TV vs Film: The Great Debate [#10]

When I first started writing my Month in Media series it appears I neglected to give proper credit to the inspiration (at least if I did, I can’t find it any more, which is effectively the same issue). To remedy that, then, I’d like to formally recognise that it was Khoi Vinh’s series of “Movies Watched” that sparked my interest. To be clear, I wasn’t lying when I said hosting reviews was always a goal of theAdhocracy, but the monthly amalgamated format, the concept of logging my media consumption, that was really inspired by Khoi Vinh.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that I find Khoi’s monthly updates really interesting. Unlike my own endeavours, his don’t contain full reviews but are more of a personal log, with the occasional brief comment and nothing more. Still, I find it weirdly compelling to compare a strangers viewing habits to my own, so a part of me always looks forward to reading his updates.

I’ve also been continually interested in the impact of a decision Khoi made over a year ago: to focus on consuming Film over TV. He certainly manages a good monthly average, last month scoring 19 full films or almost five a week! I also find myself agreeing with the reasoning Khoi gave:

In spite of how good television has become, I still find it’s rare to find a show where every episode is a truly worthwhile chunk of time spent

That’s a fair acknowledgement, as is his follow up comments on the comparative time requirements to watching a TV show and a film. An average season consists of 22 episodes, with each episode falling somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes in length (what I call the Adventure Time to Game of Thrones scale). So it’s a fair assumption that deciding to watch a new TV show will be at least an 11 hour commitment. If it runs for multiple seasons, that number only increases and, for a singular story, that is kind of crazy, especially when there’s often little guarantee that your time will be well rewarded. A film will normally take no more than two hours, contain an entire plotline and have easily searchable and reliable vetting. By foregoing TV, people like Khoi can therefore slot in 5-6 great movies within the same time commitment as 1 potentially average, soon-to-be-cancelled TV show. With both markets increasingly bursting at the seams with new content advertised as ‘worth our time’ I can fully understand the decision to focus on film.

So I’m writing this to say that, moving forward, I’m adopting Khoi’s approach wholesale, ignoring TV shows in the coming months and aiming to binge my way through Hollywood’s finest moments, right? Well… no, not really. February’s MiM is substantially reduced compared to January and the primary reason has been TV. We ‘accidentally’ became sucked into the world of How I Met Your Mother and have watched almost nothing else since, finishing three seasons in as many weeks. We could have spent that time (a quick calculation suggests somewhere in the region of 26 hours) watching thirteen films, which does feel more respectable somehow. But, had we done so, we wouldn’t have experienced the hilarious, emotional rollercoaster that HiMYM is/was.

The day after watching a film I’m often inspired, excited, ponderous or drained. Films can and routinely do pack an emotional punch, leaving you to contemplate philosophy or provide a genuinely thrilling experience; it’s a great medium with a huge amount to offer. But I can’t remember the last film that left me feeling the way a good TV show does. The night after watching the final finale of HiMYM I struggled to think of what to do. I just wanted to know what these characters were up to and how they were doing. I’ve heard this feeling of loss, when the story is finally done, compared to watching a friend move to another country. Sure, you know there’s the possibility you might see them in the future and you can always revisit the past, but at the same time a door has closed and a spark is starting to dwindle. It’s a feeling that hits me quite often when finishing a book but rarely when watching the end credits roll on a film. Movies are too self-contained for that, they’re too focused on telling the story they have, and doing so as succinctly as possible. They’re restricted.

TV, books, video games: these are the media that have the ability to immerse you, not just for a few hours, but utterly and inescapably. For me that’s worth it. That’s worth the time commitment, worth the duds. Sure, it sucks when they end, especially when it is final, but the fact you feel that way surely validates the experience. I think it’s fair to say that you can watch a movie, but you can befriend a TV show.

2 thoughts on “TV vs Film: The Great Debate [#10]”

  1. A compelling counter-argument. I remember having this feeling with a few shows, particularly “Sports Night” which I discovered several years after it had been canceled. As I savored each episode, in the back of my head I dreaded the end of the series. It was, as you say, very much like saying goodbye to a crowd of good friends, almost like leaving school.

    In my experience though, this has been rare. More often than not, I find myself infuriated by how compromised a show’s narrative becomes over the course of several seasons. A few examples include “The Sopranos,” which was great but really struggled at the end; “Mad Men,” which on an episode by episode basis was better, but I’m not sure was worth the entire journey; even “The Wire,” which was far better than almost anything I’ve seen on TV, wasted my time with a largely misguided final season. And that’s not even mentioning the debacles of “Battlestar Galactica” and “Lost.”

    It feels nitpicky to cite all of these by name but each one represents a truly significant investment of time. And thinking back, I’m not sure I miss the characters in any of them all that much (one exception may be “Breaking Bad,” which I’ve considered revisiting except for, again, the total time commitment).

    More to the point, there are many, many movies that I care for deeply and would gladly revisit again and again. And then there are more movies that stun me and leave me pondering them for days or even weeks. That’s rarely ever happened to me with a television show.

    Another thing to think about is the total aggregate of how one’s time is spent. In the past year, I’ve watched so many truly magnificent, wonderful films that have inspired people for generations but that in the past I never thought I had the time to see. When all is said I done, I’m pretty sure I’ll be more grateful that I sampled all of these various treasures than I would be if I looked back on years of watching whatever HBO airs on Sunday nights.

    Anyway, thanks for this thoughtful retort. Happy viewing.

    1. Wow, a little star-struck that you actually read and responded to my argument, so first of all thank you so much for taking the time to do so.

      To be clear, I do thoroughly understand your reasoning and it’s definitely an idea that I feel has significant merit (I mean, it’s stuck with me for well over a year, rattling around in the back of my head so, yes, it’s certainly attractive). I guess the main point of my post is that the decision boils down to personal priorities. I can fully understand why someone would choose to focus on film exclusively, but personally I’ve found that I prefer a balance of the two. It’s been a surprising revelation, but I don’t think I’d be happy focusing solely on either TV or film. But that’s me and I imagine it will be different for everyone else!

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