The plural of series is series
May 4, 2016 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I Love Serial Entertainment And So Can You - We don’t binge on television because we like it, we like television because we can binge on it.
posted by The Devil Tesla (26 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Series minimize that period of difficulty relative to the total experience. You do the work once, and then you’re free and easy for aforementioned dozens or hundreds of hours of entertainment.

This makes sense to me.

This line of thought is applicable to some individual video games as well. I - uh - have a friend who flushed over 500 hours down the drain in Skyrim. The "this is absorbing, so I will allow myself to be absorbed" formulation is more realistic, more believable, more explanatory than "I enjoy this, so I will spend 500 hours sitting on my ass doing it" does.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:50 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a good explanation for why I'm so little interested in short stories. Even collections by my favorite writers are much less of a draw than long fat novels (or novel series).
posted by suelac at 12:51 PM on May 4, 2016 [9 favorites]

Movies don’t work that way. At the end of a positive 90-minute experience, the still-hungry film viewer has no choice but to move on to another, self-contained work of art, which she may or may not find as pleasurable.

Well, I mean (looks at the 15,000 Marvel Universe movies coming up in the next few years.)...not really anymore.
posted by xingcat at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

See also, from the NerdWriter, The Serial: From Dickens To Star Wars.
posted by pharm at 1:25 PM on May 4, 2016

I rarely binge watch anything but I do watch a decent amount of TV shows.

The main draw for me is that a 20-40 minute episode is a lot less of a time sink than a two hour movie and that with streaming I can watch it at home when I want with no commercials or obnoxious people texting next to me.

Of course most movies being either superhero movies or reboot/reimaginings doesn't really help.
posted by Gev at 1:41 PM on May 4, 2016

I don't know anyone who watches tv. I might be the only person I know who even owns a tv. Everyone I know is a busy parent who only watch what their kids watch until they're 8 and then the kids just watch YouTube. If anything in my experience people like movies because they don't require investment. I wish I could meet some of these tv watchers so we could talk about tv together. You know, outside FanFare.
posted by bleep at 1:43 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah my graph of tv binging is a series of spikes, then a HUGE spike right before #1 kid was born, then a cliff, then a gradual rise and then an endless drop since #2. Having kids is a lot like watching a really good series with killer char dev, lots of humor and terror, but a really shitty set and bad lighting. So I guess, Hill St Blues?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:59 PM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

For people who do this with book series, the Kindle is a great enabler. You finish one book, and the "Order the next book in the series" screen pops right up. I've read thirteen mysteries out of a fifteen-book series in the past four days, just because I read a review of the newest one on Sunday and thought it sounded like it might be good.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:02 PM on May 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

Movies don’t work that way. At the end of a positive 90-minute experience, the still-hungry film viewer has no choice but to move on to another, self-contained work of art, which she may or may not find as pleasurable.

This guy has never watched MST3K or enjoyed bad movies in general.

I binge B-Movie TV/MST3k on Roku far too much...
posted by deadaluspark at 2:08 PM on May 4, 2016

A friend who works in the movie business was ranting about the popularity of television and waxing nostalgic about the seventies, when his preferred medium was culturally ascendant. When I asked him why he thought television had dethroned film as the mass medium that matters, he answered that it offered a higher potential return on investment.

Me, I'd blame Save the Cat, market segementation and television being way more likely to move away from formula to tell a deep story these days.
posted by Artw at 2:09 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seriality is something of a major interest for Victorianists, given that so much nineteenth-century fiction was first published that way. But the "rhythm" would have been very different, depending on the venue (monthly, weekly, part, newspaper) and time between installments. You couldn't "binge" on Middlemarch until all eight books appeared (1871-72), whereas you could have a more TV-like experience with a penny dreadful like Varney the Vampire (1845-47), which came out every week.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:35 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Movies don’t work that way. At the end of a positive 90-minute experience, the still-hungry film viewer has no choice but to move on to another, self-contained work of art, which she may or may not find as pleasurable.

posted by chonus at 2:37 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think there's something to this notion of the potential payoff for the initial investment. It makes sense to me anyway.

I love movies. But they tend to stint on one of my favorite parts of any narrative entertainment, which is characters and their interactions (and not just when they're falling in love, one of them is dying, or one of them is an adult retuning to a dysfunctional childhood home for a major holiday). Television series and book series give me so much time with characters I'm interested in. I love the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien (more than 20 books!) in part because the friendship between Stephen and Jack is still developing 15, 16, 17 books in. There are things that are only funny if you know them as well as you do from spending all that time with them, and things that are especially poignant—there's this moment in one of the later books when they are on shore, and Stephen hears Jack playing his violin late at night, and realizes that all the years they've been playing duets together on ship, Jack has been playing down to Stephen's level. It's a real moment.

I often feel that TV shows go on after all the stories have been told—Supernatural, Bones, so many others that recycle their story beats and conflicts. And yet, with some of these shows, I still like them. A few months ago, I caught up on a season of Supernatural I'd missed—either 8 or 9— and even as part of me was going, "really? Dean's lying to Sam again? Somebody is going to hell again?" I was still enjoying it. So I'm a big old hypocrite, sitting there wanting them to recognize that they're playing out a moribund formula and also wanting them to please not stop doing it.

If I've been having a rough time in my reading or watching life, if it's been a really long time since I picked up a book that really excited me or sampled a show that really drew me in, I'll go back to an old favorite that I know will give me satisfaction.

I've always observed that, the bigger a medium's audience, the more conservative it is. (This is by no means my own original observation.) I was just today reading a thing about the Marvel movies not having any lgbtq characters, and how the worldwide market for movies drives choices like this. This means, too, that for me, a part of my movie-watching experience is nearly always frustration at failed opportunities: For there to be more than one woman in an ensemble. For those two guys with great chemistry to be friends or lovers or both. For black people to be part of a black family or community.

So, for me, as well as the calculus about putting in that initial investment and then maybe getting an hour or two of satisfaction versus getting hours and hours of satisfaction, there is this element that, with a movie, I am probably going to have to do some mental work around these inevitable disappointments, and balancing them against the pleasures of the film. I am so pre-worked-up about this with Civil War that I thought about not seeing it, even though our family enjoys the Marvel movies and comics as a family, and usually use a new major Marvel release as an excuse for a family activity.

There's less of that with TV. Still less with books. Smaller audiences to please, and larger amounts of content to choose from.

I don't think engaging with narrative is "lazy" or "slothful" or "mindless." The other day I spent most of the afternoon absolutely engrossed in a young adult novel, although I am 50 years old. That feeling of engagement is a powerful and satisfying one. It's not the same as the feeling of total engagement one can get while working, but it's not to be lightly dismissed, either.
posted by not that girl at 3:29 PM on May 4, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think the forms have qualitative differences and different modes of engagement, but the morally loaded language of the article is extremely dubious: the business of long form versus short form/singular versus serial being lazy or virtuous is utter gibberish.
posted by Artw at 3:58 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

I watch a lot of TV shows because I can keep on enjoying the story instead of the story being over, or I have to wait another year or two for the next part of it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2016

I like a particular kind of series, where it is like a 3- or 8- or 12-part movie, rather than where each episode is a self-contained universe. Top of the Lake is a good example of this, or Spiral. It's everything I like about a good movie, but stretched over many more hours.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:10 PM on May 4, 2016

Which is where that 70s movie style experience resides now. For the most part people aren't binging Welcome Back, Kotter.
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Isn't there something inherently sort of unfulfilling about serial storytelling? MASH is a great example. Fundamentally it could never show anything other than the moment of war it was depicting. Your knowledge about the characters can deepen but they themselves never change. The best tv shows these days have the characters struggle against the limitations of the genre in a metafictional/existential struggle. But they always fail, precisely because unlike life there is always a rewatch.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:33 PM on May 4, 2016

Calling it lazy is morally loaded but, I think saying that it is escapist in a different way than film makes a lot of sense. It's escapism for children who want everything to work out rather than for children who wish something could change for once.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:37 PM on May 4, 2016

I used to binge watch Nick At Night actually including Welcome Back Kotter. Every night instead of doing homework my friends and I would lie on ratty couches in our arts cooperative and smoke cigarettes and watch 5-6 hours of Kotter, Patty Duke, WKRP, Good Times, stuff like that. We all got kicked out college that summer but was it worth it? No. But would I do it again? If you've been paying attention I don't think I have a choice.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:41 PM on May 4, 2016

I've always loved TV though - from way before I could binge it. Of course, I totally binge watch now, but I think I initially got hooked on the ritual of tuning every week at the same time to see what characters I liked were up to in this episode.

My first on-line fandom was The X-Files (when I got a modem in 1996) but I'd been in love with TV since Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s and Tom Baker as Dr. Who on our local PBS station.

It used to be kinda shameful to love TV over movies, and I used to spend time justifying it ("No, you should see what Buffy is doing with typical horror and teen tropes!") but now, of course, I'm smugly justified in sticking by TV all these years.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:48 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Isn't there something inherently sort of unfulfilling about serial storytelling? MASH is a great example.

MASH isn't a great example because it isn't really serial storytelling. The events happen in series, but it's a lot more like a sitcom in the sense that there's no plan for a greater arc and it sort of resets all the time. Think of something more like Better Call Saul.

Actual serial television like that gives you a type of storytelling that's similar to what you get from a novel. Movies are more like short stories. Shows that sort of reset on themselves constantly where you have a largely static status quo like sitcoms or things the various police procedurals are I guess more like newspaper comic strips? I'm having trouble thinking of a good print equivalent of that kind of storytelling.
posted by IAmUnaware at 5:07 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm having trouble thinking of a good print equivalent of that kind of storytelling.

It's been a lot of years since I read them, but I remember the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew series being like this, with each book starting and ending mostly at the same point.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:18 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Feeling this. Towards the end of a series, I'll throttle way, way back on the binging because I'm not ready to be done. I have a season and a half left of Parks & Rec which I hope I never finish. It's not about the story being over, it's about staying in Pawnee for as long as I can with all my favorite TV friends.
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:45 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

My extremely strong preference for serialized television isn't because I like to binge (which I do, sometimes), but because serialized storytelling allows something that some novels do, few films do, and episodic television mostly can't or does not do -- deep, long-term characterization. Characters that evolve and breathe and have nuance. I like the space available for more deliberate and intricate plotting, but it's the characterization that's most important to me.

Also, I've noticed that the best serialized shows, in not being a prisoner of the three-act episodic plot (procedural or whatever), are willing to approach their cinematography and editing in ways that also breathe and are subtle. Episodic television is about the familiar. They're fast-food, they're consistent and enjoyable for what they are (to other people, but I don't begrudge them this enjoyment). Serialized shows, at least when they're well-done, approach the very best of narrative art.

And the thing is, there really isn't anything like serialized television. It's a medium that allows storytelling over dozens of hours, more than most novels and far more than film. We might in theory want to watch a eight-hour film (which is on the shorter end of a serialized television season) but in practice this is prohibitive. Television makes this possible. The fact that it's not entirely continuous is an accident, or arguably a natural and inevitable benefit, because when binging is possible, the somewhat episodic nature of serialized television creates natural break points in the binging, which just makes it more convenient.

One of the big reasons why we're in this new golden age of television, which is mostly about the rise of strong serialization, is the development of DVRs (first it was VCRs, but I think that DVRs have had a bigger impact) and, of course, on demand streaming. The broadcast networks have always hated, and still hate, strongly serialized television because episodic television is most friendly to the casual viewer who misses episodes while serialization punishes the viewer for missing episodes. Serialization doesn't work very well with the broadcast model absent time-shifting and on-demand. It works much better when we can watch shows when it's most convenient for us, not the network. Even so, you still almost inevitably see that the more a show is strongly serialized, the more the ratings slowly fall. It's still true. There's still quite a lot of disincentive to make strongly serialized shows and this is why it's seen more on the cable networks and streaming services, where it makes sense for them to chase after the prestige of critically-acclaimed shows as opposed to raw audience numbers.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:49 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Character development over multiple seasons is what I love about my current favorites: Leverage, Gravity Falls and Elementary (at least the first three seasons).
posted by JawnBigboote at 12:20 PM on May 5, 2016

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