TV: let shows run no longer than they need

We started watching Katla, an intriguing Icelandic show about mysterious goings-on near a volcano. But it’s ponderous SLUDGE. A few momentous things happen in a tiny community, but the damn people never meet up to review what’s happening and tell each other what they know, because then the series would be over in 4 hours tops. Instead it’s an 8 episode sloooow walk where little happens in each episode. Why? Why are moving pictures today either a 2-3 hour movie or 8+ episodes that form a 5-7 hour slog? We gave up on “Katla”; I cheated and read a summary to find out what happens, which admits episode 3 “grinds the pacing to a complete halt.”

The director’s cut on the DVD was briefly the apex of a certain kind of moving picture story-telling. Freed from the need to whittle the experience down to allow several screenings a day in a movie theater, the movie could run as long as it needed to. Some were self-indulgent, but often the storytelling could breathe over 160, 200, 240 minutes. Now it seems every show has to be a series of 8 or 10 episodes usually of about 45 minutes. Why not 2, 3, 5, 6 or 7? Why pad story arcs with fluff, and abandon tight editing of episodes to fit into this 360+ minute slog? The only exception that comes to mind is “Black Mirror”, with series of 3, 3, 1 (the Christmas special), 6, 6, 1 (the crazy interactive Bandersnatch episode), and 3 episodes.

At least “Katla” has slightly varying episode lengths of 42 to 47 minutes, but they would be even better as 20 to 50 minutes. There’s no reason each episode of a streaming show has to be the same length. Make the best episode you can, and let it end whenever.

Pre-history

British TV used to allow TV shows to go on as long as they needed to. There were 6-show series and TV shows that were only 40 minutes long. If you look at the superlative “Prime Suspect,” each series was usually 3½ hours but season 4 was 5 hours. American TV was always yoked to the 30-minute or 60-minute timeslot (though recent shows are actually only 19 minutes long, the rest is commercials) and typically a massive undigestible 20+ episode season. Briefly mini-series like “Roots” broke the mold, and now I think some reality shows have short runs.

Edits as remixes

Another approach would be to allow and encourage radically different edits. I want to experience the ideas about AI in “Westworld” and “Person of Interest,” but I have little interest in the former’s ultra-violence and the latter’s predictable martial arts fights and boring police corruption plotlines. I’m not alone, so why not offer multiple edits of each streaming series?

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