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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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Editorials

The 2021 Emmy’s: A Night Dominated by the same Rotating Nominees: ‘The Crown,’ ‘Mare of Easttown,’ and ‘Ted Lasso’

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The 2021 Emmy's

The 2021 Emmy’s returned in a limited capacity with an attendee count of around 500 compared to its typical several thousand, while also managing to keep its winners capped to the same rotating titles: The Crown, Mare of Easttown, and Ted Lasso.

It was a successfully smooth event with predictable winners, among some important victories for people of color. 

Opening the award show paying homage to Biz Markie, Cedric the Entertainer sang and rapped a remix of “Just A Friend” with cameras panning to guests in the audience who contributed their own lines and melodies.

Cedric the Entertainer The 2021 Emmy's

Cedric the Entertainer, Host of the 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, scheduled to air on the CBS Television Network and Paramount+. Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2021 CBS Broadcasting,

The comedy category was easily dominated by Ted Lasso while dramas were split between The Crown and Mare of Easttown, with the former edging out the latter with nearly double the wins. 

Regardless of Cedric the Entertainer’s initial praise about the number of Black nominees, it felt like a shout into the void as many of the categories were still dominated by white actors, writers, and directors. 

But, Michaela Coel’s win for her brave and empowering drama, I May Destroy You, was a win that needed to happen, not only for the Black community but also for sexual assault survivors. 

Write the tales that scare you, that make you feel uncertain that isn’t comfortable. I dare you. In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success. Do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence,” Coel said.

In another triumph of the night, Debbie Allen (Fame and Grey’s Anatomy) took home the Governor’s Award. Celebrated for her perseverance during her early career as a Black dancer discriminated against due to the color of her skin, it was a deliberate step forward made by The Academy. 

Interspersed throughout the evening was a handful of references and jokes about COVID and its impact on television. And in a seamless split, many of the British show nominees including Gillian Anderson and Olivia Colman accepted their awards in London in a separate Emmy’s party.

Later on, Leon Bridges performed a special tribute to those in the industry that passed away during the last year. Some of which include Larry King, Alex Trebek, and Michael K. Williams. 

The Queen's Gambit The 2021 Emmy's

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (L to R) ANYA TAYLOR as BETH HARMON in THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT. Cr. CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX © 2020

In a highly anticipated award for the final victor of the night for a limited series, it was awarded to Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, in a surprising win over Mare of Easttown.

In a year where TV continued to shine, despite COVID’s impact on the world of entertainment, the 2021 Emmy Awards didn’t realistically honor the amount of amazing content that was put out. Instead, it relied on the crutches of the four or five repeated nominees: The Queen’s Gambit, The Crown, Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso, and Wandavision.


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The Resident

How Will ‘The Resident’ Write Off Nic?

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The Resident Hero Moment Review Season 4 Episode 7

The halls of Chastain will see quite a shift when The Resident returns for its fifth season.

Emily Van Camp, who plays the beloved nurse practitioner Nic Nevins, is scrubbing out after four seasons on the FOX medical drama.

While it isn’t unheard of for an actress to leave a show, the timing is unfortunate from a storytelling perspective considering Nic and Conrad Hawkins (Matt Czuchry) recently got married and welcomed a baby girl. 

In real life, Van Camp also welcomed a baby girl with husband Josh Bowman, so she obviously has to do what’s best for her and her family. We also have to assume that the struggles of working during a pandemic impacted her decision, as did her potentially expanded role in the Marvel universe.

The Resident Review Past, Present, Future Season 4 Episode 14

Credit: FOX/ The Resident

But there’s absolutely no denying that it’s a huge bummer for fans of the series, many of whom only tune in because of their attachment to the couple affectionately dubbed #CoNic.

We’ve seen the couple go through their fair share of ups and downs, but the fact that the writers chose to introduce a baby means they likely thought she was coming back for the upcoming season and had more a happier storyline in the works. 

While I have ultimate faith in the writers, it’s understandable that fans are worried about how her departure will be addressed. 

Nic is a crucial part of the show; some might argue that she’s the glue that holds everything together. 

Her exit must be handled with the utmost care and respect in order to preserve the integrity of the character. 

Since her character is a dedicated wife and mother, it’s unproductive to mess with the relationship by introducing a cheating storyline or a new job since it isn’t believable. 

We know Nic would never prioritize anything over her new family, not even a new gig. Even suggesting that as an alternative dishonors the kindhearted character Van Camp has built.

The Resident Review Season 4 Episode 1 A Wedding, A Funeral

The Resident/ FOX

So, this is where it gets concerning. 

All signs and breadcrumbs point to Nic not surviving the premiere.

There are a few indications that the writers are going to kill her off and pursue the “Conrad is a heartbroken and widowed single father to baby Gigi” storyline. 

The official season 5 poster pointed to tragedy as Conrad was seen alone in a defeated stance. His back was turned to the camera and the words “healing stars within” were written on top. 

A follow-up trailer titled “Everything Will Change” opens with an ominous montage of CoNic’s happiest moments. It then shows Conrad standing alone in his daughter’s nursery before cops come to his door to deliver some news. Since it’s never a good sign when cops show up at your house in the middle of the night, many fans to theorized that Nic was involved in a tragic accident. 

The gossip Instagram account, Deuxmoi, seemingly confirmed that theory via an anonymous tip.

“I can 10,000 percent confirm she’s leaving The Resident early in the upcoming season, but her character will die in a car accident,” a source told the account, though, these can be hit or miss so take it with a grain of salt! 

Credit: Deumoix

It’s a frustrating approach considering Nic just survived a stabbing along with pregnancy complications last season, but it’s really the only way to handle it while keeping the character intact. 

It also presents plenty growth opportunities for Conrad’s character.

Much like the fans (and probably, the writers), he never anticipated that he’d be a single father, but life threw him a curveball and now he has to step up to raise his daughter, likely with the help of his friends at Chastain. 

And while we typically see the plight of working mothers, this would offer the series a chance to dig into the hardships of balancing a thriving career in the medical field while also being a present father. 

The only other option on the table is that the accident causes Nic to go into a lengthy coma, which would also leave the door open for any potential guest appearances from Van Camp should she so choose to be involved. 

The latter would allow for the character to come back, while also allowing the writers to explain her off-screen existence with a storyline about how she gave up her career to stay at home with Gigi in the aftermath of the accident. 

However, Elkoff seemingly confirmed that Conrad will be a single father to TV Line, noting:  “He’s really good at it. He’s just going to be the best dad you can imagine.” 

He also explained that the season will pick up with a nine-month time jump, which explains why Gigi is so big in the promos already.

FOX entertainment president Michael Thorn told Deadline that it will be an emotional departure. 

The Resident Reverse Cinderella Recap

THE RESIDENT: L-R: Matt Czuchry and Emily VanCamp in the “Reverse Cinderella” episode of THE RESIDENT airing Tuesday, March 3 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2020 Fox Media LLC Cr: Guy D’Alema/FOX

“The audience is going to be surprised and emotionally engaged with how we handle Emily’s departure and the way that it affects all of the other characters,” he said. “And yes, we will be introducing some new characters as we go along, but I think it’s going to be another excellent season. Amy Holden Jones does an incredible job,” he added. 

While everyone involved with the series is staying mum on how Van Camp will be written off, they are convinced that fans won’t be disappointed by what they are calling a “potentially game-changing, development.”

“When our audience — our loyal and beloved audience — tunes in for the first episode of Season 5, by the time it’s over, they will be shocked at certain changes that are taking place at the hospital,” co-showrunner Peter Elkoff told TV Line.

In the wake of her exit (along with the exit of Shaunette Renee as Mina last season and Morris Chestnut as Barrett Cain), the series is also adding new cast members to fill the void and ensure the upcoming season has a robust ensemble. 

Miles Fowler will join the medical drama as Billie Sutton’s (Jessica Lucas) estranged son, Trevor. If you’ll recall, Billie opened up to bestie Nic about being raped at 13-years-old and giving up the baby for adoption. While she didn’t want to meet her son, he’s been reaching out hoping to get to know his birth mom. 

Regardless of how the series tackles this unexpected cast shake-up, be prepared for an emotional journey ahead.

The fifth season returns on Tuesday, September 21st at 8 pm ET/PT on Fox.

You can catch up on all of our The Resident reviews HERE

QUIZ: Which ‘The Resident’ Doctor Is Your Soulmate?


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‘The Chair’ Review: A Humorous Commentary on the World of Academia

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The Chair Review

An entire show focused on a dilapidating university English department had the very real potential of being extremely boring and niche with its heavy ode to literature. However, Netflix’s original series The Chair, starring the fabulous Sandra Oh, is a humorous commentary on the world of academia, cancel culture, ageism, sexism, and transracial adoption.

The bulk of the humor rests on the shoulders of Ji-Yoon (Oh) and Joan (Holland Taylor) the only women in the department alongside Yaz (Nana Mensah). Ji-Yoon is the first woman department head to take the position just as enrollment is crumbling by 30%.

What’s meant to be a momentous moment in her career turns into a shit show when she’s tasked with putting out daily dumpster fires.

In the short six episodes, we’re quickly introduced to the complicated lives of Ji-Yoon and her colleague/lover Bill Dobson, one of the younger professors who’s under intense scrutiny for making an insensitive and ignorant reference to nazis.

The Chair Humorously Comments

Sandra Oh on The Chair. Photo Credit: Netflix

There’s a strong balance between personal and professional lives as the underlying tension displayed immediately between Bill and Ji-Yoon ignites a budding romance, amid the dean’s increasing pressure for Ji-Yoon to let Bill go.

Ji-Yoon’s a powerful woman who isn’t afraid to stand up against university systems that oppress women and women of color. And despite her ability to properly handle her work life, her home life seems to be teetering.

Her daughter Juju is a spitfire who is ready to speak her mind at any moment. Whether to diss her halbi, cross personal boundaries scaring off babysitters, and telling Ji-Yoon how she feels about her transracial adoption.

The real dynamic duo is Juju and Bill. As Bill’s healing from the loss of his wife and empty-nesting after sending his daughter off to college, he finds comfort in taking care of Juju while he’s on suspension.

The Chair Review

Ji-Yoon and Dobson on The Chair. Photo Credit: Netflix

Juju’s lack of connection with Ji-Yoon is saddening, as it stems from Ji-Yoon’s absence due to her tireless job. However, by the end of the season, the growth between mom and daughter is emotionally beautiful.

Yes, I shed a few tears.

The decision to use an English department as a commentary vessel is ingenious. Historically, academia is full of jaded tenured professors who are generationally out of touch. But, an English department is stereotypically overrun with crotchety old pretentious men.

Some of whom are definitely ready for retirement.

Yaz is a Black professor whose class has quickly become the most popular in the English department. With her classes yielding the most students, this causes jealousy among the other educators, putting her tenure track in harm’s way.

The Chair Review

Ji-Yoon and her daughter on The Chair. Photo Credit: Netflix

When she’s denied the distinguished lectureship and begins to feel helpless as a woman of color at Pembroke, she considers taking an offer from Yale. However, Ji-Yoon’s desperation to rebuild the department full of diverse women convinces Yaz to stay.

Yaz’s character doesn’t receive as much screentime as she deserves. Most of the attention is placed on Dobs and the rest of the professors fighting desperately to hold onto their power.

Furthering the theme of sexism, Joan’s office is displaced in the basement underneath the gym. As a professor who’s been with the university just as long as her male counterparts, she finds her situation outrageous and greatly sexist.

Yet, by the season finale, after Ji-Yoon’s been ousted as the head of the department, she strategically chooses Joan to replace her. This feels like a win for the women and especially Ji-Yoon, as her vision of change continues.

While there hasn’t been any official word about a second season, Season 1 paved the path for deeper topics to be pursued. Especially the romance between Ji-Yoon and Bill. So I can’t imagine the show won’t receive another green light.

If you’re someone who shutters at the idea of being immersed in the academic sphere even fictionally, don’t worry. The Chair is a show you can enjoy on the pure basis of humor and emotional family drama. And of course Sandra Oh!

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