He Said/She Said: Stand-alone or Serialized?

Join Greg and Diane on Mondays as we debate a TV-related issue that’s on our minds. This week: the merits of stand-alone episodes versus serialized shows.

Diane said: 

Though I loved sinking my teeth into it, reviewing Strange Empire was a challenge because each episode was a slice of a 13-hour story. It was a little like reviewing each chapter of a book as I was reading. (Which is even more descriptive of reviewing The Book of Negroes). So when I heard that if there’s a second season of Strange Empire the episodes will be more stand-alone, I was relieved.

But at least neither CBC show used contrived cliffhanger endings that resolved in the first few minutes of the next, like the episodes of 24 and Alias I’ve seen. That’s cheating. When I love a show, I watch it every week. I hate feeling forced to watch every week. The first show I ever reviewed regularly was early season House, which some dismissed as formulaic. But the way it twisted the formula and overlaid character development on top of it were what intrigued me.

My ideal television show has episodes that are satisfyingly complete unto themselves, with continuing arcs for long-term interest that don’t gobble up all 44-ish minutes and aren’t all about the “will they or won’t they.” So yay The Good Wife and boo late-era X-Files.

Greg said:

I totally agree with Diane. Since she just referenced The X-Files, let me go off on a little rant. Those first and second season episodes tracking Agents Mulder and Scully were my favourites because—for the most part—they were monsters of the week (that frigging Fluke gave me nightmares) accented with the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Mulder’s sister. The black goo and conspiracy theories bogged down the show in latter seasons.

It’s a trend that has hamstrung Supernatural in recent years. Gone are the tales of the wendigo, the phantom traveler and Bloody Mary in favour of angels and demons. I love me some Castiel, but not every darned week.

On the other hand, serialized works very well for Vikings. There is, admittedly, no other way to tell the historical tale of Ragnar Lothbrok without it, but creator Michael Hirst manages to entertain with episodic plot points while staying true to the long-term journey the Viking king and his mates are on.

The same is true of Murdoch Mysteries and the relationships between its main characters. The folks on that series successfully combine a Canadian history lesson (social mores, technology and beliefs) with a murder of the week while tossing in a healthy dose of humour and character development. To me, that’s the mark of a truly great TV tale.

Do you agree with Diane and I? What do you want to hear our thoughts on? Comment below or @tv_eh.


One thought on “He Said/She Said: Stand-alone or Serialized?”

  1. I tend to be drawn to shows with serialized stories. I actually quit watching Supernatural back in the day because I didn’t like the monster-of-the-week episodes. I wasn’t ever able to get into Murdoch Mysteries because it was too procedural in nature. However, many shows have benefited from inserting stand-alone episodes into a serialized show as a means to take the time to show character development and develop the world of a story more. Good examples I can think of off the top of my head are Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Call the Midwife but that only works for certain shows. When other shows I really liked, such as Alias, put a stand-alone episode in, I was not a happy camper because I found it was often a time-waster, put in as a filler so the season could stretch to 22 or so episodes, whatever the episode count was. Virtually all of my favourite shows of the past and present were/are very serial in nature.

    I liked Strange Empire but I didn’t love it and part of the problem was because I found I cared more about certain storylines and characters than others and sometimes I found it didn’t flow well–relationships and characters weren’t developed enough to support a particular plot. For instance, I didn’t buy very many of the relationships on the show (ie. Kat/Caleb, Briggs/Chase and the relationships between Kat and her adopted children) as they seemed too rushed or contrived and manipulated to suit the story. There weren’t enough little moments, especially with Kat’s character, to make me a real fan of certain characters. There are benefits to sticking stand-alone episodes into a serialized series, numero uno being that stand-alone episodes often help to promote character growth by showing the little moments between characters. Just look at another Western drama, set in the same era, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, which had plenty of stand-alone episodes but plenty of character growth at the same time which really helped viewers invest more in the season-long arcs that occurred.

Comments are closed.