I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it worth repeating:
We are living in the golden age of television.
Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu eliminate the hindrance of having to watch your show at a certain time (or one at a time). Waiting through commercials is a thing of the past. A-list movie stars are now actually scrambling to get on the small screen thanks to the advent of anthology series such as True Detective, Fargo, and Big Little Lies. Not to mention a massive rise in standards in television, particularly in writing and cinematography.
But why do we love it so much? Why do we groan at a movie runtime exceeding 2 1/2 hours, but are fully prepared to hunker down and marathon an entire season of Scandal? The answer is simple: development equals impact.
Music, television, video games, movies, books, art… people consume content because they are looking for something. Entertainment, understanding, answers, inspiration, laughter, shock… we just want something to affect us. We are far more likely to be affected by something that we have had a chance to sit with for awhile. It’s all about the anticipation. The build-up. This is where movies fall short. Find the best screenwriters and the most genuine actors and Hollywood, and development is still something that a standard film will never be able to do better than a television show. Rather than watching the story unfold in one sitting at a movie theatre, you really spend time with a show. You watch it between shifts at work, while cooking dinner, after the gym… you carry the story with you for weeks as you ship and theorize. Plot twists and characters death feel personal. Cue the memes and crying GIFs.
Any conversation about the genius of television would be incomplete without mentioning Game of Thrones. To analyze the level of impact that can be achieved over time, you need look no further than episode 4 of season 7, “Spoils of War”. In fact, this masterfully crafted episode has two examples.
Impact normally comes from some shocking action. An event, a death, a one-liner revealing a big plot twist, a flashback, a final showdown. Even in the world of TV, how many shows can claim the ability to create tension and shock simply by placing two characters in the same room??? After more than six seasons watching Jon Snow and Danaerys Targaryean on their separate journeys, they stood together in the throne room of Dragonstone. It honestly could have been a 20 minute staring contest, and our collective hearts would still be pounding. Why? The
unconfirmed confirmation of their relation, the implications of their potential alliance (or rivalry), and the joy at seeing two long-time favorites interact created anticipation you could cut with a knife. It wasn’t the dialogue or consequences of the scene that shook fans everywhere. It was both the excitement of a long-desired scene coming to fruition, and fear at how it would play out.
Let’s shift gears to our favorite one-handed, prince charming: Jaime Lannister. Forget the fire breathing Drogon, and forget the Dothraki vs. Lannister battle that’s been coming for years. The most impactful moment of that final battle sequence was Jaime throwing daggers at Dany with that powerful gaze, and picking up his spear to charge her and her dragon. On the surface, he may have just seen an opportunity to end the war quickly by killing the would-be Dragon Queen. But remember, Jaime is the Kingslayer. He watched the Mad King attempt to destroy his world. “BURN THEM ALL”. And he felt obliged to break a lifelong and kill him. A decision he knew was right, but in a lot of ways ruined his life. And now… here is the Mad King’s daughter. She has her own dragon and is burning them all. The worst day and situation of his life playing out in front of him once again. He gave up his honor and good name to stop the Targaryeans, and here they are again.
This is the kind of slow-burn impact that only a television show, viewed over the course of years, can achieve.