Tell My Students What TV To Watch

23Jul09

I’m in the midst of drafting another long article, both to feed the blog and meet a lingering book chapter deadline, and head off-the-grid next week for some family vacation. But in the meantime, I’d like to crowdsource some brainstorming for my fall syllabus. I’ll be teaching Television & American Culture, a course I’ve taught many times and have working pretty effectively. (And I have I mentioned the brand new textbook I’ll be featuring?!)

The course covers the full range of American TV history, from the 1950s to today, and the screenings are pretty good overall. But I’ve realized with the rise of serialized television and the unique narrative forms it’s created, it seems a shame not to feature seriality in a more significant way than showing a single episode from a series like Buffy or Veronica Mars. My colleague Chris Keathley featured the entire first season of Deadwood in his introductory Aesthetics of the Moving Image course this spring, and it went swimmingly. And I had a wonderful experience (about which I still need to write-up a blog, I know…) teaching the entirety of The Wire. So I believe teaching a serial is quite rewarding.

The question is what to show. I don’t think I have time to squeeze in more than 6-8 episodes. Ideally it would feature significant plot arcs that resolve over that timeframe, even if it’s not a full season. 1/2 hour might be easier to schedule, but I’m open to an hour. American TV doesn’t lend itself to 6-8 episode runs that well, based on the 24 episode season, or 12-13 for cable, but since the course is specifically American, that does seem to be important.

Some options I’ve considered:

– The first season of Breaking Bad. It’s really great and runs only 7 eps, although I think the show didn’t start to really click until season 2. And it’s strengths focus mostly on Bryan Cranston’s performance more than interesting style or narrative form (which emerge more in s2).

– A section of Arrested Development. Certainly would be popular with students, and would highlight many of the interesting reflexive and innovative narrative tricks that I’d want to discuss. It might be so atypical as to make it not that useful, but I’m not sure. What episodes offer a good self-contained arc? It’s all still a blur to me, years later.

– The Pylea episodes of Angel. Fairly self-contained despite being almost 2 seasons into the show. I remember loving them, but might be an odd place to introduce viewers to the storyworld.

– The first season of Slings & Arrows. A nicely self-contained 6 episodes, with good plot and character arcs, backstory, and interesting high/low cultural resonances. Alas, it is Canadian, so its Americanness is borderline.

But I look forward to your ideas, oh wise readership!



37 Responses to “Tell My Students What TV To Watch”

  1. 1 Annie Petersen

    I think your students will be most enthralled by *Breaking Bad.* My students seem to think of Buffy as dated (for better or for worse) and and come in with negative preconceptions — in part due to Twilight-backlash.

  2. 2 Nick Smith

    Arrested Development sounds good. Maybe the Rita arc from Season 3? I would submit that that is the most arclike series of episodes that is more than just a 2-parter. Also can’t go wrong with Angel. Sadly, Buffy never really did anything so self-contained. Although, as an avid Buffy fan I think my perception is skewed because I feel like it’s not worth it to watch unless the viewer can understand all the references to past events. Earshot is about the best you can do, although I think Hush might also a very good choice.

  3. 3 Meredith Levine

    The Georgina episodes from Season 1 of Gossip Girl. They are the last 4 episodes of the season.

    The Massive Dynamics episodes of Fringe, they might not be consecutive, but the purely episodic episodes can probably be skipped in this series.

    Episodes 7-12 of Dollhouse, once the Millie/November plot line starts getting uncovered.

    I like Fringe and Dollhouse because they both attempt to straddle the line between episodic and serial structures.

  4. 4 alpha5099

    I remember loving the Pylea arc the first time I saw it, but everything in those first two seasons was so eclipsed by the greatness of those final seasons that it almost seems wasteful to show what is a good part to a great series. Of course, going any deeper into the series and you just end up with the problem of dropping new viewers into established continuity, compounded however many fold. For my money, the continuity episodes of Season 3 is some of the best stuff ever, and is focused into three groups of three or four episodes, but you’d have a lot of explaining to do to set things up.

    Twin Peaks might also be something worth considering. If you just do up until the mystery is solved, that wouldn’t be too many episodes, and it’s a pretty landmark series in the history of the American viewership’s acceptance of serialized storytelling. The X-Files might be another good example from the early and mid-90s, and you don’t have to worry about your students being confused, because no one knew what the hell was going on in that show.

    Although I think the third season of VM was hugely problematic (principally due to some fundamental issues with having a series of rapes as the initial case–there are very few motives for rape, and there’s no way the perp could be sympathetic, destroying much of the drama of a mystery by eliminating Why and making sure we would hate Who) the second mystery of the season might be perfect for your purposes. It’s a manageable size, I don’t think the continuity will be difficult for new viewers to follow, and for my money it stands toe-to-toe with the Lily Kane and Bus Crash mysteries, which are probably too long and convoluted to be easy viewing.

    I realize that it’s fallen a far way from it’s early quality, but the first season of Heroes still stands as a pretty well-plotted piece of serial storytelling. In fact, the show having gone so completely off the rails might be worthy of discussion, looking at how continuity can work and how it can fail. (A similar discussion could be had about Galactica, and the problems it had in the latter half of Season 2 and throughout Season 3 of stand-alone episodes ruining the flow of the serial storyline.)

    Another show that may not be the pinnacle of television excellence but which offers some pretty good and likely familiar examples of heavy serialization is 24. The continuity between seasons is pretty irrelevant, and pretty much every season after the first has started with a four episode mini-arc which could be worth showing.

    Finally, may I humbly suggest the inclusion of Who Shot Mr. Burns, Parts 1 and 2. You have the issue of limited continuity, particularly in a show that is so aggressively and self-consciously episodic. You can deal with the issue of continuity across seasons. And it was a pretty big media event at the time.

  5. There’s a lot of Whedon here, but no one has mentioned Firefly? It could be interesting because it brings together multiple genres, because it gets reworked completely in film in Serenity, because it wasn’t aired sequentially and flopped, while on DVD it soared, etc. I’m not entirely sure which episodes I’d cut, but I’m sure it be fairly easy to pare it down to 6 episodes (perhaps plus the film?).

  6. 6 Chris Becker

    For a fall class I’m doing on TV Storytelling, I’m thinking of showing the April episodes of In Treatment season 2. I realize the show works best when you get it all, especially Gina at the end of each week, but the April story was relatively self-contained (though it loses a bit of an edge if you don’t know about Alex) and quite powerful (albeit heavily compressed to fit into 7 episodes, but that in itself is worth discussion in regard to the whole show). As for Breaking Bad, I too am most interested in where it goes with season 2, particularly in fleshing out the other characters’ perspectives, but I also think it’s essential to see season 1 to get why season 2 is so damn cool. However, I don’t have the screening time to show all 20 eps, and though I would love to at least make reference to its overall story arc, it’s such a twist-heavy show that I’m afraid of spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it. Which raises a whole other issue worth it’s own blog post: how do you guys deal with serial spoilers in class? I don’t want to ruin the TV fun for anyone, but I also need them to learn a thing or two.

  7. 7 Chris Becker

    Crap. Its, not it’s, own blog post. I hate that.

  8. I was going to SAY *Slings and Arrows,* and there it is as your last entry. I’d use it because it is so, so brilliant, it is a short season, it is self-contained, and it does a great job of linking dual themes: the theme of the Shakespeare play they are performing is always paralleled by themes in the stories about the actors, producers, and crew.

    I was at a fan con a while ago, in Boston, and there was a whole panel devoted to Canadian TV shows. Of course S&A showed up. I heard absolutely amazing comments about S&A from the attendees. It was like being in English class! Textual analysis, smart comments, all of it. I’m sure the panel attendees self-selected to squee, but honestly, S&A is well loved, and everyone remembers it.

    If you are really open to Canadian TV, try *Twitch City* (two seasons, 1998 and 2000, for 13 eps total). It’s about a guy who sits around and watches TV all day. Don McKellar writes and stars. It’s very meta for a class about TV. It’s quite filmic, and it has no laugh track.

    In terms of definitely American shows, *Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles* has a short first season (9 eps) and has a lot in there to discuss.

  9. 9 Myles

    I figure I’ll throw Generation Kill out there – sure, it’s a miniseries and not a series outright, but it’s only seven episodes long, brings in much of The Wire’s focus on bureaucracy, and also deals with a lot of generational questions from an American perspective (I presume, being Canadian and all).

    I’ll also throw out Party Down – it’s an example of a show with a highly procedural setup (the setting changes every single episode), but constructs those scenarios very carefully so as to bring out particular serialized storytelling traits amongst the core group of characters.

    United States of Tara seems like another potential option for me (U.S. is even in the title!). The season was a bit uneven overall, but the depiction of Tara’s various personalities offers some very complex points of investigation while ostensibly being a comedy about a dysfunctional family.

    I’d be tempted to include Flight of the Conchords as well, primarily since it’s ostensibly an American show about New Zealanders – it results in a lot of confusion over its connection with American culture. Season 2 is only 10 episodes, and I’d argue it’s the more comically interest but musically dissatisfying season of the two.

    That’s it for me, for now.

  10. Even though it’s a different type of arc, and aired daily not weekly, what about the 5 eps of Torchwood’s Children of Earth? Despite being Whoniverse, these are also pretty much self-contained and the only thing needing any real explanation beyond the eps is Captain Jack’s seeming immortality. They’re also pretty engaging viewing!

    [Comment reposted from Facebook.]

  11. *ahem* And, yes, I do realise Torchwood isn’t American once my brain kicks in…

  12. 12 drax

    As you’ve already covered The Wire and Generation Kill’s already been nominated I’ll suggest Hill Street Blues, IMO one of the finest American dramas ever to grace the airwaves. You could dive in pretty much anywhere on that show but the first half dozen episodes of season 1 would do the job admirably, it’d be a nice comparison to The Wire as well.

  13. Thanks for all the replies (especially from a couple of veterans from the TV & American Culture course!) – I’ll try to respond to various proposed options (and include some proposed on Facebook as well), with caveat that it’s important that any serial I show is something I feel like I know enough to flesh out for my students:

    Arrested Development: I too thought of the Rita arc, but actually that’s my least favorite arc of the series. (Although those eps do include two of the funniest gags in the series: analrapist and Bob Loblaw…) Another AD option would be the first 4-5 eps of s2, with George Sr. in Mexico.

    Gossip Girl: don’t watch, so I can’t really teach it, and alas I’m not motivated to go back to it.

    Fringe: I gave up on Fringe, even though I think about returning to it. But skipping the episodic entries seems to go against the point of the exercise, which is to highlight the way a weekly serial works.

    Dollhouse: Interesting idea, and it fits another agenda I often try to sneak into the class (exposing students to great new shows that they might not be watching). I’m still not sold that Dollhouse is going to pay off its promise though.

    Twin Peaks: another colleague is using this in his intro course, so I’ve given him dibs.

    X-Files: like with Fringe, the ping-pong between arcs & monster-of-the-week make it hard to focus on individual runs of the series. And there’s way too much ‘splaining to set it up.

    Firefly: it never really hit the arcing pace that I’d like to show until the last couple of eps, and then it ended.

    Heroes & 24: more about how not to plot arcs! Both of these shows anger me too much to show…

    Veronica Mars: yeah, the third season is better for shorter arcs, but the arcs are so much less satisfying as to make it frustrating to teach that instead of the brilliant s1.

    In Treatment: interesting idea, and I love the April storyline. But it does seem to violate the show’s aesthetic gimmick to isolate it like that. Plus it’s not out on DVD yet, making it hard to teach.

    Twitch City: never even heard of it, but consider it queued for future viewing!

    Terminator: the first short season might work, although I do think the show never quite clicked – lots of filler amidst the good stuff.

    U.S. of Tara: I haven’t seen it, but it might work. Alas, not on DVD yet…

    Generation Kill or The Corner: tempting, although the stand-alone mini-series is a different animal from the serialized series. I’m a bit afraid of simply becoming David Simon’s pimp, as I do think great work is being done by other TV writers!

    Party Down & Conchords: neither is sufficiently serialized to get at the points I’m wanting to make about serial narrative.

    Torchwood CoE: were it American, I’d be all over it! (I’m midway through the run now, and loving it…)

    Hill St. Blues: I do show the pilot, but looking back on it, the pace is so slow for today’s viewers that my students would not be pleased with me. (Not that my goal is to please them, but I don’t want to show them something great that they hate!) Similar problems with other 1980s proto-serials Wiseguy and Crime Story suggested on FB.

    Mad Men: sigh. This is a show that I’ve been unable to get into, even though I know I should. Soon. But I think for teaching, its pacing is so slow, and from what I’ve heard, the serialized payoff comes at the end of s1, making it too long for my purposes.

    Soap opera: on FB, a friend suggested a week of a soap. As I’ve written, I do think that today’s prime time serials are vastly different than soaps, and I know that 90% of my students would find watching a week of a soap quite unpleasant. And I cannot in good conscience teach one unless I’m skilled enough to be able to guide them toward the pleasures of the genre – and I’m not.

    Keep ’em coming!

  14. 14 Brian Faucette

    Why not use the first seven episodes of the new Battlestar Galatica. The mini-series and those first episodes are solid in laying out the framework for the entire arc of the show. Also I find it curious that you have not suggested anything from Lost considering how much you love the show. The first season of Lost is unbelievably good television. Finally I would second the recommendation of Generation Kill because while it is not as good as The Wire it could lead to interesting discussions about the technical, political and aesthetic side of television and how we are viewers relate to it.

  15. 15 Ashley Wysocki

    Once again, I am dying to take one of your classes. First of all, are you sure you can’t get in more than that amount of episodes? I doubt your students would mind watching more TV especially if they’re taking you’re class. Maybe set up some times in the evening or on the weekend for them to watch the rest of the episodes.

    Barring that, maybe one of the arcs in The Office like the branch closing and merger with subsequent lost of new employers up to The Return or S5’s Michael starting his own business plot. I don’t remember if there are any smaller arcs in Friday Night Lights but that might work. Maybe the Battlestar Galactica New Caprica arc in S3? I marathoned the episodes too fast to remember but is there any good smaller arc of The Sopranos? Possibly the last episodes of S1 of Nip/Tuck (although that’d probably require the Pilot) or the Carver arc in S2 although it’s not finished there. Probably not shortenable but if you could find a smaller arc in S2 of Alias, that’d definitely be serial. Oz has shorter seasons that could work, the Querns arc in S4 would be especially interesting. Also possibly the first 7 or 8 episodes of The West Wing S4 leading up to the election.

  16. In terms of shows like Alias and Veronica Mars, I’m wondering if there might be any value in isolating say three episodes from different seasons to demonstrate how serialization changes from season to season. Both shows went through very public retooling to attempt to bring in new viewers, and I’d be curious to see from an academic standpoint how much you could see changes in the way they tell their stories if you pulled three episodes from Season 1, and then pulled three from Season 3. Confusing, sure, but probably pretty demonstrative as well.

    Otherwise, my only other brainstorm this morning is Burn Notice – it’s definitely a procedural, but the way the second season weaves the recurring storyline regarding Michael’s efforts to remove the Burn Notice is a really intriguing piece of work, and really elevates the show in terms of how they marry the two concepts.

  17. I’ll second (third?) SLINGS & ARROWS S1 for the reasons already given, plus at least some students will be interested to see Rachel McAdams playing against the ‘mean girl’-type she seems to be assigned in American movies.

    One way to approach the X-FILES would be to curate a selection of the Myth Arc episodes rather than trying to pick out a set from an individual season. The advantage here is that the story is, ultimately, just a bunch of lateral moves by the same players. I don’t think that the set-up would take too much work; the basic elements of Mulder’s preoccupations are pretty well embedded in American popular culture.

    Similarly, pulling together Borg episodes from STAR TREK: TNG could work in the same way; there is a clear narrative through-line involving the nature of the Borg. There are also a number of arcs that could be selected from ST: DS9, especially once the Dominion is introduced (it’s hard to not see DS9 as kind of a dry run for the new BSG in retrospect, including the use of serialized storytelling).

    Finally, if you are thinking of plunging students into the Buffyverse, I would recommend the Faith episodes that connect S4 of BUFFY and S1 of ANGEL or the Faith story from S4 of ANGEL and S7 of BUFFY. I don’t know if the crossover aspect would detract or add to what you want to do in the class, but these stories might be self-enclosed enough to work with a little set-up, especially the earlier set. Alternatively, the Beast episodes from S4 of ANGEL could provide enough internal coherence to work (big, virtually indestructible rock causing havoc, how do we stop him?) Or the final five or six episodes from BUFFY S3 could be effective, and might have an added appeal of dealing with subjects close to student hearts and heads (hs graduation, prom).

  18. As a Canadian, I feel obliged to lay down the gauntlet that if you consider Slings and Arrows, your class can’t be American only. It’s a major fudge to shove a Canadian show into an American course, since there’s a very different (and especially for S&A, important) history of television funding, and relationship of tv to national culture, that you’d be running roughshod over.

    If you’re open to non-US, you might also look at Primeval, a Brit show that has very short seasons (at least for S1 and S2) and is suitably fun, with good serial elements balanced off against a monster-of-the-week format.

  19. Arrested Development was my first thought, and you’re onto something with the first few of S2 given your constraints. I also like the Faith arc rec for Buffy and the first few of BSG as options.

    You might also look at West Wing. Maybe the sequence during which Bartlett’s MS is disclosed? You could certainly address suspension of disbelief…. So we’re talking S2, starting maybe with E13 “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union” and running through the end of the season (E22 “Two Cathedrals”). Its 9 eps all together, but it includes some other memorable moments from that series as well, including “The Stackhouse Filibuster” ep and Mrs. Landingham’s car accident.

    (Plus, there was some great discussion I happen to know a little about from the newsgroup alt.tv.the-west-wing back then about fiction/reality parallels that was pretty fascinating, if you’re interested in such things.)

    As with AD, TWW might not be representative enough for what you’re looking for, but on the other hand, it was a show that managed to gain a loyal following and really anger viewers, and often they were the SAME people (again, as indicated by online discussion of the series). So there would be lots of directions you could go with it, I would think.

    Speaking of Sorkin, Sports Night wouldn’t be a bad idea either, though I’m less familiar with it in terms of recommendable arcs. Plus, it’d be 30 min.

    Btw, I want to throw in a plug for screening *some* form of two genres of TV almost always dismissed: information or how-to programming (like cooking shows and This Old House) and children’s TV, whether that’s Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues, or Pokemon. I’ve become so much more aware of both since becoming a parent and feel its a shame students (and faculty) don’t think about them more in TV courses.

    • Brett – as an aside, I show both Sesame St. and Pokemon in the course! Agreed about the importance of kids’ TV. How-to seems a bit harder to teach…

  20. 21 Erin Copple Smith

    This has been such an interesting read overall–I love hearing what everyone’s recommended. (Plus, it makes me want to revisit some old faves..I miss you, Buffy & VM &…&…&…)

    I wonder if something on premium cable wouldn’t be your best bet? The seasons are shorter than either broadcast or basic cable, generally, and they’re almost always serialized. Once I started thinking about premium cable, I got a few more specific ideas: Weeds? Big Love? Sex & the City? All three (especially Weeds & SATC) would be popular with students, I think, and all three have some serialized but relatively closed narrative arcs.

    I would give suggestions of specific arcs, but I totally understand your desire to teach something you’re familiar with–and if you’re familiar, you can probably pick out arcs, anyway. But if you want ideas, let me know!

  21. 22 Joel Burges

    I hate to add in my two cents, but why not the first season of True Blood? In part because you could probably show the whole thing assuming that a number of students will have seen some of it already, and it fits into the Twilight hype (thus allowing you to talk about how phenomena cut across media so much, which is only extended by the source of the show in a book); it also enables references backwards to Six Feet Under vis-a-vis Alan Ball, not to mention Buffy (the greatest show ever). In this sense, serial narrative and intertexuality in contemporary media comes to life. Just a thought; new to the site, and love it.

  22. I realize you’re gone already, but I’ve been thinking a lot about your challenge–it’s often hard to engage students in shows that we cherish for the very complexity aspects that make it hard for them to connect…

    My first thought (like Tama’s above) was Torchwood, but I immediately realized that the British part makes it not fitting–otoh, the British short seasons certainly work much better than the US ones we’re used to.

    I know yo’uve mentioned later Buffy and Angel, but if Buffy’s not too dated, I’m rewatching the early eps with my boys (and I can only promise you how much fun it’s gonna be when yours are old enough to actually, like, like the same stuff you so! fanboys in training🙂, and I still find the Season 2 arc amazing! (Now, granted, I can’t help but watch it as I’m recalling seeing it when it aired, but then you’d expect your students to be similarly not rewatching retroactively…)

    Since Canadian shows have been mentioned and seem to be OK, can I yet again put in a word for ReGenesis? It’s an amazing show and really plays with narrative arcs in interesting ways (and with challenging and subverting our serial tv expectations every step of the way). The setting’s not too sf for those that aren ‘t into that and the acting’s great!

    Other than that, I think the early BSG is a great idea, especially in the way the early first season eps are experimental in storytelling even as they enhance the plot…

  23. Squeezing in some wi-fi from the road to read over these new suggestions – again, much appreciated!

    BSG: I showed 33 in class once, and it fizzled in a very disheartening way. I’m actually not too big a fan of the miniseries, and not sure that anything could fly to new viewers. Plus the anti-sci-fi bias is big enough to require a lighter touch in my experience.

    Lost: I’m rewatching season 1 now, and realize how slow it is to get moving compared to the pace we’re used to now. I could show the pilot and a few eps (including Walkabout, which I’ve used in another course), but fear that the students who watch it will have a hard time talking about it to those who don’t, given all that’s changed.

    West Wing: nice idea, although long-term arcs were never Sorkin’s strength. I’ll have to review the eps to see what might work best.

    Nip/Tuck: a show that really bugs me. Sorry…

    FNL: I think continuity is a blind spot, and serialization is more about tone and characters (with some notable discontinuity) rather than plotting. I might show the pilot this year, as it’s just a great example of interesting use of style, and plays off sports conventions nicely.

    Sopranos: nothing beyond s1 is worth showing for me, and the first season was all about the full arc of Livia’s revenge that needs 13 eps.

    More on Buffy: I think the end of s3 might be a great option, with a nice standalone (Earshot) that I already show (talking about it in the context of school violence) and a great arc with both action and relationship drama.

    Burn Notice: hasn’t caught my fancy – too procedural for me, and have given it the time to hook into the arcs.

    Star Trek: Alas, they don’t hold up well today to most students. And the DS9 stuff is too sprawling to compress adequately, if I remember right.

    True Blood: I enjoy the show, but its plotting is pretty slack. I feel like it’s more of a fun romp than an illustration of what TV can do uniquely as a medium.

    Canada: writing this from Ontario, I can report that Canada is “like a whole other country” (isn’t that its motto?). If I showed S&A, I’d definitely include a reading on the Canadian system, and highlight how this fits and doesn’t fit the US model. (And no, an American commercial station would never greenlight a series about a Shakespeare festival!)

    • 25 Joel Burges

      Yeah, I was thinking about the True Blood suggestion after in more narrative terms–how it relies on a shocker at the end of each episode to propel us forward rather than a complexly built narrative in the terms you’ve defined elsewhere. Though it doesn’t fit your purposes, it’s an interesting question: the relationship between sensationalism and narrative complexity. Have been watching Deadwood for the first time, and its pacing is slow rather than sensational, so that when, say, Wild Bill dies at the end of Episode 4 Season 1, it comes as something of a resonant shock after all the character ties built up. Whereas True Blood almost always goes for the jugular.

  24. I’m going to second the rec for Torchwood and Dollhouse. Yeah Torchwood’s not American, but it aired on BBC America. The last few episodes of Dollhouse’s first season were great.

    I’ve had some success with with BSG when I showed Occupation/Precipice. Throw in the Exodus 1 & 2 or even through Collaborators and it could go over fairly well.

    From Buffy Hush and The Body have both gone over well, but Once More with Feeling usually doesn’t.

  25. 27 Bobby

    To paraphrase another medium, longtime reader, first time poster. If the Faith cross-over route that others have brainstormed appeals to you, what about something with Wesley? He’s arguably the most evolved Buffyverse character. SPOILERS:

    You could start with his opera buffa introduction in Buffy S3, go to his arrival on Angel, show an episode in S2 where he’s in charge of Angel Investigations, one or two in S3 where he tries to kidnap Connor (the beginning of his dark turn), something in S4 that shows how badass and morally gray he’s become, and you could end with “Origin” in S5 when he’s a broken man.

    But that broad survey of “Angel” hardly obeys your request to keep the chosen episodes within one season. I’m indifferent to the Pylea arc, especially since the “beige” Angel/Darla arc right before that is downright awesome. There’s some “monster of the week” stuff scattered throughout it, but if you cut out those extraneous pieces you have 6-8 phenomenal “Angel” episodes. Though Darla’s “Angel” tenure isn’t quite over in S2, there are other elements that are resolved during that arc, like the dissolution and reunion of Angel’s crew. Plus Lorne sings “Get Here.”

    I also think a look at the DHARMA initiative on LOST would also be interesting, starting with the discovery of the first filmstrip in S2’s “Orientation” and ending with last season’s finale, but I suppose it would be best to not touch that until the series finale next year.

  26. 28 Chad Harriss

    The first season of Homicide is only 9 eps long. It might make an interesting addition for students who took The Wire course as well. It’s also interesting because one of the eps was aired out of order (the 9th ep was shot 3rd). This opens the door to discuss the collision of industrial and artistic desires.

  27. 29 zvi

    I realize that you’ve probably already made up your mind, but I thought I’d just put in a plea for one of the best shows on television: Farscape.

    Farscape had several different serialized arcs. The last four eps of any season; That Old Black Magic and Picture If You Will; Look at the Princess 1-3; A Human Reaction, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Kansas, Terra Firma. You have your choice of multi-part episodes, sequences that are very close in time for the universe, and episodes that are connected across the span of seasons, which are several different forms of serialized television.

  28. It’s fascinating to me that so many commentors have suggested science fiction shows for narrative arcs. Does sci-fi as a genre have a better understanding of serialization? Is there a popular perception that it does? Another musing: do shows which develop “cult follwings” (definition to be determined) emphasize serialization, or is it a self-fulfilling prophecy, with cult shows attaining that status because fans find serialization rampant within them? I’m thinking here of not only sci-fi but soap operas and perhaps westerns as well, and certainly most animated shows for children and adults.

    In any case, someone aways back suggested the MS storyline from season 2 of “West Wing,” which I’ll heartily support. I’d actually suggest a different tack than the second half of that season: I’d start with 1.12 (He Shall, From Time to Time), where we first learn about Bartlet’s MS, then jump to 1.22 (What Kind of Day Has it Been) and 2.1 & 2.2 (In the Shadow of Two Gunmen I & II). The only MS-related bit is the part in 2.2 where Abby tells the doctor about to operate on Jed about his MS. But, the 3 eps can also be used to address the way flashbacks can be intentionally used to confuse the viewer (with the liftoff signal used in 1.22) and introduce the characters to students who haven’t seen WW before (2.1-2.2 uses extensive flashbacks to tell of characters’ backstories and how they came together on the Bartlet campaign in the first place). THEN I’d jump to the core of the arc, using 2.17-2.22 (The Stackhouse Filibuster, 17 People, Bad Moon Rising, The Fall’s Gonna Kill You, 18th and Potomac, Two Cathedrals). But of course the arc doesn’t end there. There’s 3.11 (H.Con-172) where Bartlet is censured because of lying about his MS, and then the aftereffects of that in 3.13-3.15 (The Two Bartlets, Night Five, Hartsfield’s Landing), bringing back Bartlet’s relationship with his father and setting up, in his confrontations with Toby, the demons which will haunt him through the beginning of season 4 and the election.

    But that’s spinning the arc into a different, though related story. So, there we go. Except, that’s a total of 14 episodes. So maybe not. Certainly 3 could be axed by trimming 1.22, 2.1, and 2.2, and/or 3.13, 3.14, and 3.15. Taking out those 6 would leave you 8 eps, 1 from season 1 as a grounding, the main arc of 6 from season 2, and a glimpse of the political aftermath with an ep from season 3.

    Or, for something completely different and yet Sorkin-related (as all good things are), you could use the saga of Dana & Casey in “Sports Night,” which would allow more total epsiodes since it’s a half-hour show, and it would be “lighter” than the MS arc, though still not stereotypical as, after all is said and done, they don’t end up together. I could start listing episodes you could use, but this post is long enough already…

  29. 31 Annette

    As I am spending my time writing about its Recaps these days what comes to my mind is Showtime’s Californication. The first season features that little subplot that runs from Episode one to five. I know it’s been a couple of years since it has first been aired, but maybe this is a show you might want to consider.

  30. 32 Noah Feder

    As a TVAC alum, I will say that the Whedonverse stuff turns a lot of people off. While seemingly all TV aficionados love Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, those programs fail to appeal to a majority of the Middlebury student population.

    I like the suggestion of a chunk of Season 2 Arrested Development a lot; George Sr. escaping, returning, hiding in the attic, etc., is funny, serial, and probably the series’ high point.

    One screening that blew a lot of people (at least Israel and me) away was Pushing Daisies. Recurring characters and serialness began to crop up pretty early, and there’s no need to explain too much beforehand as the narrator handles it nicely. Maybe consider showing more than just the Pie-lette?

    And as for Burn Notice, I just wanted to give my personal stamp of approval for that show. It’s everything a USA Network series should be: fun, funny but not that funny, sharp writing, B-level acting, and co-starring Bruce Campbell.

  31. 33 Michael Lupro

    There’s a lot (a whole lot) of good suggestions above…I’ll be interested in knowing what you wind up selecting.
    My 2 cents: How about Freaks and Geeks.
    A couple things it offers are; the opportunity to talk about career arcs, since just about everyone involved is a (semi-)big star now; and,
    like Arrested Development and a few others mentioned above, it can open a discussion about the relationship between quality programming (and competing definitions thereof) and network programming choices.

  32. 34 Brian Faucette

    Jason,
    It occurred to me last night watching Syfy’s new series Warehouse 13 that perhaps this show might fit your needs- as of this moment there have only been 8 episodes aired but there is a definite narrative arc being built around the history of the Warehouse, its agents, and a growing relationship between the two newest agents, Pete and Myka. While the show seems to lack any level of cultural critique at this time, it is still a good example of the newer narrative strategies that you have identified as the dominant form in television today.

  33. 35 Wendy

    Here’s an idea: how about How I Met Your Mother Season 3, the final 8 episodes. There’s the Ted-Stella arc, the Robin-Barney-Ted Bro Code arc, Britney Spears. Or Season 2 from Slap Bet to the end of the season (14 eps).

  34. Whoever mentioned “Fringe”, was spot on! The show really picked up towards the end of season 1, I highly recommend watching it. It’d be a bit hard to work it into the curriculum though, since the season is 20 episodes long and almost every single one of the episodes includes some sort of tidbit that goes toward the overarching storyline. The last few episodes, in particular, were very interesting in that respect and I look forward to season 2, to see where the writers take the show.

    I’d also recommend FX’s “Damages”. The first season was very gripping. At 13 episodes, it’s a little longer than what you’re looking for, but it’s something to consider. I don’t know whether the show would really appeal to everyone in a class though. I have a bit of a penchant for lawyer shows… I used to love “The Practice”, which incidentally had some great plot lines, especially the two Joey Heric (played by John Larroquette) story lines. I guess that show is far too dated now though and beyond that, as far as I know, only season 1 has been released on DVD.

    There’s a fabulous little show that would work well for your purposes, if only it weren’t Australian. I’m talking about the hilarious “Summer Heights High”. I think pretty much everyone would enjoy that. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend seeing it soon. There are only 7 episodes and they’re fabulous.

  35. I’d recommend Damages, indeed, but you might also take a look at Steven Bochco’s “Murder One”. The first season (22 eps) was only one arc ; the second season dealt with 3 different cases. The show was set in a powerful law firm and the lawyers took over gruesome murder cases whose suspects always seemed very guilty (or even for some reasonconfessed to the crime even though they were innocent). The first season featured Stanley Tucci as a very ambiguous and fascinating billionnaire character ; the second season had Anthony La Paglia as its star.
    Both seasons are available on DVD. This is a very underrated but very interesting show as far as narrative complexity is concerned.
    Marc Z.


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