The Resurrection Of The Short TV Episode
HBO is planning on making the final four episodes of Game of Thrones basically mini-movies, all of them clocking in at feature-length runtimes. For fans of the long-running series eager for a bombastic sendoff, this is good news. For people who are, justifiably, finding less and less time throughout the week to catch up on all the prestige TV we have to be watching, it's a new blow for our productivity and social lives.
The streaming era has brought with it all kinds of pork and bloat on TV shows that could easily do with some liberal trimming. The now-defunct Netflix Marvel series were great examples of this, with 13-episode seasons, the episodes themselves clocking in at roughly an hour long. Arrested Development, once a famously zippy sitcom that benefited from network television's limitations, causing Mitch Hurwitz to agonise over literal milliseconds in the editing bay at times, now has episodes that run longer than 50 minutes a pop.
It can all feel a little much, which is why the quiet launch last Friday of a new Netflix series, Love, Death & Robots, came as such a relief to me when I discovered the longest installment was 17 minutes long, while others lasted less than eight. Love, Death & Robots's bite-sized programming tactic is a good one, never lingering too long on any one universe, on any one animation style. Some of the short stories are very good ("Three Robots" and "Helping Hand" come to mind). It's a binge-watch show, but in a new sense of the word. Puttering about, cleaning my room with the show playing on my TV, I got through three episodes. Imagine cleaning your room for the length of three rounds of House of Cards. I'd be living like Howard Hughes.
Love, Death & Robots has other problems to grapple with, though. Some episodes are downright bad, and a widely-recognized problem with no small amount of violent sexism in several episodes is hard to ignore. Mercifully, like everything else the show offers, it's over quicker than we've been conditioned to expect, though the bad taste will certainly linger for some.
The half-hour model for TV shows is almost entirely dominated by sitcoms, but there's room for that to change. Amazon's Homecoming is a masterclass in short, sharp storytelling with no one segment lasting longer than 30 minutes—almost unheard of for a prestige drama. The undervalued Starz show The Girlfriend Experience also runs at half an hour. Both shows have gotten acclaim, and it can only be hoped this is the start of a trend towards shorter serious TV shows.
It feels like movies and shows are getting bigger and longer every year. In this new age of TV, when the choice we have at hand is more expansive than ever, it only makes sense to give us a product in more digestible sizes.