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Why We Should All Want More (And Better) Episodic Television Shows

Cowboy Bebop/Sunrise Inc

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I started watching Cowboy Bebop in the last few months. I’m not yet through the series, and I’ve enjoyed it so far, but something that has caught my attention since I began watching it has been the conversations I’ve had surrounding it.

 

“I started Cowboy Bebop last night.”

“Oh, nice! I like that show. It doesn’t really have an overarching story but it’s still pretty good.”

 

“I can’t hang today, I’m watching Cowboy Bebop right now.”

“Oh, I watched that but it’s pretty episodic.”

 

Why does the quality of this show seem to come with a disclaimer that it’s episodic?

Cowboy Bebop/Sunrise Inc

Serialization has taken over television in the past two decades and is fairly synonymous with the rise of the Golden Age of TV. With this rise in serialization, episodic television started to crumble; specifically the dissolution of how episodic television is perceived.

The word “episodic,” in many cases, is currently seen as an automatic con. The word “procedural” makes some TV fans run away in disgust, rushing to their favorite show to cleanse their minds with some sweet serialization. What is it about serialization that is so great? And what about episodic that is so wrong?

Episodic television provides singular stories within each episode that often don’t connect to each other in any significant way. Whether that’s solving a new mystery each week or getting into a new crazy situation with the gang, each episode stands alone. Due to their bite-sized nature and adherence to a status quo, major plot lines don’t move forward very quickly, if there are even any at all. Common complaints towards episodic television are its repetitiveness and lack of build to any major climax – two issues that serialization can solve quite nicely.

Serialization provides an opportunity for consistent character development, multiple intriguing plots, and major changes in the status quo – all ingredients to create an engrossing story from start to finish. It’s easier to get sucked into the story because each episode plays as a chapter within a larger plot, begging you to hit play on the next episode to find out what happens next. Cliff hangers and plot twists galore! Now THAT’s entertainment. They also provide something that episodic television shows don’t get to benefit from – a crutch.

Serialized television means that the story doesn’t end at the conclusion of an episode. This promise of a continued story lures viewers into watching the next episode based on what might happen, instead of being solely dependent on the quality of previous episodes. Serialized shows can lean on this crutch to help carry their stories and audiences with them throughout the series. You have to watch them all because each episode matters by its relation to what’s come before and what will happen next.

Episodic television doesn’t have this crutch. Instead, they have to go through the difficult process of making each episode matter on its own terms. Creating meaning for singular episodes is not easy, but when done correctly episodic television shows can provide a wider (and in some ways deeper) exploration of character and themes.

Lost Discussion 10 Years Post-Finale: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What Should’ve

To highlight the power of episodic television, let’s once again turn to my favorite beautiful mess of a series: Lost. Viewers got hooked on Lost due to its intriguing characters and tantalizing mysteries, and many fans stuck with the series until the end just to see how it all ended, despite falling out of love with the show long before. Each season ended with a massive cliffhanger that kept viewers checking their calendars for the return of the show, and even today encourages binge-watching with its serialized “find out what happens next” format.

And yet the series’ most acclaimed episode, “The Constant,” is one of the most stand-alone episodes of the series. It uses characters and plot threads from previously established episodes, sure, but the story of a man hopping back and forth through time and reconnecting with his long lost love is very self-contained. The logistics of the plot-line are all explained and concluded within the episode, and the love story is told in a way that first-time viewers can immediately identify with. The contained story also helps keep this potentially convoluted time-hopping plot clean and centered, forcing the story to be as lean as possible and not giving it a chance to overstay its welcome.

Lost/ABC

When episodic television is taken full advantage of, wild and risky story-telling techniques can be attempted without threatening to derail the series. As episode counts for seasons get shorter, I fear that these riskier episodes will be tossed aside in favor of consistent storytelling for a long-form narrative. An episode like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s brilliant “Hush” doesn’t seem as likely to be green-lit if that means 10% of the season is going to be dialogue-less. Episodes like Breaking Bad’s “Fly” will become less and less acceptable the further we get from episodic storytelling, and you don’t have to go much further than the split reaction to that episode to understand why.

“Fly” is the most unique episode of Breaking Bad for many reasons. Its plot-line is razor-thin, its cinematography is much more experimental, and it doesn’t move the main plot along at all. But this experiment allows us an in-depth look at Walt’s mental state and the thematic resonance the fly represents to his world. The changes to the usual structure of Breaking Bad proved to be too much of a departure for many fans, though. This wasn’t the Breaking Bad they had signed up for.

This is ironic because, as I stated before, one of the biggest criticisms of episodic television is its repetitive nature and adherence to a status quo. Tune in, solve a mystery with your favorite characters, and see you next week, folks! It’s almost like comfort food (which in some circles is somehow seen as a bad thing).

I’d argue that serialized formatting encourages the “comfort food” idea even more, despite its ability to change its characters and status quos, because serialization requires consistency – consistency in writing, direction, character choices, musical score, etc. The world and characters may change each episode, but the structure normally does not.

Episodic television doesn’t have this limit. It allows for structural changes. Characters can be explored not just through varying situations, but through varying storytelling techniques. You can look at an apple with the naked eye, but you’ll see it differently under the lens of a microscope, or through a window, or in a mirror. This is what episodic television can provide when taken advantage of – completely different approaches to the story and characters, or perhaps even completely different characters!

Yet today the format is ignored by many outside of comedies. For some reason, singular episodes are just fine for providing us laughs, but not for drama. Perhaps this is a result of too many episodic shows resting on their laurels and just repeating what works, or maybe it’s the result of some of the greatest dramas ever created pushing serialization to its finest peaks.

Columbo/NBC Universal

However, I hope the conversation around episodic television changes, and instead of dismissing the format audiences instead begin pushing for series that actually take full advantage of what an episode structure can provide in terms of storytelling. Some of the most inspirational series ever created were episodic (The Twilight Zone, Columbo, The X-Files), and I hope the format lives on, both on its own and within serialized stories, and receives the respect it deserves.

What do you all think of episodic television versus serialized? Am I totally out of touch and all of your friends love episodic TV and hate serialization? Let us know in the comments below!

(As I was editing this article, I came about this quote from an interview on IO9 about Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop remake: “Another reason for making tweaks to Bebop’s story is that the team behind the show wanted to broaden out Spike’s story into a longer narrative in and of itself…”

So it seems as though even the episodic show that inspired this article will be remade to be more serialized. Take that as you will!)


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    What to Watch

    9 TV Shows to Watch After Thanksgiving Dinner

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    9 TV Shows to Watch After Thanksgiving Dinner

    Thanksgiving is a time for reconnecting with friends and family and indulging in some delicious meals. 

    But after all the turkey, sides, and pie is cleared off the plate, the only acceptable activity is binge-watching some feel-good TV shows. 

    Here are some post-Thanksgiving dinner show suggestions:

     

    Virgin River

    You’ll be just as surprised as Mel to fall in love with the picturesque town of Virgin River. Come for the views, stay for Jack. 

     

    Hart of Dixie

    Dr. Zoe Hart arrives in Alabama looking for a fresh start and learns that the Southern way of living might actually be what’s best for her. 

     

    Gilmore Girls

    An unbreakable mother and daughter bond, a charming town that would make any Lifetime movie jealous… plus, an unspoken love for coffee? Say no more.

     

    Selena + Chef

    You might know her as a Disney Channel actress and pop star, but now, she’s adding chef to her resume. And since Thanksgiving is all about food, this is one show you don’t want to pass up. 

     

    The Cleaning Lady

    You might think it’s odd that a mafia crime drama made the list, but at its core, the series is about family and how far two dedicated and loving moms would go for their family. It’s a thrill from beginning to end! 

     

    Walker

    The modern-day update to the Chuck Norris classic hones in on family above everything, with a side of roundhouse kicks. 

     

    A Million Little Things

    A group from Boston bond under the unlikeliest of circumstances and get a much-needed wake-up call following the death of a close friend. 

     

    La Brea

    Though it falls into the “sci-fi mystery” category, La Brea hinges on a family determined to find their way back to each other despite all the obstacles standing in their way and all the sacrifices needed to be made.

     

    Dream Home Makeover

    If there’s ever a time to get inspired for a home makeover, it’s after the holidays (and during Black Friday when everything is on sale!) And the McGee family is the cherry on top! 

     

    This Is Us

    This is… a no-brainer. No show captures the essence of what it means to be a complicated, loving, flawed, and fulfilled family more than this NBC drama.

     

    Angel the Series: Why The Series is The King of Found Family Shows

    27 TV Characters Who Would Cook a Mean Thanksgiving Dinner


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    Dead to Me

    When Is ‘Dead to Me’ Season 3 Coming Out?

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    When Is 'Dead to Me' Season 3 Coming Out?

    There’s been a lot of buzz about the upcoming third season of Dead to Me, which will, unfortunately, also be the final season of the Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini-led comedy drama.

    When Will Dead to Me Season 3 Premiere?

    Well, the wait is thankfully almost over because the series is set to hit Netflix on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. 

    And that means, you’ll have the whole entire weekend to binge watch all 10 episodes to see how Jen Harding and Judy Hale’s adventures come to an end. 

    It’s been a bit since new episodes aired, however, with Dead to Me Season 2 dropping on the streaming giant in May 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic along with Applegate’s MS (multiple sclerosis diagnosis) delayed the upcoming season significantly, so it’s understandable if you don’t actually remember where things left off. 

    How Did Dead to Me Season 2 End? Let’s Recap! 

    For starters, a dog digs up Steve Wood’s body with his brother, Ben, getting the dreaded call. Judy and Jen find the money that Steve was laundering for the Greek mafia behind the frames of Judy’s art paintings, which allows them to buy out the house and get a new car for Charlie with a shiny new bow on top. Unfortunately, on their way home, they get into an accident with another vehicle… and it’s revealed that the driver that hit them is Ben, who has an empty bottle of liquor by his side. He’s a little banged up, but he drives away.  This is honestly messy, so I’m glad we’re on the cusp of the new season. And on top of all of that, Charlie finds the letter that Jen wrote (and Judy didn’t destroy), which probably includes way too much information about what’s going on. 

    Dead to Me Season 3 Trailer

    Applegate on Filming the Final Season

    Applegate, who recently received her much-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, told Variety that while filming the new season of the Emmy-award winning drama amid her MS diagnosis was challenging (she had to use a wheelchair to get to set because walking was difficult and painful), she remained dedicated to finishing out the story for fans, which we truly admire and are grateful for.

    When the creative forces behind the show asked if she wanted to pull the plug since they felt like they were “torturing her,” she replied, “But I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no: We have to finish this story. It’s too important to our hearts; too important to our souls. And we have to give this gift, not only to ourselves — there are people that love these characters, and we’ve got to let them have their closure too.’ So, if that meant me having to take a break in the middle of the day so I could go sleep — or me just leaving because I couldn’t do anymore — then that’s what we had to do.”

    And knowing how much dedication went into it will make watching this season so more rewarding and gratifying.

     


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    Editorials

    7 Adan Canto Movies and TV Shows to Watch

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    Adan Canto Movies and TV Shows to Watch

    You’re probably here, looking for Adan Canto movies and TV shows, because of The Cleaning Lady. And if that’s the case, welcome! 

    And if that isn’t the case, well, what are you waiting for? Go watch The Cleaning Lady! Canto is exceptional in the crime series as Arman Morales opposite Elodie Yung’s Thony De La Rosa. 

    However, if you’re all caught up with the FOX drama and looking for more Canto to grace your TV screen, check out some of his other projects below!

     

    Designated Survivor – Netflix

    Canto starred in the ABC-turned-Netflix drama as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States and Vice President-elect of the United States, played by Kiefer Sutherland.

     

     

    Agent Game – Netflix

    In this indie spy thriller, Canto is a member of a team of operatives tasked to bring in a CIA officer on a mission to detain and relocate foreign nationals for interrogation. The film also starred Mel Gibson, Katie Cassidy, and Jason Isaacs.

     

    2 Hearts – Netflix

    Based on a true inspirational movie, Canto plays Jorge, a Cuban exile who overcomes a hardship in life while falling in love with a flight attendant, Leslie, played by Radha Mitchell.  

     

    Bruised – Netflix

    Halle Berry stars as Justice, a disgraced MMA fighter looking to find redemption and courage to face her demons.  Canto stars as Justice’s boyfriend and manager, Desi.

     

    X-Men: Days of Future Past – Disney+

    Canto thrilled as the Brazilian mutant Robert Da Costa aka Sunspot.

     

    The Following – The CW

    Canto starred as Paul Torres,  also known as Billy Thomas, was one of Joe’s Followers, who found himself in a complex love triangle.

     

    Blood & Oil – Apple TV

    In the short-lived series, Canto starred as AJ Mendendez, a role he took over from Yan Gellman, who appeared in the pilot. AJ was a geologist working with oil tycoon Happ Briggs and developed a romantic relationship with his daughter, Carla. The star-studded series, that was prematurely canceled, also starred Don Johnson, Chace Crawford, and Rebecca Rittenhouse.


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