We find ourselves in a surplus for quality television. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, what with every network and their mother (he says, pretending that makes sense) doing their best to fill airtime with quality television to rival the all time greats, some of which are still on the air. But with all these quality shows it can be very hard to keep up, and that’s where DVD (or Blu-Ray, if you want to be like that) comes in so handy. But there’s a problem, not every show is a good “DVD show.”
So how can you tell? Well, the logical answer would seem to be that any show that is unequivocably good is going to make a good DVD show, right? Not even close. Arguably one of the best shows on the air right now, AMC’s Mad Men, is one of the worst DVD shows I’ve ever seen. I think. I’ve only seen the first season, because I dread having to watch more of it on DVD.
Please don’t get me wrong, Mad Men is nothing if not a beautifully-realized, well-acted, stunning recreation of the glamour and hardships of Madison Avenue in the sixties. But for as objectively great as it is, it’s so down-trodden and depressing that I can really understand how a week’s reprieve between episodes could be extremely beneficial. Compare that with its channelmate Breaking Bad, which, yes, can wade through some dark and existential territory, but it never wallows. The show remains electric, and when one episode ends, you want to know what happens… right effing now.
And that’s the basic mark of a great DVD show, if the idea of waiting to figure out what happens next drives you absolutely nuts. It all boils down to two main things in my estimation: story arc and tone. There’s a certain balance that needs to be struck between those two elements to achieve the eminant watchability that establishes a great DVD show. If you have a compelling enough arc, you can be as dark and down-trodden as you want, whereas if you’re lacking story-wise, you need to compensate by being relatively light in tone. This has the greatest effect on procedurals, where shows that wallow in the murk like CSI aren’t shows you’d want to watch for hours on end, but something like Pushing Daisies can be watched for days (if only there were actually enough episodes to support that type of behavior *sigh*).
What got me thinking about this topic was, a co-worker of mine lent me two seasons apiece of two seemingly similar shows: Frisky Dingo and Metalocalypse. Both are animated shows containing irreverent humor, pop culture riffs, and gross out gags. They both were/are part of Adult Swim and as such are both directed at basically the exact same audience. They are also both clever and very, very good shows, but whereas Frisky Dingo is a terrific DVD show, Metalocalypse is very much not.
The difference lies not so much in the tone, but in the story arc. Because Frisky Dingo has one of the most daring story arcs I’ve ever seen on an animated show (it rivals The Venture Bros.) I maintain that you could edit out the credits sequences and each season would basically function as a movie (albeit with an odd ten minute section here and there that features the word “boosh” more frequently), whereas Metalocalypse has (as far as I know) no discernable overarching plot. And while each episode is funny and clever, they all more or less accomplish the same thing, leaving one episode feeling very much like the next.
And yet, despite that, I would posit that Metalocalypse is actually the better show overall, with higher production values and an impressively thorough execution of vision combining to ever-so-slightly overpower Frisky Dingo‘s sheer lunatic ambition. It’s just that you could basically compile your ten favorite Metalocalypses and give them to a friend and they would get a perfect picture of what the show is, which you absolutely could not do with Frisky Dingo.
The issue gets more muddled the further you get into comedic shows, as the ones of quality are, by nature, easy to watch. So it basically boils down to this: how do you watch the show on DVD? Can you watch one episode from any season in any order? Or do you have to watch it starting at Season 1, Episode 1 and not stop until you reach the end? But again, this does not reflect the actual quality of the show. For instance, by these standards, Chuck easily bests How I Met Your Mother, even though HIMYM is far and away the better show.
And of course sometimes these standards help to heap even more praise on already deservedly-lauded shows, such as Arrested Development, one of the best DVD shows ever. It’s become something of an annual tradition for me to come home on a Friday and pop in the first disc of AD and not stop til I hit the series finale. Or a new contender, Parks and Recreation, whose arcs tend to be the least interesting part, but which counters that by being so freaking delightful that it’s way more satisfying to start from the beginning, just so you can see all of it again.
So what have we proved? Admittedly, not much. Just that you should take caution when you set out to purchase a season of one of your favorite shows. Before you whip out your credit card, think hard. Why do you want to own the show? Will you watch it for hours on end, or just a stray episode here and there? Because if it’s the latter, I might be able to interest you in something called… the internet.
Posted under Kyle's Adventures in Pop Culture
This post was written by Kyle on December 14, 2011