What Happened to Procedurals and Episodic TV?
TV narratives used to be, by a large margin, focused on episodic content with some interwoven story arcs. Each episode would mostly standalone by itself if watched in isolation, and although there were enough threads for dedicated fans to pick up on, there was no real barrier to entry. Of course, this did result in a number of tropes and issues in storytelling. For example, how many times can they really mess up an escape on Gilligan’s Island before it becomes dry – the answer is ∞ because it was a terrible, terrible show.
Episodic content was perfect for consumption when tuning into a TV channel at a certain time each night, or channel hopping to find something good, was the primary form of consumption. But, now that streaming and catch-up services have become the norm, we’ve seen a rise in serialised storytelling and a diminished amount of episodic shows.
So, is that a bad thing? Well, no – at least not necessarily.
Serialised content is perfect for binge-watching in a way that episodic content just isn’t. Watching a story gradually unfold over a series is more palatable when you know that you can keep watching as much as you like, whereas episodic content can become somewhat dry after watching more than a few episodes in a row.
Unfortunately, this shift in focus towards serialised content does mean that the episodic content that we are getting is of a diminished quality, and there are plenty of shows out there that would be more suited to individual episodes rather than a series spanning narrative.
For example, Star Trek has always found its strength in dedicating individual episodes or short arcs to deal with a certain ethical or philosophical question. In fact, that was the initial intention for the series – to create an allegory for modern problems and show how we would approach them in a principled and idyllic way.
Star Trek Discovery is, for the most part, a perfectly middling show, and in my opinion, this is because of the decision to focus on a single overarching plot. Discovery was at its best when it focused down on individual plot points or scenarios for isolated episodes, and it seems like a missed opportunity for the show to really get Star Trek right.
For the time being I’m mostly undecided on whether or not less episodic TV content is overall a bad thing, it certainly means that there is less utter pap on the telly, but I do worry that this tonal shift will mean that we have to say goodbye to high production value and high prominence episodic TV.