Thursday, December 21, 2017

WHY BINGE WATCHING ISN'T HOW TO ANALYZE/CRITICIZE TELEVISION! (aka The "TWINS PEAK: THE RETURN" issue) Just because you can binge it, doesn't mean it's suddenly not a TV show.

So, "Twin Peaks" is back in the news lately. Now, this is for a few reasons, and I'll get to that big one in a minute, but I should note that I planned this blog awhile ago, and wasn't prepared for what is undoubtedly the stupidest, most elitist, moronic debate going on in the cinephile world right now, but this happens to be a show that I find myself debating with a few Facebook friends of mine on occasionally.

Not the new sequel series; I haven't seen that, and I'm not reviewing it; in this case I'm talking about the original series.

You see, I remember when "Twin Peaks" was around originally, and I thought it sucked back then. I was around, six, so I figured "Maybe my analysis was off," so I tried to re-watch it recently. And lo and behold, it turns out that...-, ehhhh, no, I was right the first time; it sucks. It-, it really sucks; I mean, I guess there's worst, but this-, this is still a really bad television show.

Others, like some friends of mine, they obviously disagree. I'm pretty much in the critical minority on this, and before you ask, I love David Lynch, he's one of my favorite directors. Hell, when I did my Top Ten lists for each year of the aughts decades, he had two films that I listed as the best movies of that year, and he only made two feature films that decade. My standing on his genius has already long-been established. And I love most of his other work, including "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", I saw that recently too, and yeah, it's wonderfully Lynchian in all the best ways. Doesn't change the fact that the TV show sucked thought. Although, yeah, it's interesting that I hated a TV show, but loved the movie prequel of that series, while the sequel of that series is being debated over whether it's a movie or a television show. I see the irony.

Before we get into, why I think people are watching and misreading the greatness of the original "Twin Peaks", (Which will lead into my real reason for bringing up the original "Twin Peaks" which is binge watching's negative effect on television criticism) let's deal with this stupid argument as quickly as we can:

(Clears throat)

NO! "Twin Peaks: The Return" is not a movie! I don't care how much you like it, it's a TV show, and any argument made insinuating that "Twin Peaks: The Return" is a movie, or should be judged as a movie, is the stupidest goddamn argument I've ever heard. "It was intended to be seen like a movie?" Then, why did it air on television? Not even as a TV movie, it was at most a miniseries, and there's talk of a second season, so even that claim is fishy. Fine, it's pay-cable, that's still television. "It was shot like a movie, so therefore it's really a movie!" WHAT!?!? Single-camera shooting on television has been around since "The Andy Griffith Show", hell, longer than that. Basically since they realized they can air something on television that wasn't live, this has been around; it's not new, it doesn't make it a movie! "They shot out of order!" Okay, what favorite example should I pick for this one? Um, "Law & Order" does that all the time, but let's instead go with "My Three Sons", which constantly shot multiple episodes at once, because they worked around Fred MacMurray's film career; so they'd shoot all his scenes, parts of like four or five different episodes on one day and then, spent the rest of the time shooting the others scenes, or shooting around where he was supposed to be in the scene, until they got him back and recorded his stuff. Yeah, I haven't seen it, but I guarantee you, whatever you think is yours, Cahiers du Cinema's or whoever else's stupid reasoning for calling "Twin Peaks: The Return" a movie instead of a television series, is just simply, wrong. The only argument I can even remotely, possibly consider for this, is that, you live in a country where "Twin Peaks: The Return" was shown in movie theaters originally (And not just at film festivals either, got a theatrical release/screening, before it was on teelvision) and then, in that country, yes, I would concede that that would then be a feature film, there, and only there. That does happen btw, all the time too, that's why in America Spielberg's debut is "The Sugarland Express" and why in Europe it's "Duel" for example, and vice-versa, in America "The Decalogue" is a film, and in Europe it's a miniseries there's examples and precedents for that on both sides, even for something as recent and high-profile as "Behind the Candelabra". That's definitely not the case here in most situations it seems, and is also, truly the most elitist goddamn thing I've ever heard.  I know, there's little difference between films and television from a production standpoint, but as an audience member, a critic or a viewer, the medium the project is shown in originally, is a big difference. Think about what this implies when someone says that "Twin Peaks: The Return" is comparable to movies, what that is essentially saying is that, everything else that has ever been on television, all 60+ years of everything that's ever been produced or aired by television, finally, there's something that's as good as a film? What a bunch of bullshit. So, what, you're telling me that "The West Wing" is lesser than "Deuce Bigalo: Male Gigalo" because "Deuce Bigalow..." was a movie? Or that, "WKRP in Cincinnait" isn't a TV series that lasted 90 episodes, it's an ambitious 45-hour multi-narrative slice-of-life comedy movie feature that details the struggles of a struggle midwest FM station in the mid-seventies, that everyone agrees has that weird 24-minutes section where they're playing a softball game that nobody thinks is any good, but otherwise ranks among the great comedy films of all-time? My favorite is the obnoxious, "Don't think of "The Sopranos" as a drama series, think of it as 86 fifty-minute short movies?" Or think of it, like it's a drama series, 'cause it's a goddamn drama series, you nitwits! Just because, GASP! something on television, is good, doesn't mean it's a movie! That's just blatantly offensive to literally all of television before "Twin Peaks: The Return", including the original "Twin Peaks"! And btw, that would never happen in reverse. You would nev-ver, ev-ver, hear somebody say that, "So-and-so movie is so great, it's better than 'I Love Lucy'!" or, literally any comparison to television, that's remotely positive. You would never watch a movie see it ranked on Top Ten lists of the best TV shows of that year, and if you did, people would freak out ten-fold compared to me pissed off at the trend right now!

Yeah, whatever that argument is all about is some idiotic idea that somehow because it's David Lynch, therefore it's not really television. To that argument I'd say, "HE CREATED "TWIN PEAKS" YOU FUCKING PRETENTIOUS ASSHOLES!" He also created "On the Air" which only I remember, and was a better show btw, but.... (Shrugs) the medium isn't above Lynch and he's not above the medium. He might be the greatest artist alive, and maybe this new "Twin Peaks" is great, I don't know, again, I haven't seen it, I'm not judging the quality or accuracy of the critical reception of this new series, but even if this is the best thing ever to air on television, seriously go fuck yourselves. You want to call it the best show on TV, fine, but don't give me this, "It's so good it's equal to movies," bullshit.  Oh, some TV shows these days are better than movies....-" they've been as good as movies, since the days of Paddy Chayefsky, people; I guess some of you might've not noticed 'til now, but...., sorry you missed it.

(Deep breath)

Now, back to what I really wanted to talk about, which ironically is probably the thing that I suspect most people who love "Twin Peaks: The Return" are doing, 'cause it's the same thing that most of the people who love "Twin Peaks", that I end up arguing with say they've done, and that's binge watch it.

Now, I'm not anti-binge watching, I don't do it regularly; not usually new shows, I'm often streaming series I've seen many times before, 'cause I've seen them, and now I can really dissect them through binge watching them, which makes sense. First you see or consider them as they air, as they're meant to be shown, and then you binge to be able to catch more of the details better. Sure, occasionally something's come along that made me sit down and watch and keep watching, despite that, but that doesn't mean, binge watching is how those programs should be analyzed.

So, to give a simple example here's how this debate with the friends of mine who are "Twin Peaks" fans usually plays out and I'm generalizing here but,...

Look, I love Lynch and I'm okay with surrealism and dream-logic, but you can't do that for a prolonged continous-narrative television series. Your audience will fall asleep, and worst than that, they'll change the channel. Besides that, it's a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, trapped in an enigma, that never fucking gets solved! Television is a long-form narrative structure medium, if you're gonna create a problem that needs to be solved, you gotta pull the trigger and solve it eventually, or else, you're gonna get annoyed. Too much pushing and pulling in multiple directions is not sustainable unless we finally get somewhere, and "Twin Peaks" never does. We're not going more deeply into the realm of the surreal, we're just dragged around like a rag doll!

Well, it does get solved and it does go places, but you're just not paying attention...-

Trust me, I've paid enough attention-

No you haven't! And "Twin Peaks" is a different structure and narrative; it was ahead of it's time, highly influential to many other series now...-

Most of those series suck as well, but alright, go on....

No they don't! And it isn't about the solving of Laura Palmer's murder, it's about the depths of the mind that the characters go through as they continually explore this world that, at all first glance seems like a rather typical small town that turns out to be something different. What rule with television says that everything has to be cut-and-dry and things need to be solved? The murder is our entry into the world, it doesn't matter if it's never solved! (Which it is, btw, and you damn-well know that)  And why can't surrealism work in television...-

(Annoyed sigh)
Okay, surrealism can work in television, and it has before and since, but not like this. When you're in a movie theater, it's okay to be stuck in a dream, 'cause it's emulating the length of a dream; it's like a taking a nap for a couple hours, but after 22 hours straight, you better fucking wake up! That's not a dream, that's a coma! And this show is divided weekly, and again, I'm not stuck in a theater. The biggest distinction TV has to movie is options. I don't want to see a movie, I have to get up and leave a theater and get a refund, or buy a new ticket, or sneak into another film. At home, I got a remote control, the second I'm bored or tired or confused with Lynch's metaphorical bullshit, I can watch about 100 different things on, almost none of them are gonna annoy me the way this takes away an hour of my life a week. And when they did solve it by the way, the show was canceled shortly after and rightly so! They ruined the show the other way, 'cause now the whole MaGuffin that the show is based around, doesn't exist anymore, cause it wasn't about the town or the neighbors, it was about the solving of the crime. You can get away with being ambiguous with stuff like that in movies, but there's a new episode next week, you can't keep doing that! You either got solve it eventually or never solve it and either way, the show was fucked!

Okay, but that was back then, when it was new and unique for the time, and long before DVDs and streaming were a thing, but now, we can easily watch it the way it was intended. On our own time and it's in entirety, without having to take a week or longer break, where we can really get engrossed and really pay attention to the details of the series. Catch the clues and the minutia and see the other real story that Lynch is telling. Okay yes, the murder is a MaGuffin,...-

Thank you-

but it's also our entry into the town and learning about the real story of the show, the fascinating, detailed and complex lives of these characters; plenty of shows have used a murder as an entry point to learning about their characters, before and after "Twin Peaks" and have done it just as well. Television isn't restricted by the TV Guide schedule like that anymore, you can watch anything anytime and any way you want it and some shows work better when you binge them, especially ones that don't follow the more cliche traditional, procedural television narratives that you see in more sitcoms or dramas. 

Jesus Christ, in order to enjoy this to it's fullest, instead of an hour at a time once a week, I gotta sit through this dream, in full swoop, 30 hours of this goddamn thing! Not counting the movie! Even if you're right about this, which, fine it's better when you watch it like that, but how exactly does that make it a good TV show!? You can't sit down and convince somebody that,- "Don't worry, I know you're confused, but if you stick through to the end of it in two+ years, it'll make sense! First of all, when you're making a television show, you don't know that, and the audience isn't gonna sit around and wait that long to find out, and if they do, there's no guarantee that they're gonna like that, or even that it'll be any good! You're gonna get people really pissed if that happens! "I sat around all this time, and this is the result!" Fine, it was canceled, it wasn't Lynch's true vision, whatever, but this is still not conducive to television; it certainly wasn't back then, and it isn't now. And it's not like "Twin Peaks" is not an episodic program. It was back then, and it is now! 

Even stretching the constraints of the television narrative, this is asking too much of an audience that can easily change the damn channel, whenever the hell it wants. "Twin Peaks" can't just exist in it's own vacuum; it's competing against, at least four other shows on, and we're not even counting cable. 

It was back then, but it isn't now! Why hold it to the strict standards of network television at the time when you don't have to...-

It was a network, why shouldn't I hold it to such standards; it's the same standards they were in to begin with...-! Which by the way haven't changed, just because you binged it, doesn't mean it stopped being episodes!

(Deep exhaustive breath, excessive panting...)

It basically goes on and repeats itself endlessly from there, until one of us tires out. The meat of the disagreement, is how to read the series, within the confines of a television series, or to read "Twin Peaks" , as it's own thing, and binge watching is basically what sparked on this debate. To be completely fair, it's not like my friends are entirely wrong. (Well, they are, but, (sigh) well, I'll say they don't,  not have a decent argument) In the age of Amazon, Netflix, HBOGo, etc., a lot of the constraints of television are being wiped away. Some shows do build their story or narrative, around the idea of their series being binged-, (or marathon'd as it used to be called, and is a much more dignified name, that doesn't invoke alcohol poisoning.) and not just series with continuous narratives, series like "Family Guy" have, for years realized that their DVD audience is as-, if not more lucrative than their TV audience and even know to throw in several aspects of their show on DVD that don't make the air for one reason or another, to help enhance the experience.

However, should that mean we should judge shows this way? I mean, just because they're binge-able and maybe even are on a streaming service of some kind that not only promotes or even produces their series to be binged, does that mean that we should throw out all the basic thoughts on television shows because we can and are in some cases supposed to watch them in one swoop to follow the continuous narrative?

Well, let's start with the faulty part of that statement, the part where only now we've created series that have continuous bingeable narratives, 'cause that's not true at all. One of the reasons I brought up "WKRP in Cincinnati" before, is because that's a show that's actually got a really strong narrative thread that when you watch it continuously whether that's through reruns, or through binging or marathoning it that actually is quite powerful when you really watch it. It's not necessary for the series to be great, but it's nice to see and know, and they're not alone with that. It's not new to that show, or anything else. Basically, ever since "I Love Lucy", said, "Hey, you know that time Lucy was pregnant and had a kid, let's say for this next episode, she still has it..." series have had long-form narratives even if you didn't realize it, until it becomes more obvious on repeated viewings much later, often usually in binge-form. (And I'd be re-missed if I didn't bring up soap operas either)

So I find that notion faulty for two reasons, one being that judging a show solely based on how it plays when binged is wrong, 'cause it isn't the appropriate presentation for how to analyze a television series, by definition, it's broken into episodes, so that's how you analyze it, as episodic series, but also, it's faulty, 'cause the best shows should hold up either way, whether they have a deeper narrative when watched all at once or not.

Sure, it's rewatchability and bingeable factor is something to consider but however you first watch and analyze a show, it should be considered firstly within the confines of television, 'cause that's what it is; a television show. I'm sorry "Twin Peaks" fans, you don't get to change the rules, because new technology came around. "Twin Peaks" still isn't a good TV show, and it deserved to be canceled when it did, especially if you check what it was up against usually, it doesn't hold. Seriously, It was up against, "Cheers", "Seinfeld" "Wings", "Falcon Crest" and "Beverly Hills 90210", and even if you weren't watching "Cheers" and "Seinfeld" against it, there were legit alternative options that somebody can argue were more worth the time, and it still had to split time with "Gabriel's Fire" which is itself a cult TV series that had quite a bit of acclaim, but besides the bad scheduling, just because we can binge it now,...-

Actually, how much are we actually binging? Yeah, let's talk about this too, because-eh, I think I'm in the majority when it comes to binge watching, in that, I'm nut sure most  people actually do that? Supposedly, we do, Netflix's model in particular basically insists on it. It promotes how the majority of their programs are released, a season's worth, in one big lump, just so we can stream it. Them, Amazon as well, they're pushing pretty hard this idea that we watch shows in this format, but do we actually do that? "Twin Peaks: The Return" was on Showtime; it wasn't released in it's full 18 episodes right away. (Another reason it's not a movie! Grrr.) People seemed fine with that. Made the time every week to see, or stream it weekly. Several shows are like that in fact. Even streaming shows are like that; anybody think it's a little interesting that the first streaming network series to win the series Emmy was Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale", a show that, got released one episode a week, and not in a full lump season? I don't have the ratings or streaming numbers in front of me, but Netflix, for instance counts binging as two hours straight of one series...- you know, I grew up on TV Marathons of shows, especially reruns. If a new series joined the Nick at Nite lineup or something, it's be on for, what-seemed-like forever, and I watched a lot of shows that way. I was introduced to a lot of shows that way in fact. "Barney Miller", "Welcome Back, Kotter", "Get Smart", "Dragnet" to name a few. DVD's too, eh, "Louie", eh, "Dallas", "Hill Street Blues", "Dexter" I originally marathon'd on DVD, I was sucked in and addicted almost immediately. Hell, I've binge watched reality shows like "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" more times than I can count.

Honestly, two hours should be nothing when it comes to streaming, if the show's any good at all. It's more natural than people think to watch the same thing over and over again, ask that poor UK parent who keeps streaming "Bee Movie" 'cause he ten month old won't quiet down without it. (And don't look at her like you didn't have shows like that at that age. I wore out VHS tapes of the goddamn "Popples"among other things when I was that young. Think "Bee Movie"'s bad, go find old "Popples" cartoons, see how badly that hasn't held up) I mean, if we can sit through an average two hour movie regularly, then, a few hours of a TV series, should not be difficult.

It shouldn't be difficult, if television, was meant to be watched that way....

Observe, the clip below:

Okay, this is "Afterbuzz TV's GLOW After Show". Afterbuzz TV is a network devoted solely to superfan aftershow discussion of television shows. I fucking hate this shit. Yeah, I know, Chris Hardwicke did "Talking Dead" and everybody loves that,- (Eye roll) for some reason and sure, I don't mind it if, you know, "What the Flick" does these episode reviews as much, but those are critics, when you brings fans into this....-  yeah, my lack of patience with fandom is more long established than my love of David Lynch and this- I might have more to talk about with dilapidated genre of fan-based aftershows at some point in the future, maybe, if it's worth the time...- (Shrugs) but, they did one for "GLOW", which, whether you like it or not, has to be one of the easiest shows to binge watch that they have. Ten episodes, five hours at most it flows really quickly, it's a great show, it's a mostly light, funny show, that really breezes by. If I had to pick a show that, was probably the most easily bingable on the streaming sites right now, this would be it.

So, they did five episodes Afterbuzz..., It was Netflix, the show, was on in it's entirety, right from the beginning. People, needed a break, to talk about it, in chunks, not after seeing it in one binge? Two binges most? That's what implied by the existence of this? I mean, I know, I sound a bit like an asshole here,- I'm not trying to, but if this is the argument, that in this world of binge watching, television shows, especially streaming series, or shows that are intended to be seen or considered as one piece of art as a season or show or something, then, we should get one of those, right? Not five? or dozens in some series' cases? Sure this is for "Superfans", but it's the fans who are making the argument for binging, so...? Are we really binging as much as it seems? Maybe the most hardcore fans are, but, generally, the evidence indicates that that trend is a minority, and by Netflix's own count, the most binged shows are genre-based cult series with huge fanbases who are more likely to binge than the rest of the populace. "The OA", "13 Reasons Why", those are the top binged shows, "GLOW" as delighfully bingy as it is, is not at the top of their list. The shows that supposedly need to be viewed in this format, they're not always, in fact they're generally not.

Look, I picked on "Twin Peaks" a lot here, maybe somewhat more than it deserves (Not too much, but somewhat...), it's by no means the only example I've seen of this, positively and negatively; I'm using that a microcosm example, but I'm really skeptical of this idea that this is the proper way to analyze television. It's already leading to people trying to declare that a TV show is a movie, because with binging it seems more like a film than television to them. Ignoring how offensive and derogatory to the medium that is, you can't ignore the medium entirely. You just can't; I don't care what show it is; it's television.

Like,-, let me-, bare with me with this example, but I had a terrible, middle school science fair project once, about testing whether the different sized sports balls would knock over dominoes at a faster or slower rate,- it was stupid, but the real reason it was stupid and ultimately why I got an F on that project was because I purposefully decided not to measure the mass of the balls. Purposefully,- I was told several times to do so, and that's the thing I was literally measuring in this project, who much mass has impact! But I thought, in my clever mind, that it would be better and more interesting to not look that up and do the experiment that way, like it was a secret that I was getting to, figuring that, if  I knew the mass, than I'd know which ones would knock of the dominoes faster or something...- (Sigh, headslap) I was trying to add mystery to a science experiment! Man, I was stupid-, I've never been that great at science, but boy was I really being obnoxiously stupid back then, and this is the same thing. The most important aspect of how to analyze a piece of work, is the medium it's presented in. You don't take a book and then talk about how it holds up compared to a painting, do you? No you don't, and you can't just take the mass out of the equation, no matter how similar or different two mediums seem to each other! Even if it's streaming, if it's meant to be a TV show, structured like a TV show, separated into episodes like a TV show, promotes itself as a show....

I'm not saying don't binge watch, I'm saying, if you're gonna binge watch a television show, whether it's brand new or decades old, you still gotta consider it, as a TV show, as it was made, as it was shown at the time. What you might consider as ten hours or so of binging material, was 2 1/2 months went most of it aired. Does it hold up episode by episode, aired once a week, against other shows on at the time? Or would it hold up now if it was on the air? And same with streaming shows, if it wasn't streaming would it work in a lineup, compared to a lineup. That still matters, 'cause it's still picking one show to watch, over others, one network over others, all these factors still matter, that's how we still predominantly watch television, even streaming for most of us, it's episodes at a time, not series as a whole. You can't eliminate that fact, just to say it's good. (Or to say something's bad either.)

(Holds up remote control)

This remote might be for my Roku, but it's still a remote, and I'm still the one in charge of what I watch on the TV, and there's more options than ever before that every show's competing against. Remember, it's the one great benefit of television criticism and analysis, and just being an audience member, it's the show's job to make sure I don't change it, it's not my job to force my way through it because I bought a ticket. It's really just, "Is this good enough, to not make me use this?"

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