The long watch

Jam of the week: “Crying” by TV on the Radio

Television’s history, and how it’s been perceived, has been varied. In terms of entertainment programming, it has brought us everything from Johnny Carson to reality television. Historically, the medium’s glamour has not stacked up well compared to the history of Hollywood films. That seems to be changing though, as in the present, one can find many quality television shows that bleed critical acclaim.

The medium of television lends itself to long-form stories quite nicely. It would be impossible to cram all the character development and story of a show like Breaking Bad into a two hour film. Adaptations such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have also found success on television. The latter series has seven books planned, and while it can’t fit everything from the novels into the series, it manages to fit much more in than another seven book series like Harry Potter which was adapted to film.

People are responding to those long-form stories well. While there are examples of older films, such as Citizen Kane or The Ten Commandments that take a good supply of interest and caffeine to get through in one sitting, the average length of movies has actually been increasing. The Internet Movie Database, IMDB, compiled the average runtime of the top 50 movies, as voted on by IMDB users, from each decade from 1910 to 2010. The average time in 1910 was 79 minutes, increasing to 109 minutes in the 40s. The peak of 129 minutes is shared by both the 80s and the 2000s, with a dip to 127 minutes in the 90s.

Even though I’m pleased with being able to access such quality programming quite easily, be it through cable or an online streaming service, I don’t benefit from this uprising of good shows as much as others. That’s simply because I can’t power through a television show like my peers.

Just the other day, I had a friend brag to me that he managed to get through the entire first season of Mad Men in a single sitting. My girlfriend has made it through more than a season of The Walking Dead in under a week. I, on the other hand, have made it through about three episodes of House of Cards and have no plans to finish it soon.

Trying to power through a new series can be exhausting to the point where the desire to watch the program can be entirely lost. I watched several seasons of the show Psych in the span of about a week with one of my college roommates, and after finishing one of the seasons, I just dropped the show. While the show is funny, it’s not exactly in the same category as the high-quality drama shows I have discussed in this article. Regardless, experiences like that have made me wary of watching a show too quickly.

This puts me at odds with my girlfriend. I’m sure she thinks I sound like an oaf with I say this, but it’s not worth experiencing a story if you don’t have time to process it. A good show should make you chew on the characters and the events that are unfolding. Maybe in a parallel universe, there’s a Jim with the impeccable time management skills to keep up with all these shows as they come out. To be fair to this likely nonexistent version of myself, he would probably find better things to do with that time than sitting on a couch.

I’m considering cutting cable altogether. I couldn’t cut myself off of television program entirely, especially after talking about the good things on it in this column. However, there are a few options I have for streaming services that can give me many of the same programs for much less than my cable bill. Many gaming consoles, Blu-Ray players and even some TVs have built-in streaming capability now. Hopefully, buy cutting the cord, I can free myself to enjoy these stories at my leisure.