Friday, 30 August 2013

Question: do you jump into serialised television shows late?

Friday, 30 August 2013

We all have our little rituals and rules when it comes to watching television. You may like to watch something at a particular time, or with a particular person. Or perhaps you insist on complete silence to soak in every utterance? Anyone who goes against your "personal code" will most likely have other habits to make you chew your knuckles. I'm quite an empathetic person, so my biggest gripe is people refusing to watch something from the start, and often ruining a good experience by curtailing.

I know everyone's different and some (crazy) people treat scripted TV as a forgettable distraction, but I don't understand the mindset of people who attempt to jump into something that's been airing years, and is clearly not designed for late-comers to randomly jump into. Many of the best TV shows are heavily serialised these days, so you really must start at the beginning, as you would do a novel. Who starts reading a best-seller from the final chapter onwards? Only fools. So why do some people try that with serialised TV drama, which are essentially audio-visual novels?

I know a few people who were so intrigued with Breaking Bad because of the online buzz this summer that they started watching it from halfway through season 5. Yes, the final season. The last 8 episodes of a 57-episode story, uh-huh. The season that's paying off the previous four years of character-building and plot development! Madness.

Needless to say, while they could see the quality of its film-making and performances, the story largely didn't make enough sense to them... and all of its recent surprises didn't work so well. It's hard to feel utter shock when Character X discovers the truth of Character Y when you've invested no time watching Y dance rings around X, and been teased with this secret being revealed for years. Or when Character Z has an epiphany about something you didn't see happen, and have no means to understand what Z's realised.

I just don't understand it. A typical late-comer's excuse for jumping into a TV show halfway through, or towards the end, is that they don't have time watch from the very beginning. I can understand that reasoning (to a point), but most of the best TV shows everyone talks about have 10-13 episodes every season. It's not going to be an easy weekend catchup for shows that have been around awhile, but it could be done in a month or two quite comfortably. I mean, why deny yourself two months of fantastic entertainment and opt for a two-month struggle trying to understand what's happening in a story you don't know the history of, and haven't been made to care about?

If you're looking for a short-cut with a long-running show and can't be dissuaded, ask fans for advice. Numerous Doctor Who newbies were told to start with Matt Smith's 2010 d├ębut "The Eleventh Hour", meaning they can circumvent decades without missing anything integral to the show. I once asked my Twitter followers if I could skip the first season of Parks & Recreation, which I'd heard wasn't very good, and most fans agreed I could... so, guess what, I did. I asked the same thing about Angel, too, but the feedback suggested it was necessary to watch for reasons of laying the groundwork and seeing a few fun crossovers with Buffy. Having listened to the advice, I made an informed judgement, and don't regret it one bit. I will probably advise any newcomers to Dexter to skip certain seasons, if they hate the idea of wading through all eight. Same goes for 24. (In both cases, you avoid season 6).

Ultimately, DON'T watch Breaking Bad from the last season onwards. Please, please, pleeeease don't ruin it for yourself. The pilot is a brilliant piece of work, and I love the first season (which is only 7-episodes long), so it's not even a show where you have to prepare yourself for a struggle to get into. Unlike Game of Thrones, which I often recommend to friends and usually hear they're bored rigid by episode 5. (Don't worry, I tell them to persevere and reap the rewards, and most thank me for pushing them through.)

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have sympathy for folk who jump into shows everyone's talking about at an odd time, even if they sacrifice fully understanding what's going on? Or do you agree people should always start at the beginning, like a book, out of respect for story... unless a level-headed fan-base suggests otherwise?