One hour dramas, or the half hour sitcom

Houston McLauryOpinions Columnist 

Over these last few weeks, with the release of “The Last of Us,” on HBO Max and its subsequent success in capturing the American audience, I have been forced to ask myself one question: why are the episodes so long? The first episode of the series, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” was 81 minutes alone. That’s just shy of the 90-minute marker, nearly the duration of a feature-length film. The other episodes, most of them going about an hour in run-time, do seem more reasonable, but it begs the question- why do these episodes need to be so long? I believe that the length of these long-form drama series is better for the average college student since it allows for a rich story for people to sink their teeth into, and dissuades the epidemic of binge-watching. Meanwhile, the casual sitcom, while funny, only allows for short bursts of laughs and relaxation, and encourages the binge-watching epidemic through these short episodes. 

First, one must look at the content of these TV shows when considering their enjoyment. As with most long-form dramas, such as “The Last of Us,” “Breaking Bad,” or ”Chernobyl,” there is a draw to the stories that are being told. Complex stories, driven by character, with each episode changing and having consequences because of the previous episode. This creates tension and allows the audience to care about what happens in these shows, which makes them invested in the story of the characters. This drive of story, and intrigue drawn from the audience, is what makes the long-form drama series worth watching.

That doesn’t mean that all long-form dramas are built the same. Some, like “House M.D.”, or “9-1-1” often have a longer plot that spans multiple episodes. And while these relationships and stories are told over these episodes, it’s a much more episodic story, either dealing with medical issues in the case of “House M.D.”, or the strange calls in “9-1-1”. Where these shows shine, as with the sitcoms, is that the audience can put on any episode and would be able to follow the plot of the show. Very few explanations would be needed for current plot points, and unlike shows like “Breaking Bad”, where one must start at episode one, these shows allow easy viewership for anybody willing to watch. 

But compare this to the average sitcom, such as “Friends” or “Seinfeld”. The audience can still put on any episode without the prior context of the show, and there would be little to no story lost on the audience. The sitcom suffers from the idea that the characters don’t change, that they don’t grow, as seen in the beginning and end of Seinfeld. In both the first and final episodes, the characters have the exact same conversation, showing that there was no growth over the series. They remained the same people, unchanged by the stories they endured. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be comfort or intrigue in the story because of this. Comfort can surface from the fact that little to nothing changes for these characters in an ever-changing world of our own where there is something new happening each day, with relationships constantly changing. In the sitcom, nothing changes, and that can be comforting in its own special way. And as for intrigue in a story, the animated sitcom “Bojack Horseman” has gained massive amounts of popularity for its deconstruction of the titular character, capturing the eyes of audiences all across America. While there may be comfort in the never-changing aspect of sitcoms, and a few exceptions to the story can arise, most sitcoms suffer from the fact that there is no story tying each episode together.

There is then the final problem of binge-watching episodes, the worst plague that can befall a studious college student. Binge-watching is the idea of watching multiple episodes of a show in one sitting. For me, this is the worst affliction that thirty-minute TV shows have done for me, sometimes crossing over to long dramas. The most notable time this happened for me was when the first season of “Stranger Things,” was released. One night in the summer, I spent the entire night watching the entire season. In college, I can fall into binge-watching really easily with shorter TV shows, but in long drama shows, I am less inclined to fall into that endless pit of episodic entertainment. 

For me, the overall story of a TV show is what makes it so special, and since I am in college, I cannot spend hours in my room watching fifty episodes of thirty-minute sitcoms. In this way, the long-form drama is better than the half-hour sitcom. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *