The Sopranos. Mad Men. Breaking Bad. These shows changed the way in which we thought of television entertainment, often being referred to as “cinematic.” With their ambitious storylines, all-star casts, and emphasis on directorial style, the film-based compliment often fit. But Stuart Heritage at The Guardian is now wondering if in an era of endless threequels and reboots if saying as much is really high praise. In his view, contemporary TV shows are better than films.
In response to a recent piece about why cinema trumps television, Heritage illustrates “10 reasons why today’s TV is better than movies,” looking at the likes of the Emmy-winning House of Cards, The Walking Dead, and Orange is the New Black. The film and TV columnist (he isn’t entirely biased) says the latter medium allows for “longform storytelling,” is “(currently) less franchise-fixated,” and claims “TV still has the power to surprise.”
TV and film have a long, antagonistic history, dating back to the 1950s when little screens started popping up in living rooms across North America. Hollywood took note and feared their end was nigh, which gave rise to the era of the Technicolor musical showstopper (see: Singin’ in the Rain); the idea was make it bigger and brighter and those tiny black-and-white screens couldn’t compete. The debate about the influence of home entertainment’s impact on movies continues today, with many saying innovations such as 3D TVs are causing the decline of the multiplex.
Yet this all seems a tad too simplistic. While the line between TV and film is increasingly being blurred, some of Heritage’s points feel like a case of apples and oranges. Longform storytelling, for instance, is an entirely different mode of narrative construction. You wouldn’t compare a novel to a short story, so why contrast Buffy and Brave? While Heritage is right about TV being less franchised-focused than film, this only applies to mainstream movies. Independent cinema is thriving and continues to push the boundaries of film – you might even say it “still has the power to surprise.” So, long live film, we’re not about to give up on it just yet.