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.
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?