TV is undoubtedly currently delivering us some of the best storytelling. With more new work than film (which, as ever, loves a franchise) and a larger reach than literature or theatre. Although some would say human attention spans are dwindling towards barely being able to get through 140 characters before scrolling on, I’d argue that actually we’re beginning to respond better to longer, more involved storylines. My favourite piece of storytelling from any medium last year was The Last of Us which took me around 30 hours to play from beginning to end.
Yet, ever since it became possible to store huge amounts of data on DVD’s, we’ve drifted toward a culture of consuming whole series in one big gulp. The habit of devouring a whole box set of Lost or 24 in one weekend soon became the watching of an entire new release when it’s unceremoniously dumped on to Netflix like a gauntlet being thrown down in front of us.
Traditional TV outlets have tried to combat this by creating ‘event TV’, the phrase used to describe the latest series of Broadchurch, which was delivered to viewers in the what now seems turtle-like, episode-a-week manner. But there was an odd feeling to this when stellar series such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt were given to us as a whole set.
Over the last six months, I’ve gradually become a more avid comic book fan. Largely because I work in very dialogue-driven storytelling, I’ve found this visuals-first medium really exciting (and, with the right artist, often beautiful). But the thing that’s struck me most about following stories through comic books is the waiting. After reading an instalment of Hawkeye, The WalkingDead or Rasputin, I find myself waiting a month for the continuation.
Partly this is because comic books take a long time to make and, where a TV show can change artistic team between episodes, it would be much more jarring should the artist change mid-story arc in a comic series (Ultimate Spiderman did this for a couple of issues and it made me downright livid).
But I’ve grown to love this. Where the binge-watching of House of Cards does mean it’s easier to recognise call-backs to previous episodes, I find myself able to absorb a decent comic over the intervening month, mull over what has happened and predict what might follow.
None of this is really an issue in theatre as we tend to lock our audiences in a dark room and, at most, make them wait twenty minutes while they have a drink and a wee wee. But, in episodic storytelling, I think it would be a shame if we lost the joy, anguish and anticipation of waiting.