“Just wait til Season 4, when it starts to get good!”
I don’t need more suggestions on TV shows to watch. I get it. You’ve spent hundreds of hours with the characters of Game of Thrones. You were there with Walter White, right from the beginning, and watched him (slowly) transform into a prick. All those hours of binge-watching. You’ve invested so much into a show, and to justify this massive expenditure of time, you have to insist that what you’re watching is the shit.
Well, it’s not.
TV is, for the record, better than it ever has been. While the series and sitcoms maintain a mediocre standard – seriously, who is still watching Big Bang Theory? – serials post-Sopranos are constantly aiming for more and more ambitious territory. Heck, even the writers on Game of Thrones don’t know what’s going to happen next. We all need long-form stories now. These drawn-out, involved storylines get so twisted and tangled that you have to be there from beginning-to-end. Just try sitting down and watching a random episode of a show like Lost (an outdated example, I’ll admit: but I have tried it…). You aren’t expected to understand ANYTHING that’s going on. It’s a story on a micro-level, like a novel. Few would pick up a novel and start reading at a random spot somewhere halfway through the book. And that’s not the show’s fault. It’s intended to be watched sequentially. But shit, man… who has time for that?
The alternative to TV is, of course, movies. In the time it takes you to watch the entirety of Mad Men – over 70 hours, if I’m not mistaken – you could watch, like, I don’t know, 35 movies? Yes, some of them are going to be bad and a waste of your time, unless you carefully plan your watchlist based on recommendations from film snobs (like me). And even then, you’re bound to dis-enjoy a number of those films. But you would cast your net over a wide variety of stories. You could learn about different cultures, time periods, historical events – you could be transported to a dozen fantastic fictional universes. Or, you could watch guys in suits slap a secretary’s ass for 70 hours. Is the story of Mad Men so good that it’s worth foregoing all the potential that roughly 35 movies have to offer?
I guess if you really don’t have a life, you have time for both. I marvel at my friends, who manage to follow up to 10 (maybe more) complex, long-form serials at once, without skipping a beat. The last time I tried to watch a show was a few years ago, when I gave Breaking Bad a chance. It was great – a mythical hero’s fall, all the symbolism – I don’t criticize the show itself. It’s a fine piece of work. But I had to give up somewhere around Season 4. I could just smell the writers drumming up cliffhangers, stalling, stretching things out, and I didn’t have patience for the finale. And I gave up.
One last note: If you start watching a movie, get into it, and then are let down by the ending – or are disappointed in a single installment of a franchise – then you’ve only really wasted a few hours of your life. Plus, just because The Last Jedi stinks doesn’t mean I can never watch A New Hope and enjoy it on its own. But shows will often start to turn sour late into their runs, which in-turn spoils all preceding episodes. No-one wants to “only” binge watch half a show, without seeing how it ends. A show could turn stinky, get cancelled, or “jump the shark.” And by that point, you’ve already invested dozens of hours into this thing – for what? It’s risky business, taking on a show. You build anticipation, create an ideal ending, something you would have written yourself. You’re setting yourself up for failure. You’re too entangled in the story by then, and it’s hard to casually cut yourself out.
So stop insisting that I “really would enjoy” whatever new Marvel Netflix series came out. The movies of the MCU are the closest thing we have to a TV show in cinema form. But the initial thrust of that franchise, which started (and will end) with Iron Man seems to be drawing to a conclusion. Thank the Lord. I’m ready for the endless, bloated story to be over. It’s the same feeling I get whenever I sit in on a viewing party for the new episode of Game of Thrones: this stinks.