I have many frustrations with binge shows and the overabundance of serialized shows on TV and Netflix. While many are good, I feel some get way too much credit and episodic shows.
I decided to just post my feelings on the matter here just to get it out of me (that and I was bored yesterday and decided to a little writing exercise for myself would do myself some good).
To clarify, what I am not talking about is scheduling. A show can have all its episodes released at once and still be episodic in how it’s produced and a binge show can be released weekly and still be designed to be a binge show like the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad.
I feel a lot of episodic shows are getting a lot of slack lately because of screwed up scheduling which is not cool. All these random breaks need to stop because as we’ve seen in the past *cough* Firefly *cough*, this can be deadly for a show.
For me, one of my biggest issue with overly serialized shows is the problem of stretching.
Many of these shows stretch their plots way too much, with the Walking Dead being an excellent example of this as it takes ages to get anything done to the point that it’s just boring and I couldn’t care what happens. They lack proper momentum and feel like a chore. This is of course, not all serialized shows, but it seems to be a recurring problem among many.
In fact, I would argue that this is an issue the format has had for decades as if you watch the original Doctor Who stories from the 60s (which were heavily serialized to the point the connected their re-runs into continuity), they also suffer from this stretching issue.
When done right, episodic shows can be incredibly well-paced, with their plots not stretched out and their is room to allow fun one offs and character pieces. For example:
- Have a plot heavy season opening two-parter to get things started.
- Then have a well-crafted character piece that goes into the head of our main protagonist.
- Then we can have another plot focused episode that furthers the mystery.
- Follow this up by a one off adventure that help build the world up (something I feel a lot of binge shows fail at).
- Then have a “filler” episode which introduces crucial plot elements that will become important in the future.
- Have another two-part plot heavy episodes that answers some things, but then add more questions
- Have an episode focused on a side character to show that they actually matter and not just worthless expendable kill fodder.
- Have another “filler” that reward audience members for paying attention and plants the seeds was the finales outcome.
- Have a single lighter plot focused episode that can be both connect the supposed filler episodes, but can be used for further the character development.
- Have a fun adventure that can be used as a calm before the storm.
- A final two-parter that fits everything together.
If feel the loss of one-offs and character pieces in these serialized shows have been to their detriment. The worlds feel small because they don’t spend time world building or making me want to care about the shows side characters.
It would have been great for example if we saw Jessica Jones or Daredevil doing a few other smaller cases to see what a “normal” day is like for them or even allow for some fun high concept episodes to happen like what if Jessica Jones walked into 40s inspired crime novel story?
And of course character pieces can be beautiful works if done right. Take for example Star Trek Deep Space Nine:
My other big problem with serialized shows is that they treat characters as expendable plot tools rather than actual characters in their own right.
It frustrates me and I feel they rely way too much on killing as a plot device (especially the killing of POC and LGBTQ+ characters). It doesn’t make me feel more invested in the show, it makes me feel like they wasted another potentially interesting character just for cheap drama.
I want interesting characters most of all with the plot there to help build them, not the reverse. They shows seem to feel that their plots are all that matters, but I couldn’t care less about your plot if I have no investment about any of the characters.
It’s why episodic shows work better for me because there is way more room to get us to know the characters better without interfering with the main plot. They feel more alive as a result and for the most part, these shows don’t rely on killing them to build drama (though some still do), but instead focus on character development and making me want to bond with these people I watch. The drama feels like a natural extension of the characters growth rather than a forced necessity of the plot.
Lastly, I dislike the notion that a serialized show is automatically better then episodic ones. That they by default should be treated with more high regard, more mature, more complex and deeper while episodic storytelling should be treated like its only good for babies shows, less intelligent and can’t possibly be taken seriously.
But you know what, Steven Universe and Adventure Time are more episodic shows, but I care more about Pearl and Princess Bubblegum more than I do anyone on the Walking Dead, House of Cards or Game of Thrones.
The reality is that neither is better or worse. Serialized shows can be shallow, dumb, immature and poorly told, while episodic shows can be deep, though provoking, well-paced and intelligent and vice-versa. They both have their issues, but that doesn’t mean one should be gotten rid of for the other.
Which then frustrates me when I’m told (and no, I’m not talking about most people who love binge watching or serialized shows), “You must binge this show to really get it” and “All shows much follow Netflix storytelling to be great”. The idea that filler is evil and must be avoided at all cost with “definitive” guides on how to watch shows and that plot is the most important thing and characters are expendable props that can be easily replaced like with the upcoming Star Trek show (sorry but I really dislike that whole new cast every year with thing they are doing).
That just isn’t for me, I don’t want to binge all of my shows and not know what took place in what episode, hell after I few episodes of an hour long show, I get bored and start having eye strain. I want more episodic stories and I don’t like that they are slowly disappearing.