In Defense of TV, From A Cinephile

Television is taking over film.

This has been a major point of discussion within the media industry for the past few years -- because it’s true. It used to be the other way around. I can’t even believe the amount of movies that have now been turned into television shows and the amount of film directors, producers, and actors that have shifted focus to television. Part of me knows it makes perfect sense, but the other part of me hates to admit it. I’ve been committed to film since age 15 and I’m still trying to get my watchlist below 200 before the end of the year. But ironically, I can’t get into certain shows because of my commitment problems. Over the years, my tastes in television have been limited and mostly reduced to cult status, not unlike my primary tastes in film. I’m what they call a DEUH (drama-episodic-cult-highbrow). I’m partial to British television. I have a self-imposed rule regarding television, which is that I will not begin a new show if it has already released more than two seasons. I know I would love Game of Thrones, but I’ve chosen to alienate myself from the general public instead. You mean, that really popular show that already has how many seasons with a dozen episodes which are an hour long each? I don’t have time for that; I need to feel like I accomplished something after devoting an hour or two to it. Plus, film has traditionally been academic. You’re supposed to study it and learn from its history, and that in turn is supposed to teach you how to make films.

But this past weekend, I realized: I have learned more about filmmaking from watching television than from watching films. This past weekend, I completed my first Netflix-original television binge -- Marvel’s Daredevil. It was a spontaneous undertaking, but the show turned out to be more than I expected with indulgent symbolism, unexpected realism, and a truly darker edge than most mass-produced superhero portrayals I’ve been exposed to. In truth, I wanted to analyze Daredevil the way I typically analyze films. And after watching it, I felt like I had acquired insights that would inspire me to make better films in the future.

I started to think about my favorite television shows. The first: Shameless US. No one really talks about Shameless US. There’s a modestly-sized following, enough to warrant its fifth season on Showtime; William H. Macy recently won a Golden Globe for his role as Frank Gallagher. The show’s premise, in theory, appears uninteresting. Shameless is not as flashy as other television shows, although its cinematography is impressive and its soundtrack is unbeatable. But Shameless is as raw, edgy, honest, and as witty as the characters and environments -- a working-class, Irish-American family on Chicago’s South Side -- that it represents. Shameless is a realist’s dream, a case study on how to create incredibly interesting, diverse characters, and a lesson in balancing black humor with heartwarming, maddening drama. Shameless was the one of the first to school me on character attachment; and the first to teach me that high production value is nothing without compelling characters to support it.

Before the Before series and before The Social Network, Gilmore Girls taught me how to keep audiences interested with just two people talking. From Freaks and Geeks, I learned the value of casting. From New Girl, the appeal of pop culture integration. From Doctor Who, I learned about consistency and realized how innovation could still occur within a firmly established brand. With Sherlock, The Hour, and Downton Abbey, I realized that cliffhangers were not mutually exclusive to high style. (To that, I recently discovered an old Tumblr post stating, “i decided i would like to become a television writer for dramatic series bc how else can you emotionally manipulate the general public on a weekly basis”.) It was the same with Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, where I learned that cinematic references and experimentation were not limited to cinema itself. There are more. They all taught me how to use screen time economically and how to remain relevant in storytelling.

In the end, television is not mutually exclusive to cinema -- although there are logistical differences, both serve the same purpose. To entertain, to teach, to expose, to express, to take hours out of your day, to tell stories. No one should limit herself to one medium. I’m just like any film lover -- I don’t want that medium to die out. But my time is an investment, and in the end, I want a return: I want to be moved in some way. There is great television out there; there are still great films out there. If one can learn from the other and vice versa, the end result is all the better.


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