10.10.2016
culture

Your TV Pulled Its Head Out of Its Ass, and ‘Fleabag’ Happened

Best show ever.

If you haven’t watched Amazon Prime’s Fleabag yet, you’re missing out. It’s one of those shows that is heartbreaking, clever, incredibly funny, and perfect. It’s sort of like Bridget Jones’s Diary in that it’s a cute British girl fucking dudes and being quirky, except Fleabag takes a lot of real dark turns and focuses on fucked-up families, feminism, addiction, tragedy, and grief. Let’s just say, it’s not so light-hearted, but in a very powerful and worthy way, and also thoroughly hilarious.

Beyond its critical success, (hey, 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), there’s something really special about the format of this show. It’s on the cusp of a new (and great) trend in television: It's meant to be watched like a limited series show, meaning that it was written as a complete, six-part special, that wraps itself up nicely by the end of the season.

Amazon Prime has yet to renew Fleabag, leaving some fans annoyed and worried. But if we're on board with this new type of TV watching, maybe this was meant to be six episodes, as one complete piece, and we can be satisfied with that. Like, one long, perfect movie with breaks.

Perhaps one reason Fleabag is the perfect candidate for a short, one-season crowd pleaser is that it is adapted from main character Phoebe Waller-Bridge's 2013 one-woman play that won the Edinburgh Fringe First Award.

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But this new limited-series, self-contained format is happening a lot more than before, maybe because now it doesn’t matter where our good TV comes from, so long as it comes. Many streaming outlets (a/k/a not big networks) are taking chances on shows that don’t run the traditional format, the tradition where each series ends on a cliffhanger for the next season.

What if TV shows could simply be anything entertaining, regardless of length and duration? Well, it’s happening all around us.

Woody Allen’s 21st century TV debut comes in this same self-contained, one-season format. His Crisis in Six Scenes is exactly that—a story of a crisis (or at least Allen's sometimes silly version of that) in a stand-alone six-episode TV series for Amazon. And with or without the Woody Allen name, it seems services like Amazon are happy to try out new kinds of experimental formats, including this long-movie kind of thing. Sure, Allen’s fanbase and his critical success on movies are part of the draw, but the idea that television is changing, becoming more flexible with content, medium, and form, seems to be the way of the future.

On November 25, Netflix will release it’s four-part series of Glimore Girls. That’s it, that’s all—four glorious hours to catch up with Lorelai and Rory. Plenty of one-season network shows have been cancelled for mostly stupid business reasons, and a lot of those shows live on in memory as being too smart for the time and format. There’s My So Called Life, Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, The Ben Stiller Show, and more. Their cult followings have been a long time in opening TV execs to the idea that success doesn’t necessarily mean aspiring to a  six-to-ten seasons run.

Throw away your ancient expectations, you’ll be fine and dandy.

What if TV shows could simply be anything entertaining, regardless of length and duration? Well, it’s happening all around us.

Another critically-acclaimed non-network show, James Franco’s x Hulu’s, 11.22.63, was intended also to be a one-shot kinda mini series dedicated to the day when a high-school teacher (Franco) travels back in time to prevent John F. Kennedy's assassination. One interesting aspect was the absence of time limits per episode. The first episode ran at 1 hour and 21 minutes—the length of a short movie itself.

Because these shows are ditching network TV, less rules and boundaries keep them locked into traditional TV show expectations. There’s now a lot more room to make TV great by making it in any format the story dictates.

Fleabag doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. If anything, it expires on a fucked-up glimmer of hope. It’s very possible that the show could go on forever, if you ask me. I really did love it that much, and could see it continuing on because, like all good TV, the characters are what I’m invested in. With good writing, why couldn’t the life story continue on with Fleabag herself? But there’s something neat and tidy about an intentional one-season show, meant to be devoured with tears and laughter and finality, with an ending that feels right and good.

As long as you can expand your TV-viewing mind and throw away your ancient expectations, you’ll be fine and dandy with the ever increasing closed-ended format shows. Promise. 

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