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Why 'It's Like a 13-Hour Movie' Fails to Do Justice to Great TV

By Ronan Doyle | Indiewire October 2, 2013 at 10:00AM

Comparing quality television series to films doesn't take into account what serialized small screen stories are able to take advantage of in a way that cinema can't -- time.
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'House of Cards'
Netflix 'House of Cards'

It's reductive to relegate the series' potency solely and wholly to its considerable length, but the ephemeral, occasional glimpses it offers is undoubtedly paramount to its lasting effect. When Spacey cautioned that "one way [the] industry might fail to adapt to the shifting sands is to keep a dogmatic differentiation in their minds between the various media, separating film, TV, miniseries, webisodes, or however you wanna label these narrative formats," he wasn't entirely wrong, yet at the same time it's precisely that differentiation -- dogmatic or no -- that defines the ontological identity of these media.

The Netflix model of which Spacey is so keen a proponent -- watch what you want, when you want, where you want, in whatever quantity you want -- is the latest challenge to television's identity; it's telling that he talks of 13 hours watched as one cinematic whole, as though TV should strive to be more like this other medium. "Cinematic," of course, is a good thing; "televisual," meanwhile, is a dirty word, saved for features that have no place on the bigger, "better" screen. But that's nonsense, patently: "Behind the Candelabra," the Soderbergh swan song most film critics agree to be among the year's finest efforts, is a TV movie.

"Cinematic," of course, is a good thing; "televisual," meanwhile, is a dirty word

If that seems like fuel to the fire of Spacey's argument, it's because, in a sense, it is. He's right, distribution is changing, means of consumption are conglomerating, and the labels are starting to seem as though they might be as useless as he claims. But that doesn't mean storytelling should be streamlined to fit one narrow view of the future.

"Arrested Development," in its almost absurdly ambitious Netflix-facilitated resurrection, is our closest glimpse yet at the possibilities and -- more prominently, alas -- the pitfalls of this new media hybrid. Film, TV, miniseries, webisode: it is at once all of these and none, neither beholden to their respective restrictions nor reaping their relative rewards.

And how strange a thing, for the thousands upon thousands who willed that show back into life across eight years of raised hopes and false starts, to have that near-decade of anticipation culminate in a five-hour block. "Arrested Development" may be proof positive that there are exciting new storytelling apparatuses emerging in our internet age, but it also provides a staunch reminder of what we stand to lose if we commit to the new at the expense of the old. There's far less mystery left in wondering who killed Rosie Larsen when it only takes half a day to find out. Seven years make far more impactful the revelation that Tony Soprano's saga goes on and on and on and on than do seven days. And "Breaking Bad," spanning five years even while only chronicling two, has taken its time to teach us how little it takes us to change.

'Arrested Development'
'Arrested Development'

The aforementioned discussion that show spawned posed a particular dilemma for the one exception to its intriguing inclusivity: the sole, fretful latecomer to the series' particular appeal, fingers wedged firmly in ears for fear of catching the dreaded stray spoiler. How many of us gathered, in the midst of watching "House of Cards," to wonder together what might happen next? Spacey says that Netflix has moved the "water cooler moment" online, bringing us together as one global community.

Yet it's a community rife with the terror of trepidation, living in fear of treading on toes and either desperately waiting for everyone to catch up or suspiciously eyeing those who've gone ahead. The Netflix model, for all its media-melding potentiality, is one that's not so much brought us together as pushed us apart; isn't TV -- like life, that slow process its long form bears the uncanny, unique power to replicate -- so much less interesting when experienced alone?

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Kevin Spacey, Netflix, House Of Cards, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad







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