I was watching Amazon’s Action TV Showif I noticed something. The newly streamed eight-episode series is about a badass who rolls into a small town and opens a can of ass for the local baddies. That, I thought, is the A-Team. To be precise, it is a single Episode of The A-Team.
Season 1 of Reacher will only cover one novel from the book series it’s based on, and season 2 – just confirmed by Amazon – will presumably do the same. But in the 1980s, TV heroes embarked on a whole new adventure every week.
In other words, what took Jack Reacher an entire season of hour-long episodes, the A-Team used to do in an hour (minus commercial breaks).
On the same day, my wife and I watched the first episode of Inventing Anna, a Netflix series that dramatizes the true story of infamous con artist Anna Sorokin. It looked cheeky and disrespectful, so we decided to keep watching. But first – and I know you do too – we checked how long it was.
Nine episodes? Sorry, but that’s way too much.
No shade for any of these shows, but it feels like too many current TV shows are spun from not enough history. Seriously, not every story needs eight or nine or ten episodes.
TV professionals keep telling us that the beauty of our prestige TV era is its openness. A television series gives space and time to explore the depth and breadth of a story, developing character arcs over the years, and unfolding events without the time constraints of a film. This is true and wonderful. We’ve enjoyed many incredible TV shows that brilliantly prove this point, from Mad Men to Ozark, The Sopranos to Game of Thrones, Justified to WandaVision.
Now, however, there’s an overwhelming tsunami of new TV releases every week across all the many streaming services currently vying for your attention. But watching shows like Reacher andto name a few, one wonders why they needed so many episodes — or if they needed to be a TV show at all.
You can (and should) quit any show you don’t like. But then there are shows that you enjoy well, only they’ve outdone their welcome. I liked Reacher, but the only character arc in season one is the sequence of characters that fly through the air when Jack Reacher knocks their socks off. This isn’t a show that needs to let its subplots breathe, you know?
I don’t want to bag Reacher, so I’ll go straight to bagging The Book of Boba Fett. I maintainshould have been primarily about Boba Fett. But Disney was stuck with two masked bounty hunters, and that’s one too many. Episodes of The Mandalorian were lively, bite-sized delights, but the first season of The Book of Boba Fett proved a stodgy and frankly redundant eight episodes of filler. I loved Temuera Morrison’s snarling performance and colorful sci-fi action, but it could easily have been condensed into The Mandalorian.
Meanwhile, since I started writing this article, it has been revealed that Fox is adapting the 2012 cop film End of Watch into a TV series. I like End of Watch. It’s a good movie. It absolutely, 100% doesn’t have to be a TV series.
What made End of Watch exciting was a slick found-footage twist on familiar LAPD action, anchored by sizzling performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Anger at police brutality has grown in recent years, and bodycam footage has played a crucial role in exposing heinous acts by officers. So an updated End of Watch could say something revealing about the police force (and maybe even the way we portray law enforcement on TV). But can you get through an entire TV series on edgy found footage, or does this trick work best in a one-shot film? Because without that signature gimmick, End of Watch is just another cop drama.
Unfortunately, classic movies are increasingly being viewed as fodder to satisfy the insatiable craving for streaming-era content. Paramount comes to mind as a film studio that also owns a streaming service (formerly known as CBS All Access), so it’s digging up its trove of classic movies for TV . But do we really need new versions of Flashdance, and The Frickin’ Parallax View? The 1969 Italian Job is literally my favorite movie ever and I don’t want to watch the reported TV update.
Why is everything a TV show now? Expanding these stories into expanded episodic form is not driven by storytelling concerns, but by the content-heavy commercial demands of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, and all the other streaming services you didn’t know about. that they were supplied free of charge telephone plan.
Perhaps they want to inflate the time their viewers spend watching their content, which for streaming services is the equivalent of old-fashioned ratings. “Statistics on a show’s total viewing hours can be important for a service to brag about rights, cause a stir, or cajole talent,” says CNET streaming expert Joan E. Solsman. “But the number that matters most to the services is churn: how many subscribers are canceling. The total number of hours an account is viewed is a key indicator of whether or not someone is about to be terminated.”
The sheer volume of content being thrown at our screens is part of a streaming arms race as each service tries to solidify itself in your life. “The programming capacity of streaming is practically unlimited,” says Solsman. “The only real limitation is how much a service is willing to spend.
Movies vs TV
So if these stories are being stretched too thin as episodic television, what’s the answer? Making them as films is an obvious solution. It’s worth noting that the tide of TV shows is being matched by an increasing tide of movies on streaming services – Netflix releases a new original movie every week. Luckily, it’s easy to compare movies and TV shows these days, as many new TV shows are just old movies stretching over several hours. Tom Cruise played Jack Reacher in two films in 2012 and 2016.
But I’m not saying they were better than the new TV show, because both versions have their strengths and weaknesses. I can think of a couple of instances where the TV series was as good or even better than the movie: The Fargo TV show was a dark delight, and His Dark Materials was an opportunity for the 2007 movie to get it right Not.
Another good comparison between film and television is HBO Max’s surprisingly riveting series Peacemaker. John Cena made a breakthrough showing as DC’s comic book super(anti-)hero in last year’s film The Suicide Squad, but I was skeptical that this one -joke character could sustain an entire spin-off TV series. However, I was glad I was proven wrong when the TV show turned out to be multi-layered. Like Marvel’s Hawkeye series, Peacemaker takes a character from their widescreen movie adventures and scales them down to the small screen with much more intimate, character-driven storylines.
So movies aren’t always better. But at least they take less time.
In our media-saturated culture, brevity is a virtue. I get paid to watch TV for a living and I still feel overwhelmed by the amount of offers. One of my favorite series of recent times is the delicious, out-of-the-headline historical play A Very British Scandal, which runs in sleek, tight three episodes. Real life dramawas great too, but could have benefited from a tighter episode count.
In fact, this year there are a number of adjustments that expand the headlines to multi-episode series. the dropout,and Super Pumped dramatize the stories of Theranos, WeWork, and Uber, but I clench my teeth at the thought of devoting hours to them. Like classic movies, real life is increasingly being reduced to fodder for streaming “content”. In the case of Peacock’s eight-part Joe vs. Carole, in which Kate McKinnon comically re-enacts the events of the Netflix documentary Tiger King, I’ve literally watched an entire series about these people.
Streaming services should remember one of the great things about television: flexibility. If you’re wondering how Reacher could fit more story, check out another old favorite of mine, the swashbuckling series Sharpe. Fans of Sean Bean or historical action-adventure will know that each season of Sharpe consists of three feature-length television films, each adapting an individual novel from author Bernard Cornwell’s series. The longer episodes did justice to each book’s story and characters (although, whisper it, they’re all basically the same), while the number of episodes meant you got a new Sharpe every week.
And check out one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Band of Brothers, a series that helped usher in the prestige TV era. HBO’s hit series survived the entirety of World War II! In the time it takes Jack Reacher to clean up a town, Easy Company drove the damn Nazis out of Europe.
We never saw Inventing Anna. My wife just read the magazine article. And me? I’ve decided to stop worrying about it and just watch The A-Team.
The Best TV Shows of 2022 You Can’t Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus & More
View all photos