Thinking a bit more about TV, and how we view and think about it:

The critical judgment of the average tv show is subject to odd standards, which appear to be infrequently noticed. Whatever renaissance there might have been in the quality of television programming, it tends to receive two contradictory but mutually beneficial standards: it must be more expansive than a movie or a procedural tv show, but more concise than a network tv show. Clearing either hurdle should be insultingly easy.

No one will sit through a four hour movie; most people won't sit through a three hour one. But no tv show gets less than four and a half hours, which is approximately the run of a season of Girls (ten episodes, something less than 30 minutes). If a tv show can't be more expansive than a movie, filled with greater detail and capable of sustaining longer and more complicated beats, then it's a complete failure. An 800-page novel might not be better than a 200 page one, but it should at least have more; whether the more is better--more complex, more intelligent, etc--is a side question. The patience granted to a tv auteur is incredible.

Most tv shows, especially broadcast tv shows, have to do much, much more than the minimum: New Girl in two seasons has done as many episodes as Girls will do in five. And this is deceptive over time: the first two seasons of Cheers had more episodes than New Girl, and each of those episodes was two to five(!) minutes longer--another four or fives episodes of material, at a minimum. Scripting 20 hours or more of coherent long-term narrative is difficult--every novel over 1000 pages is going to be a shaggy dog in one way or another--and most people can't do it well. Hence the perception that even the good shows on network tv aren't all that good, having to rely on stalling tactics are stereotypical plot drivers.

As a result, your critical darling tv shows--Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc--get the benefit of being compared to movies when it comes to expansiveness, and compared to network tv when it comes to concision, which is to say the standard comparisons are in categories where they should be superior independent of the quality of the thing itself.

There's also a tendency to cut them a lot of slack--no one likes the first few episodes of Breaking Bad, but a believer will say that three or four boring hours at the beginning are a small price to pay; a Mad Men viewer will argue that the complete incomprehensibility of the first ten to twelve episodes of a season can be redeemed by the final episode (that's the big line of defense for the most recent season).

The point is that critical faculties tend to go absent at the moment they're most needed, and are only ever used to praise the creations we see with, perhaps, some small but irrelevant quibbles left to one side. Hence the modern phenomenon of quitting a show: pretending not to notice its flaws until the moment the accumulation of those flaws becomes intolerable. A more honest reaction would avoid making idols out of them in the first place, perhaps making the flaws more tolerable. Or, perhaps, leading to the conclusion it might be better to go read a book instead.

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