MCN Blogs
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com

Television Goldmine

I’ve written about this subject several times over the past few years, but now it seems like it’s gaining steam more and more: television is a much more interesting landscape than film these days. That is not to say that I think all TV shows are better than all movies, but that I think television is an inherently more fascinating medium for character-based narratives. In a film, we get maybe three hours to see a character develop and grow and change; in television, we could have upwards of a hundred hours. Great film actors like Daniel Day-Lewis are able craft a persona and give us an idea of the depth of a character in something like There Will Be Blood, but how do I compare that greatness to, say, Jon Hamm’s creation of Don Draper on Mad Men.  It’s almost impossible to compare the two, but when all is said and done, I will probably feel like I know Don Draper and his motivations better than Daniel Plainview.

I was realizing just that point when I was watching Mad Men this past Sunday.  I’ve gotten to know Don Draper so well at this point that I feel like I can guess what he may or may not to do in any given situation.  That might make it sound really boring, like it would take the fun and excitement out of it, but instead it made me feel comfortable with the fact that I’ve spent almost four seasons getting to know this person (upwards of 40 hours) and now I know his tics.  And that’s a testament to the acting of Jon Hamm, that he’s able to convey the feelings that I know Don is having, but without having to state it as such.  Every furrow of the brow, every hesitation of an inhalation of cigarette, every faux-tender kiss on a woman’s mouth…we know what Don is feeling as he lies to the world.

It’s not just on Mad Men either.  All across the television landscape, there are shows and characters that are just starting to scratch the surface of what can be done with the medium.  No longer do we have stand-alone episodes of every show where we follow one character as they solve a mystery.  No, now we have mysteries and narratives that last for the entire length of a show’s run and characters that fall believably in and out of love.

Look, I will always love movies with all my heart – it’s my primary passion.  But even I can’t deny that television is kicking some serious ass right now.  It’s starting to feel more and more like film is the equivalent of a short story while TV shows are novels.  That’s not a knock on films at all, as some of the best stories are short ones.  But, I’ve got it on pretty good authority that Boardwalk Empire is going to kick all of our asses when it debuts on HBO in a couple weeks.  And, you know, it’s gotta say something when even Scorsese is noticing what television can offer these days.

4 Responses to “Television Goldmine”

  1. Amazing mob at Lovato’s Hotel in Toronto today! I was right behind 2 idiots who were much taller than me!

  2. We tried their restaurant and had the exact same experience.

  3. christian says:

    So tired of this meme. TV is for people who want a continuing serial. Do not confuse it with the theatrical experience. I find the overreaching suspect — I think people want to justify how many hours a week they spend watching these shows and then demanding that “you don’t get it unless you get to episode 25 of the sixth season.”

    And why are all TV characters scumbags these days?

  4. hcat says:

    I am quite a snob about television having spent most of the last two decades with Rabbit Ears and missing the “Golden Age of Cable”. And while I always thought the intention of a television program was simply to keep you interested through the commercial break, I have to say this season of Mad Men is absolutly incredible and keeps suprising me with little moments of brilliance.

    One person’s scumbag is another person’s complex character.

Leave a Reply

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Yes, good movies sprout up, inevitably, in the cracks and seams between the tectonic plates on which all of these franchises stay balanced, and we are reassured of their hardiness. But we don’t see what we don’t see; we don’t see the effort, or the cost of the effort, or the movies of which we’re deprived because of the cost of the effort. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice may have come from a studio, but it still required a substantial chunk of outside financing, and at $35 million, it’s not even that expensive. No studio could find the $8.5 million it cost Dan Gilroy to make Nightcrawler. Birdman cost a mere $18 million and still had to scrape that together at the last minute. Imagine American movie culture for the last few years without Her or Foxcatcher or American Hustle or The Master or Zero Dark Thirty and it suddenly looks markedly more frail—and those movies exist only because of the fairy godmothership of independent producer Megan Ellison. The grace of billionaires is not a great business model on which to hang the hopes of an art form.”
~ Mark Harris On The State Of The Movies

How do you make a Top Ten list? For tax and organizational purposes, I keep a log of every movie I see (Title, year, director, exhibition format, and location the film was viewed in). Anything with an asterisk to the left of its title means it’s a 2014 release (or something I saw at a festival which is somehow in play for the year). If there’s a performance, or sequence, or line of dialogue, even, that strikes me in a certain way, I’ll make a note of it. So when year end consideration time (that is, the month and change out of the year where I feel valued) rolls around, it’s a little easier to go through and pull some contenders for categories. For 2014, I’m voting in three polls: Indiewire, SEFCA (my critics’ guild), and the Muriels. Since Indiewire was first, it required the most consternation. There were lots of films that I simply never had a chance to see, so I just went with my gut. SEFCA requires a lot of hemming and hawing and trying to be strategic, even though there’s none of the in-person skullduggery that I hear of from folk whose critics’ guild is all in the same city. The Muriels is the most fun to contribute to because it’s after the meat market phase of awards season. Also, because it’s at the beginning of next year, I’ll generally have been able to see everything I wanted to by then. I love making hierarchical lists, partially because they are so subjective and mercurial. Every critical proclamation is based on who you are at that moment and what experiences you’ve had up until that point. So they change, and that’s okay. It’s all a weird game of timing and emotional waveforms, and I’m sure a scientist could do an in-depth dissection of the process that leads to the discovery of shocking trends in collective evaluation. But I love the year end awards crush, because I feel somewhat respected and because I have a wild-and-wooly work schedule that has me bouncing around the city to screenings, or power viewing the screeners I get sent.
Jason Shawhan of Nashville Scene Answers CriticWire