Are TV Shows Better than the Movies?

David Haglund argues that we should stop saying TV is better than the movies:

Who was the first person to say that TV is better than the movies? It’s probably impossible to say, but the argument in its contemporary form may date to October 1995, when Bruce Fretts—with “additional reporting” from 10 (!) of his colleagues atEntertainment Weekly—offered, over several pages, “10 simple reasons why the small screen is superior” to the big one. Even if you didn’t read it at the time, the piece will feel strikingly familiar: Replace NYPD Blue and The X-Files with Mad Men and Breaking Bad and the argument made by Fretts is more or less identical in its essentials to the one that over the last six or seven years has appeared in TimeNewsweek, the New York Times, The Wall Street JournalVultureVanity FairEntertainment Weekly (again!), and on blogs too numerous to count.

The TV-is-better argument is, above all, an attempt to narrow the range of what sophisticated viewers feel obligated to watch. Yes, such polemics sometimes serve other purposes. (Shaming Hollywood studios out of making another board-game-inspired blow-’em-up and turning to taut, Breaking Bad–style thrillers instead, for instance.) But generally the TV-is-better argument is a way of saying, “I don’t have to keep up with the movies anymore, and neither do you.”

I disagree!

But I do think Mr. Haglund has a point here:

For one thing, when we talk about television, we are almost always only talking about American television. Maybe we’ll include a few British shows, but rarely do we grapple with foreign-language efforts, the way serious moviegoers have been doing for decades. And while the source of most cinematic creativity in the United States has for the last few decades probably come from independent filmmakers, there is not really any such thing as independent television. (The medium, for the most part, just doesn’t work that way.) So while the best movies come from an intimidating diversity of sources, and present a similarly wide range of aesthetic approaches and aims, the best TV shows tend to come from three or four American cable networks and frequently follow a familiar model. (It’s like The Godfather, only in modern-day New Jersey—or in the advertising world, or the New Mexico meth market, or in Hollywood …)

Read the entire argument here.

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