Historians of pop culture in the early 21st century will note that we adopted serial TV in a big way, and that there were many series worth our loyalty. Some of the cable shows and many of the BBC productions are what keep me watching. I get attached to various characters and want to know what will happen to them. As in a good short story or novel, the plots turn on the characters' conflicts, and as they face new complications, their characters develop; they don't become more worthy people, of course, or not necessarily, but as they confront issues rising from within, or coming from without, the best written characters become more complex, which is to say, truer to life.
I love the series "Treme," based in New Orleans. After the first season, I wanted to visit the city, and did, and as I watch the following seasons, I look for places and references that I recognise. Nevertheless, binge viewing isn't working for me with "Treme". It's a wonderful show, each installment a full hour, multiple plot lines, multiple characters, many minutes of great music. In one episode or chapter," I counted nine story lines attached to nine different characters, with various degrees of overlap and potential subplots ripe to spin off from them. The show is content-heavy, dense, and while the content is always good, sometimes great, the staccato structure wears me down. At the end of an episode, my mind is crammed full of what I have just watched. It has been a multi-course meal of rich foods Janette may have dreamed up and served in small portions. The kind of meal one may be able to fork into the next day, but certainly not the same evening.
Serial television, especially the best of it, tempts comparisons with serialized books, such as the popular novels of Dickens (The Pickwick Papers), Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo), even Tolstoy (Anna Karenina) and Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov). Perhaps The Count of Monte Cristo was the most popular. Serialized in Le journal des debats, a French newspaper of the day (1844), The Count apparently had readers waiting on the proverbial edges of their seats for each new segment of the 18 through which the story unfolded. In this way, Alexandre Dumas' epic adventure may resemble "Breaking Bad" more than "Treme." Yet Dumas and the writers of "Treme," do seem to share the view that a strong story is made of many equally strong components. At nearly 500, 000 words and with a huge cast, The Count of Monte Cristo has been described as a megapolyphonic novel. Considering the sub stories of nine characters reeled out over only 60 minutes, I'd say that "Treme" is right up there in mega territory, too.