The second guest post of the Open Week comes from Andrew Reid, a writer and all-round nice chap. He’s been spiffing enough to provide this guest post on long-form TV fiction, and why he loves it. It’s an interesting read, and I hope you guys like it as much as I do!
Monster Of The Week – A Defense
I love long-form fiction. If a movie lasts three hours or more, I am there. One of my favourite films, The Sword of Doom, only lasts two hours and one minute, but it was originally intended to be part one of a fifteen part epic story (apparently the funding got pulled and shooting was halting, but they still edited and released what they had – which resulted in a very abrupt and confusing ending). Just the dream of thirty hours about an evil sword technique that corrupts the soul is enough to sustain me sometimes.
But I digress. One of the great things about importing US television – to me, at least – has been the concurrent adoption of the long-form season format. There is something immensely satisfying about sitting down with the entire boxed set of a television series and just devouring episode after episode, letting the whole arc just unspool itself into your living room, taking all the time it needs. My brother, a keen data hound, noted that his electricity bill was higher than normal one month. After some investigating, he discovered that it was the result of his West Wing marathon. All that running time and several billion cups of tea had caused a substantial spike in his power consumption.
With long seasons, though, there comes a problem. Filler episodes.
Filler, padding, “monster of the week” – call it what you like. In any show that aims to produce twenty to a hundred hours of entertainment there are always going to be times when they need to stretch things out to avoid resolving the main arc too early. And invariably, these episodes – being padding to cover the hours – tend to pick up some flak.
Even though they are the opposite of my favourite thing, being short, bite-sized chunks of narrative that exist to serve no more than 45 minutes of screen time, I actually quite like them.
I like them because they exist in a space for the writers that simply says “fill this blank”. It doesn’t matter how they fill it, just that they do, and while that can lead the viewer down a painful, wooden, lets-just-forget-this-ever-happened path, it can sometimes blossom into something fun. Writers can plumb any source for material: science journals, mythology, news, folklore – it all goes into the cauldron and comes out blended and ready for consumption. I meet people who refuse to read and know all about things like the wendigo. I work in education, and meet people who flat-out refuse to accept that science is useful…and yet from watching tv can grasp the basics of epidemiology.
Most of all, I like monster-of-the-week episodes because they are a beautiful blank space for writers to innovate in. I think it’s amazing when a single idea, something too small to carry the weight of a show alone, gets the airtime it deserves and becomes legendary as a result.
Don’t believe me on that one? I’ve got three words for you:
Eugene Victor Tooms.*
* Okay, so technically Tooms featured as a two-shot, but the second episode stands well on its own.