I do not have access to HBO, so of course I have not seen the new Perry Mason yet. It might well be right up my alley, just as the old one was, but I’m not sure. For one thing, I’ve heard that they’re doing the show serialized, that it’s not episodic the way the old show was. I find that annoying. People tell me it’s more like the original novels, but I’ve read the original novels, and they were episodic. (Also, I don’t know about the first one, but I’ve read a bunch of the others, and they weren’t all that dark.) You can start any of them without worrying about where in the story it is.
As for TV, well, a lot of TV over the decades has been more episodic than serial. There are practical reasons for that; this is the first time when people could reasonably expect to be able to access a TV show when they wanted and catch up on things. Yes, serialization has always been part of television; soap operas, after all, are a thing, if nothing else. But you knew that you were starting in the middle and just had to hope to catch up. These days, you’re pretty well expected to watch the first episode and every following episode in order to follow the story.
My ideal, honestly, falls somewhere between the two. I did a rewatch of the entire series of Zorro recently—I’m still annoyed that it isn’t on Disney+, too, because it does hold up for the most part—and noticed that, while there were definite plot arcs, you didn’t have to watch the entire arc to follow what was going on. What’s more, there were routinely episodes that didn’t advance the main story, including at least one that paid lip service to having anything to do with it and then went off in a different direction. At that, if you miss the first thirteen episodes of the show, all you miss is knowing why Don Diego became Zorro, really.
Or on Law & Order, you’d get little bits and pieces of plot on various episodes, but it didn’t drive everything. You still got your Case of the Week, but in between, you’d learn about things like what was going on with Lenny’s kid. A lot of shows did that—including, actually, Perry Mason, which did involve things like characters who would come back later doing other things. A lot of shows did that. Think Margaret’s courtship, marriage, and divorce on M*A*S*H, or any number of things that happened on Friends. Not every show would have that; The Simpsons has always explicitly referenced the fact that everything resets. But some shows, yes.
There’s something really satisfying about following a good story, and I’m not trying to declare that there should be nothing but episodic television. But one of the problems with the Netflix Marvel shows, really, was not that the seasons were too long but that they didn’t go with a few episodes that weren’t tied to the main plot. A good Monster of the Week episode would’ve kept things going a little bit longer without forcing the story to drag out further. There’s a place for both episodic and serial television, and a lot more place than people realize for the thing somewhere in the middle.
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