In the aftermath of the wildly popular show The Queen’s Gambit, I heard many people reflect on how nice it was that the show was just one season, and then they recommended it to others with the comfort that they wouldn’t need to overcome their commitment issues or cheat on their current television relationship, it was just one season, with a promise for no more.
“Why don’t more shows do this?” people would question in response.
Miniseries have always been a part of television, but often from an informative historical bend, where the story was already told and had a definitive ending. Therefore, the miniseries was the medium that best fit a finite amount of necessary storytelling. Out of this was borne great series like John Adams, Band of Brothers,The Pacific, From the Earth to the Moon, and more recently Chernobyl. But even so, the miniseries seems like an underutilized tool considering our current binge-culture.
This might be because the movie industry and film fans have been slow on the uptake, not in embracing streaming and the binge culture it fostered, but in recognizing how that culture changes the medium’s consumption. For example, the number one complaint about The Irishmen (a great example of how Hollywood has adapted to streaming culture) was its length.
Think about that… In an era when people binge seasons of television shows in a day and entire shows in weekends, they were daunted by a mere three hours of runtime. These groups might be mutually exclusive- that those who binge television are different than those who want movies to be of a certain length- but I doubt it. It seems more likely that the medium changes perspectives, and it will be hard or impossible for people to want to sit through a three-hour movie. Instead, a viewer wants the option to stop every hour at an episode break that a movie doesn’t offer.
I got into this debate with my wife, who is loath to start movies at night for two reasons… 1. Because she doesn’t want to spend that much time watching something, and 2. Because she refuses to stop a movie and restart it the next day.
I take issue with the first point because she also is constantly pressuring me to watch more than one episode of whatever TV show we are currently on, (right now it is Friday Night Lights, does it ever end? Promise me it ends…). And yet to her, two episodes of a show is not equal to a whole movie, which is a weird type of math I can’t follow.
As to her second point- after she almost murdered me for pausing a movie that she joined after I had already begun- I argued that stopping a movie (at a well-chosen stopping point) is tantamount to the end of an episode, and sometimes, when a show deploys a cliffhanger tactic, an even more appropriate pause for the story being told. No dice… She was furious.
I doubt my wife is alone in her disassociation of a story and its medium, and this might be why The Queen’s Gambit was so refreshing. And it’s not just The Queen’s Gambit. Recently audiences enjoyed, When They See Us, Chernobyl, Watchmen, and Fleabag (even though they added a second season), and if we reach back a bit further True Detective (season 1). There were lesser-known greats like Sharp Objects, Top of the Lake and nonfiction miniseries like Tiger King, The Last Dance, and OJ: Made In America.
So yeah, the miniseries has always been around, but it seems to be finding a revitalization in current entertainment consuming culture and deserves even more opportunities. I argued (thought I argue it less now) that Stranger Things should have been a one season miniseries. I wonder if Mindhunter– which was maddeningly ripped from our grasp after two seasons, story unfinished- could have been a miniseries that gave us the entire story amidst David Fincher’s waning attention.
Regardless, here’s to hoping 2021 brings us more miniseries that create collective experiences in storytelling due to their accessibility and entertainment value and keeps blogs, like this one, flooded with great content.
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