Less is more…more or less.
When I was younger, I recall a time before cable, before Netflix and even before the internet. When recording music from the radio on TDK blank cassettes was an arduous yet beautiful evening and if you wanted to catch up on your favourite shows, you had better set the VHS correctly.
Now there is so many ways to devour all kinds of content that it perhaps asks the question, is the quality of content suffering or thriving?
It is maybe strange to ask that, considering that TV shows have become the new Movies in many ways. Shows such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Boardwalk Empire, True Detective and The Walking Dead are as cinematic as anything seen on the big screen- and carry just as many A-list actors, but for every epic classic there surely has to be a flat dud? Not that you would know it, as the constant barrage of targeted internet advertisements seemingly proclaim how amazing everything is- unless you really dig, it is hard to find a negative review. Everything on Netflix seems to be 5 stars and it is this perpetual positivity that makes me just a little bit cynical. Not that I need an excuse, mind.
I first discovered TV shows properly with the first re-run of Twin Peaks circa 1994. Before that, all I ever saw on a semi-regular basis was Eastenders or Coronation Street when my mom had the one TV we owned at the time switched to that channel. After Twin Peaks, a whole new world seemed to open up for me. I found classics such as The Prisoner and poor Peaks imitations such as Wild Palms, and then there was the new wave of TV shows like The X-Files. Suddenly, TV began to look cool. Since then of course there has been a raft of shows such as The Wire, Prison Break, The Shield, Lost etc. etc. etc. all leading up to the plethora of choice we now have in front of us. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that it would be impossible to keep up with it all. You could give it a try of course- the days of waiting a week for a new episode are a thing of the very distant past as we are now in the age of the eternal “box sets”- but even the most ardent binge watcher would struggle to stay ahead of the constant stream of new productions.
So does this mean that, in the constant fight to stay ahead in the ratings, the powerhouses of Sky Atlantic, Netflix, Amazon and the like are sacrificing a little bit of quality? I mean, it must do somewhere, right?
Maybe. But maybe not. As I have alluded to previously in blog posts, art is subjective and so tastes will vary. It is safe to say in this day and age that there truly is “something for everyone” but the worry has to be that eventually we will reach a saturation point of sorts? In an age of fast food, instant shopping, cosmetic surgery and fast internet- the constant barrage of box sets (they can’t really be labelled TV shows anymore can they?) are overloading our senses. We can pause, rewind, fast forward, skip and skim through any amount of scenes and dialogue and as such, our attention to the details- to the art form- naturally suffer. We don’t need to pay that much attention, because we are in no danger of missing anything. We don’t need to really listen because there is a gushing fan forum to tell us all about it. We don’t need to totally immerse ourselves in the world created for us, because as soon as it’s over we can get lost (or slightly disorientated) in another. There is so much out there that we really end up getting nothing.
Or perhaps it is just me being old and grumpy. I mean, if Twin Peaks and The X-Files were available on demand when I was younger then I most certainly would have binge-watched them, I am not denying that at all! The temptation would’ve been too great not too. BUT…would it have had the same effect on me if it was? After each episode, I had a full 7 days to digest it, to mull over it, to soak it in and try to anticipate and theorise of what might come next. And when the next episode did come, it was almost always worth the wait. Now, I just fear that it is all too quick and all we do is skim the surface. I was o happy that, after 25 years, the new series of Twin Peaks resisted the new format of on demand episodes and instead returned to an almost vintage weekly show. It made it special, it made it anticipated and it made it truly immersive. I am not saying that the show was perfect in terms of writing or plot, but what it did have was the ability to recreate the magic of TV. However, for the current generation of viewers, this was probably too much for their attention spans to hack and the concept of waiting for the next episode is all too alien to people now.
Writing this and seeing where it develops makes me wonder if it’s a generational thing, and perhaps it is. If I was growing up now, on demand viewing/streaming would be normal and I wouldn’t know anything different…but I’m not, and I do, and in my opinion there is something to be said for forcing space between the viewer and the show. I say “forcing” because “allowing” isn’t applicable. A viewer can decide not to watch the next episode if they decide, but more often than not, time and modern life mean we need to cram in as much as we possibly can- so taking that option away seems the best way to recreate the “retro” TV experience.
Space is vital in anything. Relationships, Football, Dialogue, Parking spaces, Sci-Fi and art. Of any kind. You need to step-back, to admire, to think, to digest and let it settle inside you. You need to debate, to speculate, to criticise and to allow yourself time to be inspired. You need to see it as an individual piece, not just one of many, and in a time when picking what to watch can take all night, there is a danger of great art being lost behind great advertising.
This blog post might be shorter than the others…but less is sometimes more.