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Musings on new TV series and a new variable for TV classification- Involvement - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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June 14th, 2015

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03:12 am - Musings on new TV series and a new variable for TV classification- Involvement
teaotter & I have been watching several new TV shows, and all three of us have been watching Sense8 (which is excellently done and made more wonderful by having such a diverse cast).

Becca talks about the premiers of Mr. Robot and Stitchers here. Mr. Robot can currently only be seen on the USA website ( go here to stream the entire first episode). Mr. Robot is excellent, and not at all what I was expecting. When I heard it was about a socially awkward young male hacker genius, what I expected was a deeply horrible show like the recent series Scorpion, where socially awkward = a smug and loathsomely self-aggrandizing jerk who enjoys talking down to people, and where the protagonist is always right.

Mr. Robot is entirely unlike that, in addition to using a level of close first-person perspective that I've never seen on TV, the protagonist is genuinely socially awkward in uncomfortably realistic ways, and at least in social interactions, he's sometimes shown to make serious mistakes, include one he is justifiably called on. Combine that with a plot about taking on to finance industry, and I'm loving it, but I fear that it will be too different for most viewers.

In vivid contrast, Stitchers is deeply terrible, there are flashes of good acting, but the plots have more holes than plot and it's dull, formulaic, and entirely not worth watching. It's also very clearly what I'm calling low-involvement TV – you can easily follow what's going on even if you are multitasking online or at home and only need to spend at most half you attention on the show to follow all of it. The second episode was so much so that when it was nearly over, Becca and I both felt like we'd watched maybe 15 minutes of TV.

One of hallmarks of low-involvement TV is a heavy reliance on beat storytelling, so that structure and expectation is used as a shortcut to get around plot holes, often to the extent that there's more hole than plot, but the show is exceedingly easy to follow because it fits expectations well.

What I'll call high involvement TV is very different indeed. In such shows, you need to pay close attention to detail, and these details build upon one another, both with an episode and between episodes. The plots might not be much better in high-involvement TV, but the depth of characterization definitely is and I find the experience to be much richer and more intense. A good judge of high involvement TV is when you've watched what felt like most of an episode of an hour TV show and look and see that you've actually only watched the first 20 minutes, because so much happened in that short time.

The most extreme example of high-involvement TV that I've ever seen in Sense8, in large part because viewers are juggling 8 different settings, if you stop paying attention for 10 seconds you've likely missed something important and perhaps several important things. We watch Sense8 with the captions on to further help us catch every detail. Of course, this show about as extreme as I think TV can possible get in that direction. Far more typical examples of a high-involvement show is Fringe (particularly Seasons 2-4), Mr. Robot or much of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I find this variable useful, because I have absolutely no use for low-involvement shows – I almost never use TV as background noise or something to watch when doing other things and vastly prefer show which reward close observation.

Today, we also watch the premier of Dark Matter on SyFy, it was somewhat promising, medium involvement, and may turn out to be worth watching, but also very possibly (especially since most new shows on SyFy are terrible) something we won't be watching in 3 episodes.

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Date:June 14th, 2015 04:34 pm (UTC)
I've noticed a time compression phenomenon, but correlated it more to lots of scene changes. Like, the denouement episode to the third arc of Twelve Kingdoms. Technically the plot is over, it's just wrapping up people's stories, but I remember wondering if the episode was really only 22 minutes long, it felt like more was going on. I think because you'd spend a minute and a half with one couple or group, then cut. Repeat.

I forget when else I've noticed that. There's the first issue of Sandman, which also cuts a lot, but I eventually noticed it actually has more pages than usual. :)

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