Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Arcs of Triumph
2007-05-29 11:45
by Jon Weisman

Serialization still rules.

As if we needed more of a reminder after the superb Lost season finale, watching the final three episodes of Veronica Mars this past weekend provided more evidence of how much shows can benefit from multi-episode arcs.

In its pre-finale episodes, Veronica was little more than a buoyant Murder, (pause for effect like Pat Summerall would) She Wrote. But its finale, which brought back Season 1 co-villain Kyle Secor, turned a rather ordinary story about exposing a Skull and Bones-like club into riveting emotional wreckage for Veronica and Keith.

More investment in a show yields more rewards. Serialization encourages more investment. From a creative standpoint, it's that simple.

Even a so-called procedural like the outstanding House benefits from our fascination with the characters' development, which mitigates some impatience with the repetition in the storytelling.

The rub is that serialization also deters new viewers from joining a show midway through. It's true for me with Battlestar Galactica and The Wire, two shows that everyone loves but that seem to demand to be watched from the beginning if at all - even if it means I never watch them at all. The deterrance factor can drive ratings down, and in doing so drives down enthusiasm from the networks for the format.

As with many things in television, balance is key. There will be only so many serialized shows that viewers can watch. But while saturation might be a problem, the format itself is not. Serialization is what makes so many television shows today worth watching, and is still a most worthy pursuit.

Television just needs a financial model (incorporating DVDs, DVRs and downloads) that doesn't force quality serials to be mass hits to survive.

2007-05-29 12:51:30
1.   chazmac138
I agree with your sentiments Jon. Veronica Marrs had been boring my wife and I the last few episodes so it was a nice twist at the end of the finale to re-spark our interest. We felt somewhat rewarded for being loyal viewers. I don't much like the Pizz character and Logan really has no place on the show at all anymore(unless he's with Veronica). I wonder what will happen to the established character base if the show decides to go with the "Veronica goes to the FBI" plot line. Obviously you keep some characters but how to include everyone or most everyone would be more than a bit tricky.
2007-05-29 13:25:47
2.   the OZ
Nice piece.

The last few episodes of Band of Brothers aired this Memorial Day and reminded me how phenomenal a serial miniseries can be. Lonesome Dove also sticks out in my mind.

Is the miniseries a dead genre?

2007-05-29 13:51:56
3.   Jon Weisman
2 - It's a diminishing genre but not dead. The minis tend to be mini-er.

Broken Trail was a good one from last year.

I loved Lonesome Dove (book and miniseries) but Band of Brothers didn't work for me for some reason that I can't really recall. I stopped watching partway through.

2007-05-29 14:16:14
4.   Greg Brock
Most of the great Miniseries of recent years have been on cable. Band of Brothers, From the Earth to the Moon, Broken Trail. It think the networks have given up on them.

It's a shame you haven't been able to watch Battlestar Galactica. It's a fantastic show.

2007-05-29 14:51:14
5.   the OZ
3 Band of Brothers is exceptionally well-cast (except for David Schwimmer), and a diverse set of writers and directors give each episode a distinctly different flavor. What I like best is that even though it's a war series, the story always maintains a very personal, character-based perspective.

I know you're very busy, but I think it would be worth revisiting the DVDs at some point. At a minimum, episodes 2, 4, 5, and 7 are worth watching, and maybe episode 6.

2007-05-29 15:06:19
6.   Jon Weisman
5 - Nah. Not gonna happen. I don't know the specifics, but I know I found the series tiresome to watch.
2007-05-29 15:09:39
7.   Andrew Shimmin
I watched Band of Brothers for the first time over the weekend and loved it. My biggest problem with miniserieses is that I don't want to wait months for the payoff. I'd rather block off ten hours and knock the thing out.

5- Did you watch Friends? I quit after the first couple of episodes; I wonder if watching much of the show is what ruined Schwimmer, for you, since I thought he worked, but had some trouble with Livingstone, who's thoroughly associated with Office Space in my mind.

2007-05-29 15:16:25
8.   the OZ
7 I never really watched NBC's Friends. I just think Schwimmer sucks in anything I've seen him in.

I think Ron Livingston is awesome, though. We just have different tastes, I guess. Livingston is great at playing jaded, guarded characters, as was the case in BoB.

2007-05-29 15:49:46
9.   Jon Weisman
I love Ron Livingston, but he wasn't enough in BoB.

You could spot Livingston's talent a mile away when he did that small part in Swingers.

2007-05-29 15:51:47
10.   Jon Weisman
I maintain that the early years of Friends were good and hold up over time. Schwimmer was very likable at the start, before his character was dumbed down. Ross' initial pursuit of Rachel was touching, and the prom video episode was one of several highlights.
2007-05-29 16:08:30
11.   Andrew Shimmin
I like Livingstone, and I got used to him, eventually, but it was pretty jarring, at first. I was worried that, during some battle scene, I'd see him shooting, and wonder if the company was engaging a troop of Nazi fax machines. . .

I liked Schwimmer in his Curb Your Enthusiasm arc. I could tell Friends was going to be popular, right from the start, but I didn't think it was funny. A show about nice things happening to nice looking people.

2007-05-29 16:57:53
12.   Jon Weisman
Schwimmer was also good in The Pallbearer. And on The Wonder Years. With good material and good direction, he can do the job.
2007-05-29 19:00:29
13.   CanuckDodger
6 -- You thought Band Of Brothers was "tiresome?" I suppose I am less shocked that you would say that than I am that it has taken me this many years to finally come across someone who doesn't love Band Of Brothers. I know a guy who just might punch someone who called BOB tiresome to his face. Not that I am saying he would be right to do that; I am just saying that his how much he absolutely reveres the series.
2007-05-29 19:36:19
14.   Jon Weisman
13 - I dare say mine was a minority opinion, but what can I tell ya?
2007-05-29 20:43:06
15.   Benaiah
"Band of Brothers" has some high points, but it isn't all that great. I can't imagine sitting through it again. War movies are always overrated (for example "Saving Private Ryan" has a great beginning, but it is a mediocre and middling film overall). War movies that have a unique and interesting view on war are few and far between ("MASH" and "The Thin Red Line" spring to mind). Most are slightly jingoistic and overly sentimental (the nail on the head narration at the end of "Flags of Our Fathers" about "doing it for the guy next to you") or simplistically pacifistic. Less war movies and more Westerns!*

* "The Proposition" is a better movie that "Saving Private Ryan" in my humble opinion.

2007-05-29 20:44:21
16.   Benaiah
1- Veronica is done, there is no hope left.
2007-05-29 21:01:14
17.   Jon Weisman
15 - for example "Saving Private Ryan" has a great beginning, but it is a mediocre and middling film overall

I don't know if war films are overrated as a genre - I don't often hear people say how great all war films are. But for Saving Private Ryan, I feel your assessment is completely true, and at the time I wasn't alone in that opinion at all. Shakespeare in Love was so superior, it was almost comical.

Since then, some revisionist history has been that SPR got robbed and SiL didn't deserve it. Ridiculous, I say!

Of recent vintage, I do think Letters from Iwo Jima was very good.

2007-05-29 21:40:04
18.   neuroboy002
A totally different film genre:

Please, please go see the movie "Once" if it is playing in your area. It is fantastic and you won't regret it. You will become an instant fan of Glen Hansard's albums and his band "The Frames." It really is a spectacular movie, and even more so considering only $150,000 was spent making it.

2007-05-29 22:26:05
19.   Bob Timmermann
The big crime in 1999 was giving the Oscar for Best Actress to Gwyneth Paltrow instead of Fernanda Montenegro.

I believe I am in the minority here.

2007-05-29 23:32:06
20.   T Money
Agree entirely on "Once." Maybe it was because I saw it only hours after seeing the bloated and incomprehensible "Pirates 3," but it felt like a virtually perfect little movie. I can envision this really finding an appreciative audience, all summer long.

I'm only with you halfway on this one, Jon. "Saving Private Ryan" was a flawed movie in numerous ways. But "Shakespeare In Love" as 'so superior?' Eek.

Bob, if you want to see the Fernanda Montenegro performance to top all Fernanda Montenegro performances, I STRONGLY suggest that you rent a film called "House Of Sand." It was my favorite film from last year, and it's a true knockout.

2007-05-30 10:03:21
21.   Jon Weisman
20 - Shakespeare in Love is about as perfect a movie as you'll find.
2007-05-30 10:13:42
22.   Jon Weisman
New post up top.
2007-05-31 12:58:52
23.   MadMonk
Ah, LOST was so great that I'm buying into the next 3 seasons.

21 - Yup, SiL was way better than SPR. But perfect? I don't dare to put it that high.
15 - The Proposition was fantastic.
20 - House of Sand was very good and went away from the theaters too quickly.

Jon, you simply must get Battlestar Galactica on DVD and watch it. It's great. If you must choose between BG and The Wire, I supposed you have to pick BG.

2007-06-01 08:46:14
24.   aloofman
I would urge anyone who's tired of neatly-wrapped, gimmicky dramas to watch "The Wire". It's one of the best shows I've ever seen. With no exposition, it can be a challenge to keep track of the characters and stories, but I find it plenty rewarding.

I thought "SiL" was highly overrated. It's a mildly amusing period drama, but I didn't see a lot of award-winning qualities there. But then, I often don't in the film that someone picks as best picture.

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