In Praise of Box Sets

by evseymour

I have a secret.  I’m a box set junkie.  

‘The Wire’ first got me hooked.  I came to it as a late-comer, long after it had aired.  I’m a little perverse in that way:  always standing back, waiting for the buzz to die down before checking things out.  I do it with books, too.  Anyway, one series soon turned into the next and the next after that until I’d roared through every scene, got to know every character, and stayed with them right through to the thrilling conclusion.   By the time I finished I felt as if I was on familiar terms with McNulty, Omar and Stringer Bell.  When it ended I experienced that sudden pang of loss, like I’d said goodbye to an old friend who I knew I’d never see again.  I felt flat and a bit depressed.  

But an antidote was at hand.  

In no particular order, I gobbled up ‘Mad Men’, ‘Justified’, Deadwood’, ‘The Killing’, ‘The Borgias’ and more recently, ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Spiral’ and ‘Broadchurch’.  So what’s the lure?

True, it’s pleasant to curl up on one’s own sofa without being sprayed by popcorn or having the back of your seat kicked.  If you fancy a drink or need the loo, you can pause and do what you have to do and come back without missing a single scene.  If I want to pig out by watching three episodes back to back, there are no commercials to disturb my pleasure, but the real attraction lies in the quality of all of the above (and those I’ve failed to mention.)

Box sets are the result of first-rate TV dramas with production values so high, they make your heart-rate zing.  Make no mistake, TV drama is where it’s at right now.  With a series that takes place over many weeks, characters can be developed in a way that rarely happens over the length of a two hour film (or ninety minutes, which seems to be the norm).  And strong characterisation equals damn fine storytelling.  It must be joy for actors to get a role into which they can actually sink their teeth, the result for viewers, some truly memorable performances.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing films, of which I’m a massive fan, but I’ve lately come to think that a movie is more of a sprint and TV Drama is a marathon.  To explain with one tiny example, in film, once the bad guy has been caught, the murderer nailed, there is usually a ‘clear-up’ scene where the main protagonist licks his wounds, gives him or herself a pat on the back and justice is seen to be done (or not, as happens occasionally).  TV Dramas, however, afford the writer more depth and emotional truth.  

Take Broadchurch’: once the killer has been revealed , a series of scenes, in which the aftermath, heartbreak and fallout from the discovery, are portrayed in exquisite detail.  It resonates because it’s real.  It’s how it is in real life.  Where else in a Hollywood all budget movie would you see this?         

As I write, I’m waiting for the delivery of my next series, the identity my secret to keep.  The prospect of my postman delivering another slab of sheer entertainment through my letter-box is enough to put a broad smile on my face.  Not a bad way to start a day. 

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