Episode 380: Postponing the Larger Reckoning

On the Overthinking It Podcast we discuss the effect of two- and three-episode arcs on television narrative and get a live report from New York Comic Con.

otip-logo-podcastoneBen Adams, Pete Fenzel, and Matthew Wrather discuss how TV stories are told in two- and three-episode arcs, and check in with Matthew Belinkie and Mark Lee about New York Comic Con 2015.


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9 Comments on “Episode 380: Postponing the Larger Reckoning”

  1. Tom D #

    Point of order, how do you count ‘Downton Abbey Moments’ in terms of serialization? Is that one problem solved and one metaphor for that problem, or is it two unique problems solved?

    You mentioned that movies are trying to pack more plot into the same space, that TV is more willing to explore minor tropes. Does this mean that TV’s new comparative advantage is exploring minor details rather than simply showing a world through many problems of the week? Is the basic premise of a show no longer enough to carry it, but now writers must focus on perfecting minor details as a form of expression?

    I guess the answer is probably yes to all options. Viewers want to escape into a different kind of world than they did fifteen years ago and they want to explore little corners of a world because they are now more informed consumers of media. On the other hand it might not be that these smaller details are THE thing defining a show, but for economic reasons, it is easier to write an episode with small tropes than it was fifteen years ago…


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      “Downton Abbey moments” are a method for articulating what a specific episode of a serialized television show is about on its own.

      There’s enough to say about this that I should just write a post about it :-)

      I wouldn’t necessarily say “minor” details, but being detail-oriented is definitely more advantageous now for TV shows relative to movies than it used to be. Our Back to the Future overview notes this a bit – watch Back to the Future and see just how much story-relevant detail and foreshadowing is in the background of the shots – it’s enormous.

      I would definitely expect that now more from a prestige television show than a blockbuster movie, which has to lean more on being focused on the core story and trying to make that as universally entertaining as possible for all markets and cultures.

      Movies are still concerned with “minor” details, but they aren’t as concerned with “story-relevant” minor details. The J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies are a good example of this – or the Star Wars prequels — there’s a ton of stuff onscreen and a ton of people running around and a ton of craftspesonship and artistry put into all the world-building, but the individual scenes are very simple and there isn’t much foreshadowing or counterpoint in the visuals.

      You’re not going to see things like Kirk’s reading glasses from Wrath of Khan that he sells in The Voyage Home for cab fare or the wooden ship’s wheel from The Final Frontier in any of the reboots. If there’s something in a scene it will be IMPORTANT to the SCENE.


  2. Margo #

    The cliff-hanger that looms large for me is the Season 5 finale of 24. Here we find Jack Bauer literally on a slow boat to China. This was my official introduction to the series. After watching this episode I asked myself “Who is this very violent yet rather likable person and why is he on the bottom of a Chinese Tanker?” Seeking the answer to this and other questions, I set about watching 24 from the beginning and fell down to 24 rabbit-hole, a place from where I have yet to completely emerge.

    I still remember the Best of Both Worlds Part 1, even though this episode is now twenty-five years old. This fact alone blows my mind. BOBW Part One aired in June, and we had to wait until September to find out what happened. Three whole months! The horror!


  3. Cimmerius #

    The new BSG had some solid cliffhangers:
    “I’m getting my men.”
    Baltar surrendering New Caprica.
    Starbuck’s resurrection.
    “Ellen, you’re the fifth!”

    But the best one was the first, Boomer shooting the Old Man after nuking the basestar.


  4. clayschuldt #

    The 4th Season finale of X-Files implied that Scully was going to die of cancer very soon and Mulder had committed suicide. That was pretty tense cliffhanger.

    I also like the season 2 finale of The Walking Dead. It promised a new and exciting character from the comic and the prison. It was a promise to those complaining of the characters and farm setting.

    And I have to acknowledge the DS9 season 5 finale in which the Station was taken over by the Dominion.


  5. Liz #

    These are sometimes difficult to listen to or download on my Mac (meaning I can’t at all). Thank you for doing these podcasts. They are enjoyable.


  6. Liz #

    Thank you so much for doing these podcasts. I am not a huge television fan and really don’t watch that much TV. In the past, I watched whatever was popular. I watched the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” from the age of 14 (as a rebel) to 22. Believe it or not, there is a lot of science fiction I saw. They bring people back to life all of the time. I don’t think it’s the proper genre to kill people and bring them back, but it happens. Thank you again!


    • Margo #

      Bringing dead people back to life has happened on General Hospital about five million times. That I know of. Thus one of the central rules of television: A Character isn’t dead unless we actually see the body. And sometimes not even then.


  7. Liz #

    Okay. One more as I’m listening. Matt is the only one talking. I feel like talking back on all of these good points. – or topic of conversation. This is fun. Thank you. (and from the last time I listened, the commercials sound excellent. and i don’t like commercials. these are good.)


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