Recently I had the pleasure of seeing ‘Cop Car’ a taut and economical thriller with a running time of 88 minutes. Much of the story and characters were expertly defined without the need for pages of dialogue. The obvious skill of the director and screenwriters hinted at backstory using a look, a sentence or a casual conversation. I enjoyed this film a lot and it got me musing that maybe here was a way into to describing the root dislike I have of the boxset or streaming series, a media that usually requires 60 episodes of an hour each to tell its story.
I tried the Wire and gave up after 6 episodes. I tried Breaking Bad and gave up after 1 and half seasons. I managed to trawl all the way through ‘Battlestar Galactica’ even though the last 2 seasons were utter dirge. Everyone told me ‘Galactica’ was good, it wasn’t.
You see these epic series that seem to go on for ever are essentially glorified soap opera. They rely on viewers slowly identifying and rooting for characters and have the time to layer in hours of backstory and circumstance. Its lazy writing and often they have no idea where the story is going, which is often plainly obvious. The aim is to keep viewers hooked, which is very different from telling a good story. Honestly you are probably better of getting into Coronation Street as it’s far more honest in its aims as comforting sofa fodder. No matter how well produced they are you’ve spent the best part of 3 days getting to the end and when you finally pick your arse up off the sofa you have to ask yourself was it worth it? Life is short you know.
On the other hand there are hundreds of brilliant 90 minute films produced everywhere in the world, that have a beginning, middle and end. They don’t need 60 hours to tell a story. In fact the Spanish film ‘Wild Tales’ (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wild_tales/) crams in 6 beautifully done short films of 15 minutes each and has some of the most inventive direction and screenwriting I’ve ever seen.
Some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad were self contained, almost independent movie like in their nature. You could enjoy them without having to watch the entire thing and the producers knew this. Because THIS is what great storytelling is.
So chuck the Soap Operas and start exploring film again.
PS The only one I’ve enjoyed is ‘Band of Brothers’, which was actually more like a mini-series. I suspect if they tried to make it now it would be unbearable.