Why I’m not Watching The Flash (or “How Network TV Shows Have Lost Their Glory”)

Is anyone out there watching The Flash? I feel like I should be but I just can’t get into it for one good reason: I HATE monster of the week shows. Can’t stand them. It’s why I couldn’t get into Smallville. Same reason why I checked out of Arrow even though I’ve been told one of my favorite actors John Barrowman is the villain.

I’m probably going to start watching it because I think they’ll be introducing the Reverse-Flash soon. But the few episodes to which I’ve tuned in (my wife watches it religiously so she’ll tell me when Reverse Flash shows up). It looks like he might actually be showing up this Tuesday, at least from a teaser poster that was released:

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And I’ll be honest: The Reverse Flash looks pretty epic. I’ll definitely be tuning in to see that. But what kills The Flash for me, and what kills pretty much every show like it on network television right now, is the format.

“Monster of the Week” is the Lowest Bar for Television Writing

Its why I stopped watching The X-Files. Its why I stopped watching Marvel’s Agents of Shield, its why Dollhouse wasn’t good until the latter half of the second season: Monster of the week format is just bad writing.

Monster of the week format is designed so that viewers won’t be lost when they pick the show up in the middle. I get that. And in the 90’s, back when you had to wait until the network condescended to show a re-run or when the season came out on VHS there wasn’t anything you could really do about that problem.

A serial based show (like Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones) needs to be watched in order for you to really understand what’s going on. Come in during the middle of the series and you’ll be lost most of the time, and honestly you won’t want to finish watching the show if you’re lost. That’s not happening with The Flash. I already know the premise (and I LOVE the fact that they introduced The Reverse Flash in the pilot, think the yellow and red flashes and then read the comics). I’ve skipped about 3/4 of the episodes and each time I sit down with my wife I am not lost at all. Barry is super fast, he needs to stop this villain. I get it.

But the issue is that I don’t care about the monster of the week. It doesn’t have a lasting imprint on the storyline most of the time (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is an exception) and so I don’t really care what happens at the end of the episode.

Network Television Needs to Drop the 26 Episode Format

If you take a look at the best television shows across all formats (Network, Basic and Premium Cable, Netflix) you’ll see one thing: all of the absolute best shows (Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Sons of Anarchy) are typically between 10 and 13 episodes.
The 13-episode format makes writing easier. You can have one big bad, one single story arch, and you can have the entire season planned out before filming begins. Not so with the 26-episode format. Most of the time the series is split into two blocks of 13 episodes anyway with a mid-season finale that half of the time concludes a storyline and the other half of the time leaves us on a major cliffhanger. But most shows in this category tend to fill in storyline episodes with monster of the week episodes to, and lets be honest, fill up space.
What this does is degrade what might be a great series by diluting it with sub-par episodes to fill out the episode schedule.

One Show that Did it Right

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Marvel’s Agent Carter only had an eight episode run (down from 13). Granted, this was a mid-season replacement, designed to air during the mid-season break of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. In addition, apparently five episodes were axed by ABC before production began. Still, the show was great for one reason:

It didn’t try to stretch eight or 13 episodes worth of story into 26 episodes of show. The writers knew that the show would be short, and planned for a storyline from beginning to conclusion in those eight episodes.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the elephant in the room. Agent Carter’s portrayal of sexism is about as subtle as an elephant. Which is fine, this is a super-hero show, I’m not holding it up to the same level as The King’s Speech or Crash here. But I would have liked at least some of the sexist portrayals in the show be under the surface rather than shoved in your face. Not that it’s bad in its portrayal of feminism, its just not the feminist masterpiece some reviewers are calling it. That being said, it’s also not the travesty of feminism that it’s being portrayed as by some other reviewers. Further reading on the subject via Screen Rant and Slate. The basic take away here, on the issue of feminism, is that it’s not bad.

The Solution?

Getting back to the subject at hand, what is the solution? Because I see only two options. The first is that the real content producers, Basic and Premium Cable as well as web-based distributors, continue making the great content, while the network channels continue churning out barely passable television.

The other option is that Network Television gets rid of the 26-episode season standard and starts making seasons as long as they need to be to tell their story. Give the writers some breathing room to tell their story at their pace without having to spread it so thin across 26 48-minute long intervals that it becomes a diluted wash of monster of the week shows mixed in with about five minutes of important storyline to keep people interested.

And honestly, if network television doesn’t switch to the latter, then I’m not sure what the future of network TV will be. It certainly won’t be creating anymore great television shows until it fixes this problem.

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Christopher James

Christopher James

The Founder of TPK Media.

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