Media by Adam on 2009-01-25 05:14

Jason Kottke calls the new breed of television shows “megamovies,” a term invented by Vincent Canby:

“Megamovies take television seriously as a medium. They have dramatic arcs that last longer than single episodes or seasons. Megamovies often explore themes and ideas relevant to contemporary society — there’s more going on than just the plot — without resorting to ‘very special episodes.’ Repeat viewing and close scrutiny is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the material and its themes. They’re shot cinematically and utilize good actors. Plot details sprawl out over multiple episodes, with viewers sometimes having to wait weeks to fit what might have seemed a throwaway line into the larger narrative puzzle.”

My favorite megamovies are The Wire, Mad Men, Carnivale, Rome, and Deadwood. (Honorable mentions go to Entourage, Desparate Housewives, the West Wing, and Six Feet Under.)

The Wire is perhaps the smartest, most subtle, and most politically poignant of all these. Merlin Mann gushes about it, particularly its use of long story arcs, which is the centerpiece of what differs between megamovies and ordinary episodic TV:

“This is a show that uses previous story arcs to deepen and expand on current stories. It uses things you’d never noticed from previous viewings as the centerpiece for a whole new story. It suggests grace notes that are barely audible unless you’ve been listening carefully for a very long time.

In sum, The Wire pays back the attention you invest in it like few pieces of art created in my lifetime. It’s vicious about telling every letter of the story with muscular precision.”

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