Are TV Shows Better Than Movies Right Now?
Should you watch TV or go to the movies? EW’s critics make their case.
This article originally appeared on EW.com.
Melissa Maerz says:
Do we really have to argue that television is better than film? Can’t we just agree that this is a golden age for both? The gap is closing between the two. Both are driven by at-home, on-demand viewing on an actual television set or online. Some of the best filmmakers are directing episodes of prestige cable dramas. Some of the best TV writers go on to draft screenplays for major franchise films. Even run-time is an increasingly irrelevant distinction between media. You want to watch a broad comedy that’s less than a half-hour long? Try a Pixar short. You want a suspenseful 90-minute drama? Watch BBC’sSherlock pilot. Creatively, though, television still enjoys a few advantages over movies. Long-form narratives offer more nuanced storytelling, allowing viewers to get to know characters on an emotional level that your average feature-length movie can’t sustain. With people like Matt Weiner, Jenji Kohan, Vince Gilligan, and Jill Soloway steering the TV industry, showrunners are the real stars, not directors, which means that unlike the film industry, strong writing is just as important as the spectacle of how things look on screen.
TV series can afford to take more risks, too, since one experimental episode won’t ruin a network like one failed blockbuster can ruin a studio. And it’s easier for TV to stay relevant: Whereas movies take at least a year or two to hit theaters after production wraps, television has a relatively quick turnaround, so when something happens in real life that might affect how a story is received, a series can adapt with a timeliness that movies can’t. Most important, movies just aren’t provoking the same level of passionate discourse that TV shows do every single night of the week on social media, where conversations start with niggling disagreements over plot points and grow into epic discussions about morality and diversity and other big questions that deal less with entertainment than with life itself. Still not convinced that TV is better? Consider that we live in the age of what FX President John Landgraf called “peak TV,” with more than 370 scripted series appearing on television last year, and more than 400 expected by the end of 2015. If the show you’re watching isn’t better than a movie, well, there’s always something else on.
Chris Nashawaty says:
I know everyone is all whipped into a tizzy about how we’re living in The Golden Age of Television what with The Americans and Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot. Yes, these truly are miraculous times to be alive. Or at least as miraculous as the last time someone declared that we were living in The Golden Age of Television, which was what, three years ago? And three years before that? This 24-karat superlative seems to get pronounced from the recap-culture hilltop so frequently that the phrase “The Golden Age of Television” has almost lost whatever currency it once had. Plus, any era in which bread-and-circus junk like America’s Got Talent and wheezy sitcoms like The Exes can not only exist, but get renewed over and over again just because some programming executive needs to fill out their weekly bingo card, forfeits its right to be called anything better than Bronze.
I agree that there are some great shows on TV right now. I watch a bunch of them. But I also look around and I don’t see a lot of Breaking Bads or Mad Men or Sopranos. To me, the closest thing was Netflix’sBloodline. And what made that show so compelling and addictive (aside from Ben Mendelsohn) is how cinematic it is in both its look and in its storytelling. But there’s the problem: when folks try to explain what they love about a particular show that they’re hooked on, what they inevitably say is how cinematic it is. In other words, how much like a movie it is. But you know what’s exactly as cinematic as a movie? A movie! Check out Mad Max: Fury Road, or Inside Out, or Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming drug-world thriller Sicario, and tell me I’m wrong.