Critic compares quality and appeal of current TV shows and movies

A.O. Scott, film critic for the New York Times, compares the television and movie industries. He seems to suggest that television, particularly in light of a poor summer movie season, has pulled ahead in creativity and captivating its audience:

The salient question is this: Will any of the movies surfacing this fall provoke the kind of conversation that television series routinely do, breaking beyond niches into something larger? This bad summer movie season, in what seems to be one of the best television years ever, reinforces a suspicion that has been brewing for some time. Television, a business with its own troubles, is nonetheless able to inspire loyal devotion among viewers, to sustain virtual water-cooler rehashes on dozens of Web sites and to hold a fun-house mirror up to reality as movies rarely do.

Look back over the past decade. How many films have approached the moral complexity and sociological density of “The Sopranos” or “The Wire”? Engaged recent American history with the verve and insight of “Mad Men”? Turned indeterminacy and ambiguity into high entertainment with the conviction of “Lost”? Addressed modern families with the sharp humor and sly warmth of “Modern Family”? Look at “Glee,” and then try to think of any big-screen teen comedy or musical — or, for that matter, movie set in Ohio — that manages to be so madly satirical with so little mean-spiritedness.

I swear, I’m not trying to horn in on my colleagues’ territory. But the traditional relationship between film and television has reversed, as American movies have become conservative and cautious, while scripted series, on both broadcast networks and cable, are often more daring, topical and willing to risk giving offense.

One wonders what has happened with both the television and movie industries to lead to this outcome. This could be just a temporary blip (maybe just a spurt in creativity in television shows?) or perhaps it signals something that will last longer.

A quick thought: a number of the TV shows that Scott mentions as noteworthy are ones that take advantage the extra time that television shows have to tell their stories. Even the best movie can only go on for so long and with most clocking in at two hours or under, writers and directors are limited in what can be conveyed. Story arcs are important to these superior television shows and viewers can invest more time (which leads to more conversations, deeper attachments, more money to be made in advertising, etc.).

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