I can’t wait ten episodes (or two years) for a TV series to get good

Are we selling ourselves short as viewers, or having it done to us?

Ooh, next week looks much better.

Even a casual flip round the by-lines at this site will reveal me to be far more interested in movies than TV and games. It’s nothing personal. At least not with games: I can watch and review a score of movies in the time it takes me to get through one game (even if I was any damn good as a player, I could still fit in 3-4 movies). The fact that game-playing is a vapid experience that teaches you nothing except faster reflexes is a big plus for me, and I’d play more if I could.

Not so with television.

I keep seeing comments this week about how you have to be patient with TV shows. In fact, I’ve just seen another one, over at fark.com, declaring that it can take a couple of years for a show to hit its stride. A couple of years. The same people who declare that they walked out of the cinema during some particularly tedious or dull movie seem prepared to glue their eyes on unrewarding content for (collectively speaking) weeks of their life because they can see the potential, or the possibility, that what they’re watching might become really entertaining at some point. This is also true of certain vines or desert cacti, but I’m not eager to sit down in front of one for two years.

Dare I suggest that a ropey new show deserves a mere 1.5 episodes before being jettisoned from your viewing schedule? I’m being generous, as I can normally smell a rat (or a turkey) within twenty minutes of the opening credits (many of which  are still crawling on screen twenty minutes into the show).

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Dare I suggest – as someone who has stuck with Dexter through thick and thin – that while a blinding first season can survive a less dazzling second season, a show that can’t liven up within its first-ever 2-3 episodes should be purged from existence?

Or even that the networks are using their devoted – and apparently handcuffed – audience to focus-group ideas that needed a lot more work, research and money thrown at them before the start of E01S1?

I’m not immune to the pulling power of producers and writers with great track histories. I watched Dollhouse ep 1, didn’t I? And I also watched the entire 6-episode run of Steven Moffat’s Jekyll right up to the last 25 minutes, at which point my critical faculties threatened to pack their bags if I didn’t turn it off.

We complain a lot about TV, even the cherry-picking viewer like myself, but we keep getting the TV we deserve because we keep watching indiscriminately. If it’s good, we watch in our millions. If it sucks, we watch in our (slightly fewer) millions. We leave the producers and commissioners unmotivated to improve the quality.

Posit: a new show comes on. Episode one is abysmal. Ratings drop 60% and the TV executives who commissioned it start reaching for the Hari Kari knives. Yet I say they were lucky. They got off lightly. Because the ratings for week two should have been zero + any new viewers who not only missed episode one but have heard nothing about it.

When most ‘rateable’ people who are able to watch TV shows invariably have access to the internet, games, books and even a good pair of nail scissors, why is anyone watching televisual dross that started out bad?

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Dollhouse has got one more episode, and then it’s history for me. I love Joss Whedon, but even a genius can get an idee fixe that was either worth nothing in the first place or which he or she doesn’t personally have the resources to exploit.

I thought pilots were meant to firewall us from the likes of Fox Force 5. Star Trek was piloted twice, as was Life On Mars (despite being a US re-make of an established and successful show in an English-speaking country), and a refusal to bow to ‘powerhouse’ producers or creators would spare us a great deal of dreck. A show should have three consistently successful pilots before it is allowed anywhere near the autumn weekly schedules. It would give us something to remember, some strand of hope to cling to as the signs of weekly production ennui set in:

We can look around the sets that impressed us back when the producers were spending money, and can now only afford to dust them; we can remember those expensive location shoots that have given way to the same three streets/planets/laboratories; we can remember the thrill of a new character, introduced as evil, who now sits before us terribly conflicted and wondering if they should seek a support group; we can strain to pretend that the vast pauses between lines of dialogue is anything other than a director trying to get an underwritten script out to length; that the fact that a character is reticent signifies emotional intensity, when the truth is that if they spoke, they’d need more rehearsal and dialogue and blocking and editing, and they might end up swearing (or something awful like that); we can remember when there was no previous episode or next episode to help pad out the ten minutes of drama in this episode with recaps and previews.

I’m not saying, by the way, that great drama can’t happen on one set; the history of theatre and even of TV demonstrates otherwise. I’m just saying that it rarely does on TV, and particularly on network TV.

I can remember a different time. Not that the TV was better, it was just bad in different ways, and news of something on TV actually being any damn good spread like wildfire, just as it does now, and for the same reason of rarity. Good, bad, and plain fucking awful, we watched it all, just as we still watch it all. I wasn’t so busy back then; I had more hours of life in front of me and didn’t feel so personally aggrieved to have one stolen by hacks.

It’s almost impossible to keep up with the weekly output of proper films being released, and I can’t see a reason to invest my time in something made with a fraction of the resources of even a low-budget film, unless I hear some really good news about it from someone I at least half-respect. I’m not a litmus test on which TV production companies can drop their half-baked, demographically calculated serial shedloads of shit. It’s bad enough with movies, and at least film-makers have time to light the sets properly.

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But don’t get me wrong, I’ll try anything. Once. You’ve got an hour, so make it count.