EPISODE IX: Episodic TV vs. Serialized TV

Max & Nicky discuss the differences between episodic and serialized television and why, in general, they prefer episodic.

Intro and Outro Music
Written, mixed, and produced by Nicky Weinbach

3 thoughts on “SPLITTING HAIRS

  1. I think I most like shows that are somewhere between pure episodic and pure serials. I like it when a show generally has self-contained episodes with occasional two-parters and myth episodes that add to the overarching story of the show.

    Your preference for episodic TV kind of seems like a preference for comedies over dramas. I know you cited Mad Men and Buffy, but those shows are really more serial than not. Mad Men individual stories, but taken out of context or out of order they would not really make any sense.

    The best dramas are mostly serialized: Twin Peaks, The Wire, Lost, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad (which I haven’t seen), Battlestar Galactica, etc. I can only think of one really good mostly episodic drama: Star Trek: the Next Generation. Even popular episodic dramas like Law & Order and CSI, just cannot achieve the character and plot complexity of the best dramas. Serial storytelling allows for characters to grow and change and stories to unfold more naturally without being wrapped up in forty-five minutes.

    I agree with Max that there is a difference between a soap opera and a serial. Soaps have certain self-defining plot tropes – mistaken identity, long lost family members suddenly showing up, extramarital affairs, dark secrets revealed – played for melodrama. That’s different than having a show with longer plot arcs in which the story unfolds in segments. One of the reasons why I don’t like Mad Men very much, is that its pretty much a stylized soap.

    That being said, I do agree that some recent serials, including the recent episodes of Game of Thrones, are very manipulative. In the last two seasons, there seem to be more and more episodes in which nothing much happens for about forty minutes and then there’s an exciting plot turn that requires you to watch the next episode. Because you look back and realize that there wasn’t much that you got out of the episode except the hook to make you watch the next installment. That’s why Game of Thrones doesn’t have that much re-watch value. A lot of it exists just to make you wonder what happens next. Better art has an aesthetic quality and is interesting aside from just making you need to know what happens next in a plot.

    • It’s funny to me how you don’t really like Mad Men but you like Lost. I feel like you should give Mad Men another chance. It really is one of the best shows in recent years. I feel that Mad Men is less of a soap opera than Game of Thrones for sure. If you want to talk about stylized soap opera, that’s what Game of Thrones is basically. And, Lost is more of a soap opera than any of these examples. Twin Peaks, by the way, is a soap opera on purpose, but a Lynchian soap opera, which kind of makes it it’s own genre in and of itself. Buffy, a lot of the time, would fall under your category of half episodic / half serial…kind of like X-Files…although X-Files is 2/3 episodic, 1/3 serial. You can look that up, too. – Nicky

      • My problem with Mad Men is that I don’t feel like it brings much more to the table than soap tropes, while GoT and Lost do (politics, philosophy, etc). Twin Peaks is designed to be a kind of art send-up of soaps, which I love. Aside from the clothes, I just don’t think there’s much more to Mad Men than soap, though, admittedly mine is a minority opinion.

        I may revisit Mad Men again at some point, but I watched the whole first season and don’t have a burning desire to see it anytime soon. Definitely going to watch Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul first.

        P.S. I recognize that Lost is a deeply flawed show, but I still find it holds a lot of sway in my memories and was just so enjoyable and interesting for the six years that it was on, until maybe the very end when it went off the rails.

        P.P.S. X-Files and Buffy, from what I know of them fit my ideal serial/episodic mixture. Its funny that I’ve only watched a bit of them. My understanding is their a lot like DS9 and Babylon 5 in that respect.

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