For this article I tried to conduct an experiment. The guinea pig: me. Objective: to understand if the new way of consuming what was once called “television” has changed me. So I decided to watch some of my favorite series as I would have watched them decades ago. One episode a week. Same day of the week. At the same time. Without the possibility of interrupting the flow even to go to the kitchen to turn off the water for the herbal tea. Result: I didn’t succeed. Watching television before the digital revolution was a pretty definite activity. You had to be at home and watch what was going on in the schedule. If you were out eating pizza, amen. For instance. In the 80s, on the evening of the episode of Dallas in which millions of viewers would have discovered that Bobby Ewing had died yes but in a dream, so he was alive (a narrative twist a bit like the resurrection of Jon Snow in the Game of Thrones), that’s if that evening, instead of being in front of the television, you were on the phone you would not have known anything. Other than fighting spoilers and spoilers. You would have asked for it on your knees, a spoiler. Because there was no way to retrieve the episode, no system to return the images of those exact ten minutes in which you were, in fact, on the phone. Fixed. In the next room.
Following the serial series in the 1980s, at least until VCRs became commonplace, was a feat for the obsessed, willing not to move from the sofa. Among other things, VCRs were used a lot to record movies, much less for series. Because they did not enjoy great respect. They called each other in an undifferentiated and imprecise way dramas, telefilms, soap operas, soap operas. Great was the semantic confusion under the sky. David Lynch in the early 90’s invented Twin Peaks, the most postmodern of the series. Without Twin Peaks we would not have had half of those titles that we have seen in this Millennium, since Lost to Stranger Things. We would not even have had the phenomenon known as “prestige tv”, which stands for: film-quality directors (screenwriters, actors) who measure themselves against television. Today the opposite is happening more and more often. The cinema in the hall is dying and asks for help from the stars of the new star system created by the series. Who would have thought it in the days of Sopranos that television would become a cultural reference? Who would have imagined that Jon Hamm, the protagonist of Mad Men would end up in the cast of Top Gun: Maverickthe only major international grossing of post-pandemic cinema?
In recent months it is rumored that one of the candidates to become the next James Bond would be Regé-Jean Page, the sexy Duke of Bridgerton. It probably won’t happen, but in the meantime his fame precedes him. And also the third series of Bridgerton will arrive in early 2023. At the time of Dallas we weren’t as cultured on television as we are today. We know what a docuseries, a miniseries, a spin-off, a reboot are. Above all he knows the algorithm of the different platforms that pursues us with perfect proposals for us, according to him. I’m scared of Netflix’s “surprise me” feature, which is supposed to shuffle the cards. I only used it once, always on an experimental basis for this article. The algorithm always knows too much, for example it knows my penchant for real estate porn type Selling Sunset and in fact he proposes to me Designing Miami. Or maybe he knows too little. Every now and then someone points out to me Swedish series and French documentaries that the algorithm has promptly hidden from me but I will never know why.
Platforms proliferate. The latest arrival in Italy is Paramount +, which has an exclusive, for example, an excellent series entitled The Offerwhich tells the story of how it was made The Godfather, a 1972 film. The cinema is dead (or at least it doesn’t feel very well) but it is revived through the series. Many cult films of the more or less recent past have become or are about to become series. On Prime Video you can see one titled Winning girls, which extends the broth on eight episodes of a 1992 film with Tom Hanks and Madonna. Also on Prime Video came the first of what promises to be a long series of seasons of Lord of the Rings which in its own way was already a series: three films. On Sky you can still see Irma Vep (and I highly recommend it) by French director Olivier Assayas: here the leap into the metacinema is total. Irma Vep it was a film by Assayas himself and tells of a director commissioned to make a series based on an old film of his. It’s not over. In the next season we expect the serial reboot of classics such as American Gigolo And Interview with the vampirerespectively based on films of 1980 and 1982.
It’s coming to Netflix Wednesdayor a spin-off of Addams family. The characters, created by Charles Addams in 1938, have already produced two telefilms, two animated series and three films in the past. The goal is to engage as wide an audience as possible: the elderly, who already know the material, and the very young who will meet it for the first time. In 2019 a certain Morgan Cooper, born in 1992, posted on YouTube the fake trailer of a film inspired by Willy, the Prince of Bel-Air, the sitcom that launched Will Smith in the 1990s. Smith saw her, met Cooper and told him he was interested in producing the reboot, obviously with a young actor, newcomer Jabari Banks. No sooner said than done. On February 13, 2022, the new Bel Air aired on Peacock, visible from us on Sky. Peacock is the streaming and on demand channel of the Nbc network. Nbc is the network that broadcast the original in the nineties Prince of Bel Air, which means he owns the rights to the characters and the title, making things a lot easier and saving production. So: let’s expect more and more of this type of operation. Nostalgia pays off a lot. There are few really new things proposed by the schedules. One of these, destined for generation Z, is The Idol with Lily Rose Depp. The daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis plays a young star à la Miley Cyrus. Around it is all sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, reckless life, Hollywood and strange sects. Who knows who doesn’t become the new one Euphoria, after all the author Sam Levinson is the same. Co-author and male protagonist is Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd.
Also expected some great returns of successful series but with a renewed cast. It is the case of The White Lotus (Sky): very bad and unfair, in the first season it was set in a resort in Hawaii, this time in a luxury hotel in Sicily. Among the performers also Sabrina Impacciatore. But the most awaited recovery of all is that of The Crown, the Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth. Each season is dedicated to a decade of her reign. The fifth will be available in November, with a completely renewed cast. It will tell about one of the most complex and dramatic periods: from the end of the 80s to the death of Princess Diana, in 1997, with all that it entailed. Imelda Staunton is Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Debicki is Diana, Dominic West is Prince Charles and Jonathan Pryce her father Philip.
As Ted Sarandos, the great head of Netflix, often repeats: “Our main competitor is sleep.” It happened to the best and the best of us: don’t go to sleep while there’s still an episode to watch. According to research from Netflix, the average viewer sees two to six episodes of a series in one round. I don’t know if we will waste our nights chasing the bad things that happened at the court of England.
One thing is certain: “binge watching” is what has changed our television experience the most. The business model of the platforms relies heavily on the drive to “continue” and creates addiction. According to some directors and screenwriters, this is also affecting their work. As Gabriele Muccino told me (the second season of his At home everyone is fine is coming in 2023 on Sky and streaming on Now), “If a series is successful, the third act must never arrive”. Translated from the jargon of the writers: the more episodes you want and have to produce, the more you have to postpone the closing of the events of the different characters. Each episode and each season are forced to leave something pending, in an infinite potential narrative. Fatally, the result is not always positive. I think for example of Big Little Lies. They make the miniseries based on a novel which, as such, ends. Star cast, quality director, compelling script. It’s the perfect product, in fact it’s great. It is decided to make a sequel, asking the author of the original novel to write it. The outcome is weak, despite the inclusion in the cast of Meryl Streep, alongside Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon.
This, in the end, is the paradox of the serial narrative: if the product works it must be sent forward, the more it is sent forward the more it risks crumbling. All this does not prevent them from continuing to produce series inspired by books, on the contrary. The platforms are constantly looking for titles, better if already established, awarded. In the last year the number of series and films “taken from” have exceeded those on original material. Production companies hire consultants from the world of books to help them find the next one Brilliant friend or brush up The chess queen, novel by an old author forgotten until the day Netflix produced the series, one of the biggest hits during the 2020 lockdowns. Perhaps, whether they are based on existing novels or not, certain series are the new literature. They are our door to different worlds, they are consolation and provocation. Like the books in the last century. The day will come when the showrunner of a series wins the Nobel. We will not be surprised, as we were not surprised when Bob Dylan won it.