If you don’t read “The Bitter Script Reader” you’re missing one of the most perceptive writers about the subject of television ever to pick up an angry pen and let the media have it. (Okay, so he doesn’t use a pen, and he clearly loves TV, still…well, check it out:
by The Bitter Script Reader
TV shows evolve over time. Certainly if you were to watch the first couple episodes of Seinfeld, you’d find them to be strange, slightly stilted and slow affairs, lacking the complex structure and quotable dialogue that made the show one of the last true mega-hits of the TV boom. And yet, you can still see the germs of genius, the voice that was unlike anything else on TV at the time. It’s not honed or polished yet, but it is distinct.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is another show that took a season and a half to evolve into its ideal form. The moment “shit got real” is when Buffy lost her virginity to Angel, triggering his reversion to his evil personality and completely upending any sense of safety within the show. For that matter, the spinoff show starring Angel himself took at least 11 episodes to truly find its footing. It needed that time before its voice emerged and it found where it was going to fit into the Buffy-verse. Still, I’d argue that if you watch the first season of Buffy, it might be a little campier, cheaper and less ambitious than what followed, it still is distinct and unique in a way that draws you in. Joss Whedon’s voice is there – he’s just still finding his best keys.
One of my problems with the way network TV is run today is that programmers seem to have itchy trigger fingers. A new series could find itself canceled after two or three airings, which hardly seems like a fair amount of data on which to judge a series. Of course, it’s important to realize that by the time most network shows have had their premiere, the series has probably shot six or seven episodes and may be working on the script for the 9th or 10th episode. At that point, the studio and the network have a pretty good sense of what they’ve got creatively, and if that’s not working for them, a limp debut isn’t going to convince them to throw good money after bad. (Though streaming figures and the Live+3 and Live+7 viewing numbers can end up extending a show’s life just by virtue of the fact they take longer to compile.)
I bring all this up as a way of saying “yes, I get it. A show won’t always be a home run right out of the gate.”
That said, it’s really exhausting hear a particular phrase with increasing frequency – “It gets really good six episodes in.”
Look, back in the 90s the vast balance of our original programming was limited to 4 broadcast networks, sometimes 6 when The WB and UPN were in play. The idea that FX, TNT, TBS, and AMC would be major content providers really wasn’t there. Today there are so many outlets for original narratives and there’s already an abundance of good stuff on TV and all the various streaming channels. I feel like I watch a TON of excellent original programming and there’s still probably an almost equal amount of excellent series that I don’t watch.
So when I’m presented with a new show to fit into my already crowded life, I don’t have time to give it a quarter of a season to figure itself out. This is especially true if the early episodes of the show seem devoid of anything compelling. I don’t want to keep beating up on AGENTS OF SHIELD, but its first season was the epitome of a series that didn’t know at all what its identity was supposed to be. The fallout of THE WINTER SOLDIER gave it a stronger mission statement and forced to show to redefine itself some 17 or 18 episodes in, but even then, I can’t say I found it to be all that great. I gave it another half-season due to the addition of Reed Diamond as a bad guy, but to me it never felt like it got any better than the kinds of shows that would have been canceled by The WB and UPN back when Buffy was breaking new ground.
I’ll give the show this – they had loyal fans. Their fans were so loyal that after the first half-dozen episodes I saw a LOT of angry responses to reviews pointing out the emperor seemed to be bereft of garb. When they weren’t arguing the judgment was wrong, they seemed to be willing it to be a better show, convinced it was building to something. The makeover that followed THE WINTER SOLDIER allowed them to feel vindicated, leading to a rallying cry that translated to: “It got really good 17 episodes in.”
When you say it like that, it almost sounds silly, right?
And if I’m being honest, this “give it 7 episodes” plea feels even more ridiculous in an era where streaming services are dropping an entire season’s worth of content on us at once. I’m supposed to hand over seven hours – fully half of the season’s running time – just to wait for something that feels like it’s being delivered in its final form?…