A decade ago a consensus began to emerge that cable and streaming were delivering much better material than mainstream commercial cinema, for reasons we’re all familiar with. That understanding is doctrine now. Exceptions aside, megaplex fare is mostly for the downmarket masses and the family trade, and cable and streaming is mostly for 25-plus, settled-in types who’ve booked some life experience and are saddled with a smidgen of taste.
One of my most satisfying viewing experiences of 2017 was David Fincher’s Mindhunter series on Netflix, and this year one of my hands-down favorites was David Hare and Carey Mulligan‘s Collateral, a British miniseries that’s also on Netflix. The only 2018 theatrical features that’ve measured up to these have been Paul Schrader‘s First Reformed, Ari Aster‘s Hereditary, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Cold War, Lynne Ramsay‘s You Were Never Really Here and John Krasinski‘s A Quiet Place.
The thing about cable and streaming fare, of course, is that
much most much of it is longform. Obviously HBO, Netflix, Showtime and Hulu are continuing to invest in stand-alone features, but longform appears to be gaining significant ground, certainly among Millennials, GenYs and younger GenXers. Meanwhile the art of delivering a powerful, well-honed one-off — strong characters, a thought-out story, a resonant theme and a satisfying resolution within 90 to 150 minutes — seems to be falling away, certainly in terms of theatrical and to an increasing extent in the cable-streaming arena. Things have changed a helluva lot since The Sopranos popped 19 years ago.
But what about the one-off? It was the only game in town in live-performance theatres for over 2500 years, going back to the days of ancient Greek classics. It was the only game in town in cinemas during the 20th Century. It was mostly the only game in town for the first eight to ten years of the 21st Century. But within the last decade it’s been losing ground, and now — only since 2008 or 2010 or thereabouts — it’s actually starting to be spoken of as a form that’s losing its grip on the culture and may one day be relegated to second-tier status. Less essential, losing ground, pushed aside…maybe.
HE to Younger, Present-Day Viewers: How does it feel to be the first generation, and I mean after 2500 years of serious dramatic endeavor (Sophocles, Billy Wilder, Euripides, Harold Pinter, Shakespeare, Jane Campion, Eugene O’Neill, Oscar Wilde, Diablo Cody, Arthur Miller, Tony Kushner, Paul Schrader, Tom Stoppard, Elaine May, Quentin Tarantino, David Hare, Christophe Marlowe, Aristophanes, August Strindberg, Woody Allen, Paddy Chayefsky, Greta Gerwig)…how does it feel to be the first generation to say “ehhh, maybe not so much” to the concept of the stand-alone drama or comedy?
It’s a lot harder to deliver the goods within a condensed two-hours-and-out format than if you have, say, eight or ten or twelve hours to fiddle with. I would also argue that it’s much more satisfying to experience a seismic two-hour film or play than a “whoa!”-level longform. But that’s me.