2014. These are the TV shows. The movies appear in the preceding post.

Orphan Black – Created by John Fawcett and Graeme Manson

I joined #CloneClub this year. The best thing about the series is the tour-de-force performance by actress Tatiana Maslany, who has so far played (by my count) 9 different characters (5 major) on screen, and appears multiple times in scenes constantly. Assuming she’s being paid for one role, she’s putting in four times the work. Best tidbit – she has playlists for each character and gets transitions by playing the music and dancing in a style that particular for that character. I have concerns that the show will eventually paint itself into a corner plot-wise, but since Orphan Black has only gone two seasons, that’s a bit into the future. Hopefully it avoids the “Heroes” jinx.

The Americans – Created by Joseph Weisberg

One of the smartest shows on television. Also one of the most brutal, in many ways. On the surface, this is a spy show. It’s really a show about complex human relationships under the surface. How violent can we really be with other people? How about to the people we love, and/or who love us? Sometimes, you can do far worse damage with words than with a gun.

The Wire – Created by David Simon

I rectified a major gap in my TV experience in 2014 by tearing through all five seasons of The Wire, considered by some as the greatest TV series ever. I was not disappointed. The show aged well, and the first four seasons are some of the best hours of television I’ve had the pleasure of watching. (I can forget that season five exists.) The characters are enduring and memorable, and the storylines are immersive. The show would be in my top three, with Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. Maybe Mad Men (which I also caught up with in 2014). It was a good year for television.

Three Films from 2014

Due to travelling more than usual in 2014, I had the opportunity to see a more movies and TV shows than usual. I carry my iPad loaded with things to watch, and when I don’t have to work on the plane or in the hotel, I fire up something to watch before falling asleep. Goes pretty well with a couple of glasses of whiskey or wine.

I picked the three best films and TV series that I tore through in 2014. These are the movies. The TV shows will appear in a succeeding post.

Begin Again – Written and directed by John Carney

It’s a movie about the music business, the people who make the music, music in general and, well, people. My favorite scene is when Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and Greta (Keira Knightley) plug an earphone splitter into an iPod and roam the streets of New York to an eclectic playlist. It comes across as poignant and natural, and the relationship of the characters and the music shine through. Also, Keira can actually sing, which is a revelation.

Edge of Tomorrow – Written by Chris McQuarrie and Jeb & John Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman

A shockingly massive box-office bust, this film is an adaptation of the Japanese novel/manga オール・ユー・ニード・イズ・キル (“All You Need is Kill”) by 桜坂 洋 Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Tom Cruise apparently no longer can carry a film with his presence alone. It’s a shame, because the screenplay is smart, the direction is effective, and the editing keeps the gimmick from getting stale. It’s still the movie on this list that most people are likely to have seen. Finally, Fieldwork’s “This Is Not The End” was a fantastic choice for this film’s trailer, and I’m really not an electronica person either.

Fury – Written and directed by David Ayer

Fury is my film of 2014. I like me a good war movie, and this is one of the best since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. The perspective of the war from the inside of a tank is unexplored territory, and the cast that inhabits the tank delivers a textured, believable performance. It’s usually a curse to have the well-known faces of Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, but the two actors manage to overcome their star power (LaBeouf more than Pitt, who still kind of comes across as indestructible). The visuals are compelling, and the whole project earns its spot in a WW2 film pantheon of great films.