Archive for January 6th, 2013

Television vs. Movies

In a recent  article in the Wall Street Journal ,  movie  critic Joe Morgenstern compares television and movies . The best TV series ,like ” Homeland”, he writes are characterized by “intricate plot development , …. craftsmanship that builds up to moments of barely  bearable intensity and … layer upon layer of ambiguity laid down , like rich sedimentary soil as startling secrets are revealed and red herrings are dangled.” They build up their fictional worlds over months or years,  unlike movies which  concern themselves with ” relatively narrow segments of time in which the crucial qualities are compression , concision and intensity.” 

Morgenstern doesn’t express a clear preference for one over the other but, of late, I find myself more interested in television series rather than in movies . Part of the reason is that I have recently watched several top notch series , courtesy of Hulu and Netflix . The best of them was Downton Abbey , the entire second season of which I watched with my wife and daughter in two days flat. Another was The Eagle , A Criminal Odyssey a Danish series all three seasons ( 24 episodes in all ) of which  I devoured over four days . One of the drawbacks of TV series used to be  that one had to wait a week between episodes and that each episode was interrupted by those pesky commercials , always at the most critical moments . Watching them on Netflix or on other on-demand services  enables one to sidestep these drawbacks . And watching them on big screen HDTV in the comfort of one’s home is an attractive alternative to going to the theater.

I must admit that most  regular TV programming leaves me cold. The only recent  home-grown TV series I liked was The Good Wife.  I have never felt compelled to watch other hit series whose charms escape me .  Many of the series that I liked were on cable TV and not a few of them from foreign TV . Cable is free of the restrictions of regular TV and foreign TV is refreshingly different . One of the big drawbacks of TV was that TV budgets were smaller and so  the production values were inferior. That is no longer quite as true as many cable companies are spending more on their product. In addition , CGI has helped them achieve undreamed of effects that bring them closer to par with big screen productions . To be sure , movies like  Avatar and The Lord of the Rings trilogy have to be watched in a theater to get the proper effect, but most everything else is just as good  at home.

What I like about TV series is that their greater length allows for a more leisurely exposition and a better development of  characters . TV  treatments are ,on the whole, more realistic, and not as focused on ever more spectacular car chases and explosions  or on superheroes .   I know that there are good indie movies which I would probably enjoy but it is difficult to find them . We watch only three or four movies in theaters each year , often in the company of our extended family , and it seems like they are always big budget , CGI dominated extravaganzas produced by the major studios . It is true that movies manage to pack in an amazing amount of happenings in a very short time span and that is something to be admired . The trouble is that they are over all too soon.

It’s like eating chocolate . There are those who bite into a chocolate and send it down the hatch in mere moments . And then there are others who prefer to savor it, rolling it about , enjoying it slowly, lingering over every morsel  before regretfully downing the last remnants . I am one of the latter.

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