Tell My Students What TV To Watch
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!
Filed under: Middlebury, Narrative, Teaching, Television, TV Shows | 37 Comments