How TV Is Becoming the New Film

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Ruby Bernier, Editor

When you think of television shows, you’ll probably imagine something that you casually watch while at home. Maybe you put something on for background noise or while you’re relaxing or falling asleep just for some quick entertainment. On the other hand, movies would likely be considered the “deeper” media of the two. You go to theatres to experience the thrilling and emotional stories, many of which have you on the edge of your seat. Even if you watch a film at home, it still feels more like an event than something casual. While this has been the case for quite some time- and in some instances, still is- TV has started evolving. With each year that passes, more and more programs come out that have the same enthralling feeling as movies once did. There are still plenty of great, cinematic movies being released, it seems the stereotypes are coming to be flipped. With movies coming to be more about quick jokes and making money, TV is becoming the platform to find stories with more depth.

One noteworthy example of this evolution is the 2015-2019 series Mr. Robot. YouTube video “Mr. Robot Season 4: TV is the New Cinema” is the one which first introduced me to this concept of the redefining of TV. This video perfectly articulates thoughts about the series and television at large that I didn’t even know I had. Renowned director Martin Scorsese’s opinion on the Marvel films opens the video, saying that they do not represent what cinema once was, but that they tell no real story or portray real emotions. Mr. Robot is brought into context to show that this lack of meaning can now be found on the small screen. The show is four seasons and is about computer hacker Elliot Alderson’s attempt to bring down the world’s most powerful company and the repercussions that come. Throughout the series, every episode is extremely intense and important while utilizing interesting storytelling methods through irony and cinematography. Unconventional methods are taken often, such as dream sequences which make the show resemble a sitcom, a completely silent episode, and episodes taking place entirely in one location. These are all things that work to convey the story in a new and exciting way, something that could not have been entirely accomplished within the time constraints of a film. The long format of television allows for stories like this one to be told in their entirety- every aspect will be shown. 

Another recent series which follows this pattern is the 2020 Netflix limited series The Queen’s Gambit. Based off of the book of the same title, this series follows chess player Beth Harmon through her triumphs and failures. Writer and director Scott Frank has even mentioned how the adaptation was originally meant to be a feature film, but after working on a different Netflix miniseries realized that this format would tell the story much better. TV episodes allow for more time exploring each plot and theme in detail as opposed to a 90 minute film. In this format, viewers get to see Beth from childhood to adulthood. Every choice she makes later in the series can connect back to a childhood experience, which is why it was so important to show every aspect of her life. This could not have been wholly covered in a movie. Even if all the important parts of her life had been shown in a film, it still builds more connection with characters and plots to see them over a longer period of time, which was essential for this story. You needed to be rooting for Beth to enjoy the show, and that connection may have been lost in a shorter structure.

Even disregarding the reason of TV becoming more of an art form than film in current times, you still can see this evolution in today’s streaming culture. Even before COVID-19 restrictions (but increasingly so afterwards), more and more people are staying home to consume their entertainment. While renting or streaming a movie is not uncommon, having access to a whole series at once entices audiences to binge the whole thing. Why go out to a movie theatre when there’s the next 10 episodes of your favorite show already at your fingertips? The Conversation explains this phenomenon in television viewers’ emotional connections with characters spanning years, addictive watch cycles, and accessibility through phones, tablets, and computers. Traditional movies are by no means dead, but its clear that the culture is changing fast.