Saturday, December 13, 2008

Watching Serials.

Two nights ago M. and I watched the series finale of Jericho. We completed all 29 episodes in about a month. That sounds like we tore through it, but the truth is that before we had Baby E. we might have seen it all within a week. We used to push our bedtimes back a lot, and egg each other on to watch "just one more episode". It's strange to think that, although most people reading can likely relate to what I'm talking about, the phenomena of watching an entire television series at one's own speed is relatively new in human history. Hell, the same thing can be said about TV in general. Now there is very little I like better in the realm of entertainment than to burn through the run of a series.

We liked Jericho. Neither the acting nor the writing was especially exceptional, but we were captivated by the premise of the show (remarked upon here). The narrative and the themes were particularly suited to the serial form. I can hardly imagine being a kid in the 50's and going to the theater to watch something similar. You'd actually have to wait weeks until the next installment in the chain of cliffhangers came out. That would be excruciating. I don't even think we'd have enough patience to wait for it on Netflix. We need to have all the episodes on hand so that we can pop it in whenever we anticipate having an hour of relative freedom. It's not just about our inability to delay gratification.

We're becoming old hands at considering market exigencies when it comes to television programming. If a show doesn't quickly garner a large audience, then it is gone without much hesitation. It doesn't usually matter whether the critics deem it a "quality" series. We internalized that lesson when Carnivale (which I still think is the best serial of all-time, followed closely by Twin Peaks) was cancelled. And I know we are not alone. So it wasn't devastating to see Jericho wrapped up in a slightly arbitrary way. It was less painful because we knew what was coming. I feel bad for those who invested themselves in watching it on network television. They had to face the disappointment of its unnatural death, as well as confront whatever dreck replaced it in its time slot.

What was interesting about the DVD package was that they included two versions of the last episode- one that was aired on broadcast television, and one that was meant to leave viewers wanting more. In this case the differences were subtle. M. and I differ in our requirements regarding resolution. Most of the major plot threads must be tied up, or otherwise M. feels a bit unsatisfied. On the other hand, I don't mind filling in the gaps on my own. Jericho met both of our requirements on that count. There was no feeling of being left hanging. Yet we did get the chance to imagine what a Season 3 could have looked like. It would have been nice to have been able to form a reasonable guess about where Carnivale was going when HBO pulled the plug.

Now we have to figure out what's next. We definitely plan to order the 4th season of Lost. That's a given. We are fully invested already. Aside from that I have a few ideas. There are some unresolved shows from the 90's that I missed and intend to order- FOX's Profit, CBS's American Gothic, and UPN's Nowhere Man. For most people, I believe these flew completely under the radar. As far as more contemporary viewing is concerned, I've already mentally committed to watching AMC's Mad Men. And Showtime's Dexter is calling out to me louder and louder. Finally, I have been convinced to give HBO's The Wire a try. There are just too many folks claiming that it's the best television drama ever produced. We'll see about that.

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