I was watching an Amazon action tv showwhen I realized something. The series is about a tough guy who rolls into a small town and opens a can of scumbags on the local villains. This, I thought, is the A-Team. To be precise, it is a single an episode of the A-Team.
Season 1 of Reacher includes one novel from the series of books it is based on, and Season 2 will likely do the same. But in the 1980s, TV heroes stepped into a whole new adventure every week.
In other words, what takes Jack Reacher an entire series of eight hour-long episodes, The A-Team did in an hour (no commercial breaks).
That same day, my wife and I watched the first episode of Inventing Anna, the Netflix series dramatizing the true story of infamous con artist Anna Sorokin. It looked arch and disrespectful so we decided to keep watching. But first – and I know you do too – we checked how long it was.
Nine episodes? Sorry, but that’s enough.
None of these shows have any shade, but too many current TV shows seem to be built off of a lack of story. Seriously, not every story needs eight, nine or 10 episodes.
Television creators repeatedly tell us that the beauty of our primetime television era is openness. A TV series gives space and time to explore the depth and breadth of a story, developing character arcs over the years and unfolding events without the time constraints of a movie. This is true and wonderful. We’ve enjoyed many incredible TV shows that demonstrate this brilliantly, from Mad Men to Ozark, The Sopranos to Game of Thrones, Justified to WandaVision.
But now there’s a staggering tsunami of new TV releases every week across all the many streaming services currently vying for your attention. But watching shows like Reacher andTo name a few, you start to wonder why they needed so many episodes—or even if they needed to be a TV show at all.
You can (and should) quit any show you don’t enjoy. But then there are shows you enjoy just fine, only they’ve outstayed their welcome. I liked Reacher, but the only character arc in the first season is a sequence of characters flying through the air after being punched out of their socks by Jack Reacher. This isn’t a show that needs to let its subplots breathe, you know?
I have no intention of bagging Reacher, so I’m going to smoothly move on to bagging The Book of Boba Fett. I claimwas supposed to be all about Boba Fett. But Disney found itself stuck with two masked bounty hunters, and that’s too much. The Mandalorian episodes were brisk, biting, but the first season of The Book of Boba Fett came off as a heavy-handed and frankly unnecessary eight episodes of filler. I loved Temuera Morrison’s snarling performance and the colorful sci-fi action, but it could easily have been compressed into The Mandalorian.
While I started writing this article, news broke that Fox is adapting the 2012 cop movie End of Watch into a TV series. I like End of Watch. It’s a good movie. Absolutely, 100% it doesn’t have to be a TV series.
What made End of Watch exciting was the clever found footage twist on the familiar LAPD action, anchored by riveting performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Anger at police brutality has grown in recent years, and body camera footage has played a key role in exposing the heinous acts of police officers. So an updated End of Watch might have something insightful to say about the police (and perhaps the way we portray law enforcement on TV). But can you sit through an entire television series of edgy found footage, or does the gimmick work best in a one-shot? Because without this signature gimmick, End of Watch is just another police drama.
Sadly, classic films are increasingly seen as fodder to feed the streaming era’s insatiable appetite for content. Not content with six movies adapting The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Amazon poured a mega-dollar into the prequel series(and ). Paramount comes to mind as a movie studio that also owns a streaming service ( formerly known as CBS All Access), which mines its vault of classic movies for television . But we really need new versions of Flashdance, and A fucking view of parallax? The Italian Job from 1969 is literally my favorite movie ever and I don’t want to see a reported TV update.
So why is everything a TV show now? Stretching these stories into extended episodic form is driven not by concerns about storytelling, but by the commercial needs of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, and all the other streaming services you didn’t know were free. phone plan.
Perhaps they want to increase the amount of time their viewers spend watching their content, which is the equivalent of old-fashioned ratings for streaming services. “Statistics about total hours watched for a show can be important to a service for bragging rights, buzz or flattering talent,” says CNET streaming expert Joan E. Solsman. “But the number that services are most interested in is churn: how many subscribers are canceling. The total number of hours an account is watched is a big indicator of whether someone is on the verge of canceling or not.”
The sheer amount of content thrown at our screens is part of an arms race as each service tries to embed itself in your life. “The programming capacity of streaming is virtually limitless,” says Solsman. “The only real limit is how much the service is willing to spend. And lately the services have been spending hand in hand.”
Movies vs TV
So if these stories are too thin for episodic television, what’s the answer? Shooting them as movies is one obvious solution. It’s worth noting that the flood of TV shows is matched by a growing tidal wave of movies on streaming services, with Netflix releasing a new original movie every week. Fortunately, it’s easy to compare movies and TV shows these days, as many new TV shows are just old movies stretched over a few hours. Tom Cruise has already played Jack Reacher in two films, for example in 2012 and 2016.
But I’m not saying they were better than the new TV show, because both versions have their strengths and weaknesses. I can think of a couple of times off the top of my head where a TV series was as good or even better than a movie: the TV show Fargo was a dark delight, and The Dark Materials was an opportunity to do properly what the 2007 movie couldn’t.
Another good movie/TV comparison is HBO Max’s surprisingly compelling series Peacemaker. John Cena gave a breakthrough performance as the DC comic book super(anti)hero in last year’s The Suicide Squad , but I was skeptical that this one-joke character could sustain an entire spin-off TV series. I was glad to be proven wrong by how layered the TV show turned out to be. Like Marvel’s Hawkeye series, Peacemaker takes the character out of their widescreen cinematic adventures and downsizes to the small screen with much more intimate character-driven stories.
So movies aren’t always better. But at least they take less time.
In our media-saturated culture, brevity is a virtue. I get paid to watch TV for a living and still feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff on offer. One of my favorite recent series is the deliciously ripped-from-the-headlines period piece A Very British Scandal, which has three slim and taut episodes. Real life dramawas also great, but could have benefited from a narrower episode count as well.
In fact, there are plenty of adaptations this year that expand newspaper headlines into multi-part series. renegade,and Super Pumped dramatize the stories of Theranos, WeWork and Uber, but I grit my teeth at the thought of spending hours on them. Like classic movies, real life is increasingly reduced to fodder for streaming “content”. In the case of Peacock’s eight-episode Joe Vs. Carole, in which Kate McKinnon comically recreates the events of the Netflix documentary Tiger King, or HBO’s The Staircase, in which Colin Firth relives the events of the Netflix true crime documentary of the same name, I’ve literally seen an entire series about these people.
Streaming services should remember one of the great things about TV: flexibility. If you’re wondering how Reacher could fit in more of a story, check out my other favorite Sharpe series. Fans of Sean Bean or historical action-adventure will know that each season of Sharpe consists of three feature-length TV movies, each adapting an individual novel in the series by author Bernard Cornwell. The longer episodes matched the story and characters of each book (although, whisper it, they’re all pretty much the same), while the episode count meant you got a new Sharp every week.
And check out one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Band of Brothers, a series that helped usher in a prestigious television era. HBO’s hit show takes in the whole of World War II! By the time Jack Reacher cleared a single city, Easy Company had kicked the damn Nazis out of Europe.
We never watched Inventing Anna. My wife was just reading a magazine article. and I? I decided to stop worrying about it and just watch The A-Team.
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