“I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”
– Orson Welles
The first handful of salty, peanutty goodness is delicious. After handful two, I am growing indifferent and want to stop. When my hand is empty for the third time, I swallow only regret; a bitter taste in my mouth. No more.
I reach for the crisps.
I have become a serial non-finisher of television shows.
Not counting soap operas, which are by their nature repetitive, overwritten and unconvincing, serialised television shows and ‘long-form’ dramas have developed a habit of outstaying their welcome, just like film franchises. Once or twice a year I get a real buzz from an exciting new series, but not twelve months later I will stagger through series two, bitterly highlighting any inconsistency and unoriginality. Woe betide series three. By series four, I will have moved on to the next guttering victim.
At the time of writing, I am three quarters of the way through new four-part thriller One of Us from the BBC. It’s pretty good. After the murder of a pair of young newlyweds, their two disjointed families find themselves the unlikely guardians of the killer after he crashes onto their isolated property during an horrific storm. Despite their being so close geographically and now tied by marriage, there is a lot of (as yet) unexplained bad blood between the two families and tempers run high from the start. When they discover the following morning that their hostage is dead, they all know that it had to be one of them. Accusations are tossed around and forcefully denied, until they realise that they are all culpable and if they are to worm out of prosecution, they must work together.
While trying to keep up with the layering on of character complexities and harbouring the desire to outfox the writers by detecting the killer before the big reveal, my mind was also whirring with the thought, “this is good. I hope they don’t make anymore.”
Until fairly recently I was a Breaking Bad virgin, but then I slipped and fell into Walter White’s world of edgy, unreliable companions, unintentional horror, and sweaty, mobile meth-labs. The anticipation for and critical acclaim of the show may have had a nitrous effect on my early perceptions, but I loved my introduction to the innovative thriller/dark comedy/crime drama series. Walter was pathetically strong and irritatingly stubborn, whereas Jesse was the polar opposite, making them the perfect pair and catapulting them into centre stage of popular discourse.
Having just checked my Netflix account however, I can declare that I fell off the wagon two episodes from the end of season two. I thought I’d got further than that, to be honest. I suppose I didn’t do myself any favours starting so late, but the viewing experience changes when the story extends so far into the future with no curve of definitive plot like you get in a film. Instead it is a series of semi-climaxes that provide the writers with the challenge of sustaining originality. My abiding memories of the show are of desert breakdowns, disgusting bathroom scenes, getting high, and awkward breakfasts. I don’t question the quality of the production and I certainly don’t question the acting, but I do wonder whether the lasting acclaim might have been more exclusive and enchanting had they quit while they were ahead.
Maybe I’m fatally under-qualified to comment having not finished the show, but having come to the same spluttering halt with House of Cards, Mad Men and Downton Abbey, I think I might be onto something.
My current binge is Mr Robot and so far it is just about sustaining my interest, although, I must admit that I might have had an even better review of it had it concluded sooner. During season 1 I was in awe of the complex, thoughtful plot, and the conflicted and convincing characters. However, clouds loomed ominously with the arrival of themes from Fight Club, but there is still plenty of sky clear of the threat of boredom and unoriginality.
I don’t hate television, but I do resent it and I wish one of us new when to quit.