Look, I know it’s been a while since we talked. I’m sorry. I’m just in this weird place right now. I got this work thing and summer has so little to watch. I don’t want you to start seeing other blogs. No I’m not writing for someone else! How could you ask me that? I promise, I’ll start writing for you again. Just give me another chance. No don’t come over, it’s not a good time. No that’s not me typing in the background, that’s just the tv. I already told you I’m not writing for anyone else! Why don’t you trust me? You always do this! Look…I gotta go. I’ll call you okay?
I’ve been trying to get started on this post for a while now, but I’m caught up in baseball pennant chase fever (STD), and there really hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve wanted to watch outside of Breaking Bad. Also, it’s been a good summer for video games. If I even think about Borderlands for more than 10 seconds, I find myself trying to create a disease that I could use to get out of work for a while. That isn’t a joke. I’ve got cultures growing as we speak. This is all my way of saying that I’ve been procrastinating and that this post has turned into my Chinese Democracy. It’s much talked about and highly overrated. And if you don’t get that reference, then I don’t think we have anything left to talk about. Enjoy.
The new greatest pop culture medium in ever is television. I think we can all agree on that. TV is now the creative entertainment frontier. Screw movies, they are all terrible now. Also, I don’t know what hyperbole is. But seriously forks, amidst the chaff of reality tv garbage, we’re seeing some pretty brilliantly original programming. Shows like Mad Men, Justified, and Downton Abbey are killing it right now. TV has never shaped culture in this way! If you disagree then you can eat my shorts. I know it’s cliché to call this the Golden Age of Television, but it’s the damn Golden Age of Television. We’re getting superb plot and production value from cable shows that are making major networks shit themselves. In the 90’s, I’d have taken a movie over watching TV any day of the week. But try to drag me to the theater when Breaking Bad is showing and I swear to God you’ll lose an eye.
So now we have our new platform, but who does it better? The U.S. or the G.B.? It’s really hip (kids still say hip right?) in America to automatically assume that any British pop culture is better than its American counterpart. Music. (Agreed) Movies. (The Brits didn’t make Transformers so I guess they win there) Comedy. (That’s debatable) And tv. (NO!) British tv is great. If you had asked me 10 years ago which was better, I would have said, “Fuck off bro, I’m in college. Now watch me yack on that car cause it’s Tuesday morning and I have an ethics test in 20 minutes.” True story. Then I would have slurringly explained that Kids in the Hall is really the only show I watch because Comedy Central shows it 7 times a day and so what if I skipped that test to watch the episode where Bruce McCulloch sings These Are the Daves I know. And that Ben Affleck movie is about to start where he gets ‘roided up beats up his mom and girlfriend. I miss college. After that I would have agreed that yes, the Brits are probably making better shows. But this isn’t then, this is now. And American shows are really starting to come into their own on the quality front. I’m not here to disparage one country or start a holy war because both are doing wonderful things for television. But here’s why the U.S. is much better at tv than Great Britain.
Since it took me so long to get around to the real point of this post, and because I think the dividing line between American and British TV is razor thin, I’m going to base my entire argument on the one huge thing that I really care about when watching a show. Series length. British shows typically have a much shorter run than shows in the U.S. They usually film six episodes per season and most never make it past one or two seasons. That’s not enough time! My entire argument boils down to a hugely negative human trait. I’m a very greedy person. You may be sitting there saying, “But Josh, if a show is great, it shouldn’t matter how long it actually lasts. British shows just get more done in a six episode arc and it’s about quality over quantity and I prefer shorter series…blah blah.” Well I name you liar sir and/or madam. You also speak in run-on sentences. Punctuate please.
Look, I’m not saying British shows are bad because they’re short lived. Season one of Luther has six episodes and that show rocks the shit. If you haven’t done so, go watch it on Netflix. I can’t because my internets is down. Thanks U-Verse. Thankfully the BBC brought it back for another round of Stringer Bell being awesome and a third may be on the horizon. But that second series was just four episodes. I need so much more crazy detective and crazier hot killer lady. Longer seasons open so many doors for a show to expand and develop its characters and story. Goddammit, I want to see Luther take back those corners from Marlow Stanfield! Time for a mash-up. I want to get attached to colorful characters and see them gradually evolve over time. That just can’t happen with such a truncated series. Walt White couldn’t have become the power hungry mastermind we know and love in just twelve episodes. It’s not possible and wouldn’t have been in any way believable. A slow-burn type of series like Breaking Bad is the perfect example of gradually growing a character while having an end-game in mind that prevents staleness. If a great American show can develop and sustain its greatness over five seasons, then of course it’s going to be better than its British equivalent.
Some argue that in the UK writers make shows shorter due to having more integrity or not wanting their creation to grow stale. The staleness argument holds some water but that’s not the reason for a shorter season. As with all things, it’s about cash money. And if Damon Wayans has taught me anything, it’s that we need mo’ of it. That’s sound economic theory that the BBC seems to be having problems with. British networks just don’t get the ad revenue that American companies can generate. As a result, they don’t have the cash to throw at a show to order thirty-six more episodes after a strong debut. You get one season, and if everything goes extremely well, they may order a new set. Maybe. We’ll get back to you on that. In two years. Sorry Todd Margeret. While shows are rarely cancelled mid-season in the UK, the promise of renewal is a pretty bleak prospect. As far as the integrity argument goes, if I threw the kind of money at the writers of Downton Abbey that American shows see, you’d have cgi Ewoks all over the goddamn screen for five syndicated seasons. And I just got a show idea.
I get the stale show argument. I really do. When a show has run well past its prime, it feels like you’re being forced to sit at the dinner table while Great Aunt Freda chokes down apple sauce and that colostomy bag slowly fills to the top. She’s your responsibility this week and that thing ain’t gonna empty itself. Of course you can’t just kill Aunt Freda. Remember how much fun she used to be and everybody used to talk about how it wasn’t a party if Aunt Freda wasn’t there? Well we have to keep watching her. We can’t just stop because she isn’t as much fun as she used to be. Maybe we should just ride this Freda rough patch out and hope she has a few more moments of zaniness before the end. I don’t know, maybe we should have just put Dwight in charge of Aunt Freda and it wouldn’t have been so bad. The doctors think she has one more season left in her, so let’s just wait and see. Maybe Michael will come back to see her before she passes…probably not though.
If you’re still reading this post then congrats to you my friend. You have a bigger attention span than most of the internets. You will be rewarded with a picture of a kitten wearing a hoodie at the end of this post.
I’m not saying a show should run indefinitely. Every show needs to lead somewhere. Maybe it slowly chronicles a character’s rise and fall like Walt White or the long sought redemption of Jesse Pinkman. Maybe it just shows that even though we can eventually change who we are like Jimmy McNulty, our actions can’t really change the world. If you have no end-game planned, you’re destined to write yourself into a corner and then you’re on the no-fly list with the writers of Lost. The other problem with most American shows is that studios love be “hands on” rather than letting creative people do their thing and do it well. The Brits handle that part extremely well and I commend them for it. In the end, I don’t want to be left wanting more (Brit tv) and certainly don’t want to see a show become a shadow of its former self (USA tv). Since the US is finally starting to hit that happy medium, I’ve got to give the gold medal to ‘Merica. So what’s the perfect amount of time for a show to be on the air? In the immortal words of Abed Nadir, “Six seasons and a movie!” Here’s your cat.
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