TV shows should have episodes

I know the way we watch TV has changed a lot since Netflix and other streaming platforms started releasing their own shows. And honestly I love it. I’ll binge a Netflix original in full and sit down weekly for an HBO prestige drama.

But a trend I’ve noticed lately is how a lot of reviews from friends are like:

“It’s slow and boring at first, but picks up around episode 4.”
“I was ready to give up on it halfway through but someone told me to stick with it and it does get good.”
“It takes forever for the story to get going.”

I think this is a symptom of some TV shows fighting against their medium. The episodes are providing natural breaks for the viewer, but aren’t affecting how the story is being told.

A lot of recent shows are actually 10-hour 3-act movies.

This causes the feeling that nothing really happened or changed from the beginning to the end of an entire episode. It takes several episodes to see the story emerging and no single episode has an identity. The good stuff finally starts happening in act 2 or episodes 4/5/6. And when you get to act 3, the payoff does feel worth it. Unless of course there is no natural end to the season either and the show is actually a 20-hour 3-act movie. Hope it doesn’t get canceled before season 2!

I love a several-hours-long watch session, but I really love TV shows that use the medium well. Episodic storytelling is an interesting constraint that brings a lot of creativity. Some shows have single episodes that stick with you forever: that episode where you know the title, can recount the story it told, and love how it fits perfectly into the greater narrative.

Long live episodes.