Will TV Always Be Ephemeral?

A curious discussion arose late one night at a bar with a fellow writer. From a dissertation of whether one would rather spend a day with Leo or Justin Timberlake (in a vacuum – definition of vacuum unclear) arose temporality. Perhaps in the moment, it’s more fun to do whatever JT has planned. He is almost certainly more relatable, down-to-earth, and the chances of a second encounter are infinitely larger. But is that what that one night is about? I don’t need to feel comfortable while hanging out with Leo; whatever we do will be a forever-lasting memory. So, obviously, we had to know what that meant for TV classics like Breaking Bad versus film classics like There Will Be Blood.

Breaking Bad is, as you may have heard, one of the five greatest shows of all-time. Objectively. Ozymandias projects in the corner of my brain next to Striking Out Ten Little League Batters and First Time I Had Ice Cream. There are moments of Breaking Bad that deserve their own payment subscription, like, a separate package to make other shows feel better about themselves.

I have never discussed Breaking Bad with anyone in the last two years.

Is this singular to my experience? Do you ever discuss television shows as more than an in-passing cultural reference? One might think that there’s just so much TV out there that you don’t happen to follow the same shows. But I have been in the room over and over with diehards of the same TV show and spoken nary a word about it. LOST? You’re the Worst? Mad Men? Great show. Hilariously real. So authentic. The end.

I believe this is because TV, like high school, is tied to a point in time. The beginning to end is protracted over five, six, seven years. Perhaps it’s a lot like how high school wanes in mention, while not necessarily in memory. When an impactful event is so drawn out, how can it maintain a staying power? Not only were you discussing the show after each episode, you discussed it while waiting between seasons. It was your thing, once. And one would think that, in the end, the medium doesn’t matter. A movie broken up into the same TV show, as a mini-series perhaps, would still be a movie. And yet, it wouldn’t.


All along there’s been these ridiculous ongoing salvoes of “big screen” and “small screen” experiences. What if the size of the screen and the setting of its viewing are the least important aspects? Movies feel more like life, even when they’re bad, because they happened and that was that. You don’t get to curiously examine each scene bit by bit on first viewing. You don’t get to contextualize, theorize, or create wishes to be fulfilled. Perhaps I talk about movies ten times more than I talk about television because the immediacy of the first viewing is an irrevocable, inimitable thing. It is being given permission to breathe after two-plus hours. Television is more like a persuasion: why should person x or y start watching? Why should they keep watching? Has this show jumped the shark? Are we missing something important? Why don’t I like this show (BoJack) that everyone likes? Movies are lifelike, in that you never asked to be born. Maybe you’ll watch an episode or two; if I convince you to see a movie in theaters, I have likely convinced you to see it in its entirety. You and I know the thing itself, and the where/when/how long it took to see it did not matter.

Perhaps movies are more lifelike because they dare to be judged as a whole. Shows respond weekly to a host of outside influences: network execs, fans, critics, ratings. Until a show is created in a BioDome, they belong to more than the creators. It’s hard to talk about when a show got bad or good and not think it was partially our doing. But more importantly, movies are vulnerable. They are us, on stage. They get one opening weekend to perform, to impress. Like us, they were coddled and groomed and re-worked for years. And then, the void. The thrill of a movie succeeding mirrors the thrill of our own successes. Even though we had a lot of help along the way, in the end, we went for it and we made a name for ourselves. Maybe television represents the unsexy parts of life – all the in-betweens like unemployment, studying, internships, job interviews, blah relationships. Something has us to carry us between the peaks and valleys, and atop the peaks we look back with great fondness on what we thought was a big, long nothing.

Fittingly, in these moments, the television is on in the background. Its grandest ambitions are undercut by how much of a utility – how much of an appendage it seems. Discussing TV shows long after they happened feels as foreign to me as discussing my left arm or a heating bill from January.  I chose Leo, and now I know why.

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