Wednesday, January 14, 2015

TV Endings and How They've Changed

So about three weeks ago, I finally gave in to my curiosity and started watching the BBC police drama "Luther" staring Idris Elba. I'd read good things about Luther and knew of Elba from his outstanding work in "The Wire." I was looking for something to watch one night on Netflix and figured it'd been on my list for a while and I should go ahead and give it a shot.

Not to overstate things, but it is fantastic. It is the first show that I can remember verbally saying something after a dramatic turn in the series. It's an intelligent, well-written show that I ... well, binged isn't the right word as I never watched more than two episodes at a time, but basically any time I had an hour to myself, I watched an episode. I guess it's the parental form of binging in that you watch it nightly for a few weeks after your kid(s) go(es) to bed. Overall, it hasn't been since I watched "The Wire" that I enjoyed a drama as much as I've enjoyed watching "Luther." And if you asked me now, it'd probably be second only behind "Psych" in terms of enjoyment of shows I've watched recently.

But those of you who watch BBC shows know there is one major difference between a British series and an American series. Here in the States, you can get anywhere from 13 to 22 episodes of a show each season. If a show goes six or seven seasons, you're looking at anywhere from 70 to 150 episodes and stories of the characters you grow to know and love. Not so in Britain. In their model, they have much shorter seasons, so a show may only have six episodes at a time. Such is the case with Luther. All three seasons on Netflix consist of a total 14 episodes.

Granted, this is 14 hours of gripping television. But when it ended, I was legitimately saddened. I wanted more time with the characters. I wanted to see what happened to Detective Chief Inspector John Luther after his the last case we saw. Unlike some shows (How I Met Your Mother springs to mind) where I'd pretty much seen all of their lives that I wanted to see, I felt like there was something unfinished about my time with the characters in "Luther."

One of the biggest reasons I feel this way, I think, is the Netflixification of television viewing. When "Seinfeld" ended, we all watched at the same time and went to work or school the next day and all had the shared experience of watching it. Seemingly everyone was talking about it and you could relive it with your friends, classmates or coworkers as you worked through the disappointment of a show ending. With more and more people forgoing cable in favor of streaming options (full disclosure - our family falls in to that category), the shared experiences are fewer. Odds are someone else finished watching the last episode of "Luther" the same night I did, but it wasn't anyone I knew.* I had to deal with the end of the show alone, and by alone I mean by telling people on Facebook and Twitter how much I enjoyed it. A few had already seen it, at least one said he'd probably start watching it, but ultimately that was it. No long discussions about it.

* I feel I know my wife's television tastes pretty well by now and know she's not one who would enjoy Luther. Sadly, she also doesn't find "Psych" funny, so I end up watching that alone too.

I'm as much to blame as anyone regarding the disappearances of shared pop culture experiences. Like I said, I don't have cable so I'm usually several months to several years behind the television culture. But as television and entertainment options continue to fragment, fewer and fewer shows or events bring everyone together to talk about it the next day. (Go back and look at the ratings for shows in the mid-90s and compare them to today. It's fascinating to see how we were all watching generally the same things during that time.) At this point, short of big sporting events, awards shows and The Walking Dead (which I don't watch), there isn't much that pulls us all together to watch the same thing.

On one hand, I'm completely ok with this because I appreciate the on demand availability to watch what I want when I want. And I've watched shows I otherwise would have missed or not even heard of had I not subscribed to Netflix. On the other hand, what we gain in flexibility, we lose in our shared pop culture experiences. Overall, I think the trade offs are worth it. Anything that allows people to explore their interests and hobbies at a time that's convenient for them is a good thing. And I'd never have watched a lot of the shows I've found because of it.

But I am a little saddened by what we miss out on by not having the experience together. So if you all would like to get on my schedule as I prepare to watch the final five "Psych" episodes, that'd be great. 

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