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  • Robert Farago

Movies RIP?

Binging bulimia brings big bucks – and lousy TV

Black Bird rivals Silence of the Lambs. In terms of acting, editing and atmosphere, Silence takes the prize, but Black Bird’s villain is just as compelling, in a creepy as fuck kinda way.

Silence of the Lambs clocked-in at just under two hours. On Apple TV+, Black Bird runs all of six hours. And counting?

The episodes are all marked SE1. As in Season One.

Series creator Dennis Lehan says he’s “open to the idea” of “revisiting” Black Bird – despite the fact that the series, you know, ended.

"I think there's a lot of potential in this world. I don't know if it would be a second season of Black Bird, or something else in this universe. But I think there's a lot of great stories to be told."

Yup. There are a lot of great stories to be told. But do they have to be told at such great length? Not only does streaming series’ pacing regularly go glacial, there are long parts - sometimes entire episodes - that are clearly time-fillers (a.k.a., self-indulgent twaddle).

Black Bird hits viewers with an entirely extraneous segment wherein a dead victim monologues about how great life her life was, complete with beautifully shot flashbacks.

Black Bird would have made a great two-hour movie. I could’ve watched it and got on with my life.

Instead, like every other streaming series, Black Bird reached a point where my remote wasn’t so remote; where I knew the characters and plot so well I didn’t need to see what happens next.

If that happens enough in a series, I’ll skip ahead, looking for a scene that might be interesting. If that happens enough, I’ll skip episodes. If that happens, I bail, feeling like I’ve wasted my most precious resource: time.

That’s the reason Big Stream has switched from “here’s more content than you can watch in an entire day” to ye olde weekly episode format – shoveling the same excessive content through the intertubes at a slower pace.

They’re trying to counter binge-and-bail. When someone says “fuck this shit” somewhere in the middle of a series, they suddenly become a free agent. A pissed-off free agent.

Someone just as likely to leave the streaming service for some other service (or, God forbid, the real world) as find something else to watch on the offending network. And more likely to cancel their subscription to that network.

With the “new episodes weekly” format, Apple TV+ Et. al remind returning viewers that a) we exist! and b) we’re good! c) here’s some other shit you might like and d) see you next week!

It’s a weird way of running a digital railroad: attract subscribers and prevent cancellations, rather than bank big bucks from advertisers paying for audience access. Or simple pay-per-view.

Even the weekly episode template’s looking a bit shaky. To pay for their extravagant content, Big Stream’s adding “free” ad-supported services. But I reckon the damage is done.

Same series overload. Same weekly schedule. Now with commercials! “Free” but maddening. Not beloved for anyone who’s grown accustomed to seamless content.

All of which has me wondering if the genre known as the movie has seen its day.

Big screen movies have become nothing more than bigger, slower continuation series. Or auditions for a continuation series. Can you imagine the classic No Country for Old Men as a streaming series?

Sure you can!

To be fair, the process started in 1916 withThe Fall of a Nation. The sequel to The Birth of a Nation kick started Hollywood’s Frampton-esque “let’s do it again!” trend.

A trend that gave birth to the good (three Godfathers), the bad (32 Marvel movies) and the ugly (six Sharknados).

On the other side of this, spare a thought for the producers of today’s streaming series.

How in the world did the writers, cast and crew of the Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel sustain viewer interest for 43 episodes over five seasons?

Answer: they didn’t.

T-Triple-M hit a third season slump and never fully recovered. In this, it’s hardly alone. The Witcher has left the building, only he’s still there.

For every series that somehow manages to sustain their “edge” over dozens of episodes, there are dozens breaking bad. As Big Stream series get longer and longer, one-off movies are getting thinner and thinner on the ground.

How did Michelangelo create his David? He bought a block of marble and removed the bits that weren’t David. How does a filmmaker make a great movie? He/she/they write and/or shoot a ton of material and removes the bits that aren’t a great movie. And then stop.

You don’t have to clock Marvel’s 27 movies to know that Hollywood ain’t stoppin’ shit. Now that the writers’ strike is over, Big Stream will go straight back to the “pile it high and sell it cheap” philosophy that’s been driving the business since Netflix invented binge watching.

Admittedly, that mass market model didn’t prevent the creation of great works of cinematic art. I was just hoping that Big Stream would realize that when you stretch something too far, it breaks. And give a shit.

Still, you can’t go back to Constantinople. And Black Bird at six episodes is a significant improvement. Here’s hoping Hollywood realizes that less is more.

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