How the streaming revolution undermines the golden age of television | Television
It has been a bittersweet experience watching the last seven episodes of Pen15 (available on Sky Comedy and Now in the UK and Hulu in the US), the cringe-worthy high school comedy that sees thirtysomething comedies Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play 13- older versions of themselves (amid a cast of real-life teenagers). The show is as bright and toned as ever, full of teenage angst, absurd humor, and the occasional moments of devastating drama. But until the arrival of these episodes, there was no indication that they would be the last in the series.
When this news broke, the assumption was that Pen15 – a little-watched but critically-loved comedy – had been canceled, but it wasn’t: Erskine and Konkle just had kids and have tons of fun. ‘other engagements (Erskine is in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series; Konkle is writing a memoir), so were aware of exhaustion and – most importantly – felt like they had told their characters’ stories . Still, it’s hard not to feel like Pen15 is gone too soon.
It’s a pretty common feeling these days. The promise of the streaming revolution was that you would get more of what you wanted, when you wanted – and this was expected to extend to shows telling their stories on as many series as needed. After all, one of Netflix’s first moves was to revive the beloved and prematurely canceled show Arrested Development (a move that didn’t go so well). In reality, however, the length of a series in the streaming age tends to be quite short. Really, we should have seen it coming: Streaming platforms – with their algorithmic models based on determining who watches their content, where, when, and why – were always likely to make ruthless decisions about when to cut a show. Indeed Netflix was particularly brutal in this regard (Glow, we hardly knew you).
But Pen15 illustrates another reason shows don’t last long: talent. Creating television, especially at a time when many shows resemble blockbuster movies within their scope and budget, is an intense and laborious experience, so the old series model entering its sixth year, Seventh or eighth grade hardly seems suited to its purpose (it’s hard at this point to imagine a show like Succession, if up and running every week, capable of sustaining that intensity for another five or six years). And, of course, these days television has become a hotbed for Hollywood stars, whose schedules – not to mention salaries – don’t quite match multi-series epics.
That’s why, over the last five years or so, we’ve seen the rise of limited series or mini-series: stand-alone stories that are told in 10 episodes or less. A superstar like Kate Winslet can take on Mare of Easttown knowing that she isn’t signing her life for a multi-series show. And that’s also why there has been an increase in anthology shows like American Crime Story or Black Mirror, with a different cast for each series or even episode.
Brevity also has its advantages: attracting higher caliber talent (e.g. Barry Jenkins will direct all 10 episodes of The Underground Railroad) and allowing its creators to tell ambitious and well-constructed stories, without any of the forced cliffhangers that a longer and fuller show may require. Such programs do not go beyond their reception. Surprisingly, of the top three shows on The Guardian’s 2021 Best TV Shows list, two were limited series (Mare of Easttown, It’s a Sin) and one was an anthology series (The White Lotus, the second of which was season will have a different setting and cast, including – exciting – Michael Imperioli of the Sopranos).
Still, it’s hard not to feel a twinge in the heart of the television we’ve lost: those sweeping “romance” series like The Sopranos and The Wire didn’t necessarily go away, but they are certainly more difficult to make. (Although it should be noted that on American “network” television, The Endless Show is still the model, in procedural form such as CSI or comedies such as The Simpsons). And it’s hard not to feel sadness too for the shows that faded just when they seemed to hit their stride. Personally, I could have watched… oh, another 15 sets of Pen15.
LOOK On the subject of shows that ended too soon, Toast of London fell into that installment as it apparently ended in 2017. But now Matt Berry’s parody theater actor has been revived by Beeb and Netflix. for Toast of Tinseltown, after Steven Toast’s hesitation as he tries to smash Hollywood. You can watch the whole series on iPlayer.
LISTEN Anyone who saw last year’s Glasto Live from Worthy Farm replacement is already familiar with Smile, Radiohead, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s new side project with Tom Skinner (from formidable jazz futurists Sons of Kemet). They’ve now released their first single You Will Never Work in Television Again, and it’s even better: a surprisingly fuzzy slice of catchy garage rock. The group also plays a few livestreams at the end of the month. Tickets here.
CUE UP Wondery’s new documentary podcast, Operator, deals with one topic: the phone sex boom of the ’90s. After the rise and fall of the largest 1-900 company in the United States, it tells the stories forgotten women who had hot callers under the collar with their only voices.
Be the guide
Last week I shared my the most anticipated crop for 2022 and asked you to do the same. Here are some of your strengths:
I’m ridiculously excited for the Shonda Rhimes series Invent Anna on Netflix. The case of Anna Delvey – the bogus heiress who cheated on a New York film set – was a big deal culturally, but I did find the Anna X play with Emma Corrin somewhat held in London last July, a bit arty and abstract for my taste. I hope Shonda can make it a little more soapy – and maybe as fun as Bridgerton. amber Richardson
The gallows post, Benjamin Myers’ brutal tale of an 18th-century Yorkshire strike gang, always seemed made for a TV adaptation. It’s all the more exciting that Shane Meadows takes care of the adaptation, using a lot of unknowns. Harry Phillips
How can you ignore Dr. Dreis the next album in the program? If Kendrick is releasing an album, Dr Dre certainly is, as the Super Bowl slot has already been confirmed. It will be a big year for hip-hop. Paul Carter
To be involved
This week I want to hear from you on shows that ended too early. What excellent but fleeting series do you miss the most? Let me know by emailing me here or replying to this email.