Tuesday, August 13, 2013

No more big TV recommendations, thanks. I'm full

Yes, I know Breaking Bad's really good. Yes, I know Deadwood is as well. As are Broadchurch, Top of The Lake, The Americans, Arrested Development and another half-dozen longform TV series I've never watched. You can't watch one episode of programmes like these so I don't watch any at all.

Society hasn't caught up with the fact that there is now more great telly than there is life. The traditional process of word of mouth recommendation, in which people at parties get that shiny look in their eyes and then say "you must watch" so-and-so, doesn't take into account the fact that these days programmes like the above demand almost as much of your time as a fat novel.

Furthermore, in order to find the brainspace for a new one you have to stop watching an old one. Which, since they seem to go on for ever, is not possible. So, I'm not saying I don't believe you. I'm just saying that I'm full, thanks.


  1. David, I feel much the same way. In this new golden era of television, which coincides with the decline of great storytelling in cinema, we are now spoiled for choice. Indeed, taking on a new show is a substantial time commitment. Given how precious one's time is, I now elect to winnow my choices down to the television shows that truly qualify as masterpieces of the medium - shows that not only entertain but, like all great art, are richly thematic and have something important to say that make us assess our world and what it means to be human in a fresh way.

    "The Wire," which you've surely seen, ticks all those boxes. And "Breaking Bad" does, too. Of all the shows that people recommend to you, "Breaking Bad" is the one that will enrich your life - even as the black humor makes you laugh one minute and the suspense makes you dig your fingernails into the sofa the next. You may be full, but try find some room ro consume this rich dessert!

  2. P.S. One way to determine which TV series are worth the time commitment: wait for the cream to rise to the top. The very best shows, like "The Wire" and "Game of Thrones," are the ones that viewers and critics will eventually alight on by common consensus and recommendation in the long term. The others, initially hyped, will fall to the wayside after a while - the clamor will abate somewhat.

    "Breaking Bad," a show that started with a tiny audience, much like "The Wire" in its initial seasons, has now reached that tipping point where consistent word of mouth has boosted its audience and made it something of a cultural phenomenon. People are talking about the show in the workplace and on social media because it is as thematically rich and meaningful as any great literary novel. And as tightly constructed, too - the profound story arc of BB's characters has been perfectly calibrated over the course of its lifetime, now in its fifth and final season.

    Another rule of thumb: Avoid open-ended series that wander aimlessly for seasons on end, no end point in sight. They'll waste your precious time. Shows such as "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" and "Mad Men" and "Entourage" started off great, but it became apparent that they were making up their stories as they went along. When the writers are just laying down pieces of track as they go along, no destination in mind, it soon leads to inconsistencies in the way the characters act. And it won't end well.

    Final thought: Given the dismal state of cinema those days, where story has been sacrificed for CGI dazzle and bigger explosions, why waste hours watching unsatisfactory Hollywood fare when you could invest the same quantity of time tucking into a great television series? Put your money into Vince Galligan's pocket rather than Jerry Bruckheimer's bulging bank vault.

  3. Yes, me too. Most likely I will be deleting from the hard drive all episodes of "Top of the lake", unwatched, sometime in October.

    We are still catching up with the brilliant "Getting On" from last year, which is viable because only six episodes of 30 mins each.

  4. Interesting observations as ever, David. Fortunately, I don't live in the UK or USA, so I rarely even get to hear about all these great series I'm missing.

    "...these days programmes like the above demand almost as much of your time as a fat novel."

    Yes, books! Knowing that I'll go to the grave without having read even one percent of all the novels on my to-read list depresses me far more than the realisation that I'll never watch a single episode of The Wire.