Film Feature: Big Things on the Small Screen

 

Lock your door, draw the curtains, and grab enough snacks to last a team of pigs a week, because it’s Netflix time. We’re all guilty of this prolonged absence from society: a glorious time where pyjamas are the only uniform necessary and no one can judge you for eating that mystery malteser you found under the blanket fold. Hours fly by and deadlines are missed in a blink of an eye. What’s the most common culprit of this dissociation from the outside world? TV shows.

We are a generation of bingers. Netflix binging is my number one hobby, no matter how many times job interviewers try to tell me it doesn’t count; it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s the best partner in denial of the state of the rest of my life. Parks and Recreation can have me laughing for hours, Black Mirror can pull me into an existential crisis, and Game of Thrones can further my fear of intimacy by killing off every one of my favourite characters – no matter what mood I’m in, there’s always a show to fill my weekend void. With online opportunities like Netflix and Amazon Prime, people who don’t own a TV can now effortlessly stream almost any TV show they like, and opening up the market to a congregation of procrastinating students is guaranteed boost to any business.

With the high demand for constant entertainment and plenty of networks desperate for higher viewer ratings, now seems to be the perfect time for TV to stage a comeback against cinema’s dominance: and coming back it is, with high-quality scripts, and plot lines that are starting to trump hollywood’s for experimental diversity.

Periods of time where interesting film production goes into a bit of a rut is actually a common occurrence and easily recognisable: whenever there’s suddenly an abundance of remakes and sequels you know we’re stuck in a drought of creativity. Large film companies just aren’t willing to take risks. If all their statistics and graphs say the public really liked that one Disney film decades ago then guess what – we’re making a remake! But we need to make it new and edgy to get attention – let’s film it all in a dark and gritty filter. Basically, films are stuck in that awkward emo scene stage.

So while film has been busy trying to “find itself”, TV has leapt ahead with plot lines that don’t follow a recognisable arc, characters we haven’t seen a million times before, and conflicts which aren’t all just rehashes. In Britain we’ve had Utopia, with a creepy potential future that resonates with audiences and enough turns to keep anyone hooked. Humans also investigates a disturbingly conceivable future world where the line between AI and robots blur, but this time with a delicate touch of humanity and unique portrayals of tempered personalities.

It’s hard to tell if all the good writers are in TV or if they’re being overshadowed in the film industry by large budget film companies. Sure, the main focus in cinemas are currently predictable rom-coms, classic remakes, and enough superhero films to feed your inspiration for Halloween costume ideas for the next couple decades, but there’s still a small troop of indie creatives marching on, brandishing their uniqueness and trying fiercely to cut through the tangled mess of stale storylines.

So perhaps it’s not just the writing quality that makes TV so great these days, perhaps it’s just the availability of time they have to work with. A film will have somewhere between 90 and 130 minutes to develop their whole story, whereas TV can have countless episodes and seasons, giving them space to spread their creativity and experiment with new themes; films need to keep it concise. If your new world is too complicated to be easily explained in a restricted time slot, quite often it’s not going to be picked up by many producers.

Even though TV has the luxury of time, they also have the potential pending doom of cancellation.   A TV show needs to hook in an audience fast otherwise it’s dead, perhaps this pressure is enough to drive TV writers to excellence. Films just need a good trailer, and, if it’s an established property, just the dedication of loyal fans and a reputation to grip onto for dear life – once money’s been exchanged, it doesn’t matter what shite is on screen (ahem, Hobbit, I’m looking at you). Does this excuse the laziness of big film companies? No. Sometimes it’s easier to make money than to make something good, but with TV shows starting to provide a cheaper and better alternative, the film industry might need to up their game or lose their audience.

[Michaela Barton]

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