TV Club

How many episodes is the right length for a TV season?

How many episodes is the right length for a TV season?   

BoJack Horseman, Catastrophe, and Jessica Jones.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos courtesy of Netflix and Amazon.

Hi friends,

Willa and Alan have already cited many of my favorite performances, so I’ll cosign just about all of them and throw in a few more:

Harry Connick Jr. is an excellent judge on American Idol, and while the season didn’t go the way anyone could credibly have wanted, I was utterly taken with his judging in the early audition rounds. Teyana Taylor on America’s Best Dance Crew was probably the best reality judge of the year, though. Get her more gigs, please! Steve Zissis wowed me on Togetherness, though I agree with most of Willa’s beefs with the show in general. Alex Karpovsky on Girls. Mark Rylance in Wolf Hall. I love Mara Schrader’s performance on Deutschland 83. (Special shout-out to the costuming department on that show.) Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper are my favorite parts of The Daily Show. Lisa Kudrow’s voice work on BoJack Horseman stood out even against other strong performances. I don’t know if the actors on Quantico make their own choices about eyebrow grooming and maintenance, or if the show’s hair and makeup department make an executive, show-wide decision, but that show has some really enchanting brows. Oh, and two composers stand out this year for me: Bear McCreary for Outlander and Max Richter for The Leftovers.

But we’re not just here to sing praises. Let’s air grievances, too: Framework, a reality contest show for furniture designers, was a notable disaster, and Ellen’s Design Challenge was barely better. I would still love to watch a furniture and product-design show—just one with better challenges, better judges, a clearer sense of its own identity. (Follow the Face Off model, friends.)

On my ban list: plotlines about how competitive nursery school admissions are; stories where women in their early 40s are completely unfamiliar with and appalled by the idea of genital waxing; anything where a sad, dickish white guy can’t find a woman who will tolerate his terribleness and we are meant to feel sorry for him; anything where a new dad is sad about not having as much sex as he wants; shows where teenage girlhood is vilified; Ryan Murphy’s brand of “ironic” racism and ableism; sitcoms that rely on a child saying something inappropriate or overly precocious; people on House Hunters International claiming they’ll need space “to entertain.” I think maybe Fred Armisen has enough TV shows now? I wish Adult Swim wouldn’t make cartoons about convicted rapists. I wish the contestants on Shark Tank were less stilted and punny. I’m tired of really awful ADR.

Looking ahead, I’m most curious about how season lengths will continue to develop. Once upon a time, shows ran 35 episodes a season on network—now that’s down to usually around 22. We’re seeing cable seasons shrink from 13 to 10, and British imports like Catastrophe clock in at only 6. Obviously there’s no one right length for a season, and while I typically prefer more episodes to fewer, shows like Jessica Jones convinced me that even 13 might still be too many for some stories. (That show had … maybe nine episodes worth of juice.) I’m thrilled to see so many shows toy with season length, and most of my new favorites this year had around a dozen episodes in their seasons. But! I still like a good long network season, and I still like the longer-term investments that come with watching a show for more than half the year. More episodes of better shows, more often! More, more, more! Like I said in Round 1, I’m TV greedy.


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