Watching TV has never been more convenient. In the past, television fans would collect DVDs of each individual season of a show and, if there were many seasons, would keep all of these together in a long box. Those days of heavy lifting are now gone. Streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have come to carry that burden for us. You can watch every episode of Cheers’ eleven seasons or The Office’s nine seasons online. The age of waiting and collecting has passed and the age of instant gratification has taken its place.
Obviously, this has had a noticeable effect on the medium. As most streaming services release entire seasons of content all at once, instead of releasing full, complete stories every week, many shows now treat each season as one long story. Bingeing is the name of the game. Why suffer waiting an entire week for more of what you want when you can have it right now?
Whether ‘people are less patient nowadays’ is a true statement or not, it is undeniable that the world caters to impatience. An episode of something will air and people expect an article to be written about it the next day. If something funny happens on TV, it’ll become a meme a few minutes later. The Bernie Sanders meme that dominated the internet less than a month ago started during Biden’s presidential inauguration. Also, despite the fact that it’s such a recent phenomenon, it is already old news! How are creators expected to keep public interest for something that airs once a week over the course of a year?
Now, there is another way of looking at things. The speed of modern-day public interest can actually entice people to spread installments out. If you watched an entire season of American Vandal last week, there’s a good chance that the show has already left your mind. You had questions, they were answered, and now it's time to move on. However, if you had to sit with those questions for an unbearably long time and were made to see how characters reacted to a multitude of situations (a different one every week), then maybe your interest would be more than just fleeting.
Regardless, episodes being … well, episodic, is generally a thing of the past. Every episode of Cobra Kai could have been edited together, and would have made a singular, lengthy movie. To be clear, whether this kind of storytelling is bad or not is a matter of personal taste. I, personally, am fine with either. It is just somewhat strange to see what was once the undisputed standard of television storytelling become an inconvenient relic. I recently came across an article by IndieWire that highlighted this change. It called WandaVision, which is pacing itself and releasing one new episode every week, “an inflated feature film that just keeps dragging out its story via inconvenient weekly installments.” They’re not wrong but … aren’t inconvenient weekly installments just what TV is? I’m not trying to dunk on this take, but am just looking to highlight the disconnect between this line of thinking (which I’m sure plenty of people share) and the world in which two parters and continuing plot threads were a rarity. People had to wait years to see their questions answered on The Fugitive. I’m sure it was inconvenient, but that frustration at not having answers is what people coming back for more.
Are those days gone? Is there going to be a return to form? Only time will tell so, until then, stay tuned.