All of us have seen at least one movie and television show in our lives (except maybe if you’re Amish or something). We all have our own opinions on which format is better. Some say movies are better because they have fancier special effects. Others say television shows are better because they have better realized characters. In either case you’ll find that people tend to double-dip, watching movies and televisions shows in equal measure. I know I do.
Personally I have to say that I prefer television shows to movies usually. I’ve never been too big into the whole special effects business. I’ve been more of a character enthusiast for a long time, and characters are something that television shows do especially well. But the real question is, what do television shows do better and what do movies do better? For that, I decided to create a small list of categories to use. After each one, I will select a winner. There will be a tally at the end to see which format is superior (according to one person’s opinion anyways).
If you disagree, I hate you. Not really. Maybe…
Let’s start with one of the biggest differences between television shows and movies, the special effects. The winner here is pretty obvious. Movie budgets are often so much higher than the budget for a TV show, considering they pour all that money into only two hours of footage compared to how long some TV shows can run. This leads to television show special effects being noticeably lower grade than those in movies. Have you ever watched a TV show and thought “wow that just looks bad” or “that looks so fake”? Compare that to how many times you’ve said that during a movie, and you’ll see what I mean.
Look at Guardians of the Galaxy for instance. The special effects in that movie are top-notch. That final battle scene in the movie is gloriously crazy, with ships and explosions everywhere on-screen for a good ten minutes at least. You’d never see that in a television show. Which is not to say that TV CAN’T look good. Take HBO’s Game of Thrones. That show has some very impressive set design for a television show (I can’t speak much for the special effects because I don’t watch the show, but they look good from the brief bits I’ve seen). Even with that in mind though, the simple fact is that Hollywood has far deeper pockets than any television studio, and will probably always win out in the special effects department.
This is a hard one, because it is subjective in a lot of ways. A good character to me might not be a good character to somebody else. But there is one thing that I can say when it comes to television over movies. Television has a lot more time to build up a character than a movie does (seasons of a show compared to a couple of hours in a movie). I will say that when I think of my favorite characters, a lot more of them happen to be from TV shows rather than movies. For example, Walter Bishop from Fringe. His character is a spin-off of the mad scientist archetype. When Olivia Dunham finds him, he’s been sitting in a mental institution for the better part of two decades, which has left his mind in questionable condition. Over the five seasons of the show, Walter grows from being a goofy and at times angry man to being this amalgamation of self-loathing and love. He has one of the more complex personalities I’ve ever seen in a character, and you would be hard pressed to generate that same complexity with only a couple of hours on-screen.
And that’s really what it all comes down to for this category, time. TV shows have more time on their hands to develop a character. Movies have to balance moving the plot forward along with developing a character. TV shows can have standalone episodes that serve no other purpose other than to add depth to a character. In this way, television shows have much more character potential in them than movies do.
Now this one is probably the most difficult out of the ones I’ve chosen. There are so many different tastes when it comes to writing styles that it’s really hard to determine what’s better.
Take for example, the difference between western and eastern animated shows. Eastern animated shows (particularly anime shows) tend to have a much more over the top writing style, with crazy larger than life characters and fantastical plot points. Eastern animated shows are also usually much darker and more serious than their western counterparts. A lot of the animated programs in the west tend to be aimed towards children, which means that they’re much more lighthearted and silly. So how do you compare the two to determine which has “better” writing?
It’s the same for movies and television. They both have times where the writing is superb, and times where the writing is absolutely terrible. It’s really hard to choose a winner between the two, without just giving in to personal prejudices (I guess that’s kind of misleading, considering this entire post is based on my opinion).
If there was one thing I would have to choose that separated the two, it’s consistency of writing. It’s much easier for a movie to remain consistent in its writing than a television show, and it again has to do with time. Movies only have to fill up a couple of hours or so of time, whereas a TV show can run anywhere from a single season to upwards of ten (The Simpsons has been around for over twenty years, just to give you an example on the far end). So movies win out in this category, but only because it’s far easier for them to maintain better quality writing.
I suppose I could have filed this under writing, but screw it. I wanted another category damn it!
The thing with stories for the two formats is that television has much more time to flesh out a story than a movie does. Movies have to tell a complete story in two hours, with very little padding. Television shows on the other hand can get away with having padding because of how much time they have to fill. It is true that in recent years TV shows have gradually become more focused on being serialized dramas, and I will say that I find myself far more engrossed in those TV shows than I usually do with a movie. Battlestar Galactica (the 2000s sci-fi channel reboot specifically) is one of the most intense pieces of television I’ve ever watched. Seriously, if you haven’t watched it before I highly recommend it. It’s one of those shows with incredibly well-realized characters and surprisingly good special effects for the space battle scenes (the show revolves around a fleet of ships fleeing from their homes after all of humanity is nearly destroyed). It does things I think no movie could ever accomplish with only a couple of hours of screen time.
This is not to say that movies cannot tackle such complex characters. It is just far easier to do that in a television show because you can spread out the character development over time to make it more believable as well as introduce little nuances that can pop back up to add more depth. Not to mention the potential to do multiple intersecting character story arcs.
This is one where I think that television shows most definitely win out. I’ve bemoaned for a long time that movies have been rather unoriginal for some time (particularly when it comes to the horror genre). I mean television shows have their fair share of tropes, like how there’s about five million damn cop dramas out there. But when I look at shows like Fringe, American Horror Story, and Battlestar Galactica, I see shows that aren’t just based off of a book or some other form a literature and I see a work of fiction that isn’t quite like anything else out there. Sure, American Horror Story plays with the conventional tropes of the horror genre, but the stories it tells are far more demented than anything you would see otherwise. It actually makes me a little squeamish sometimes, which impresses me because of how many horror shows and movies I’ve watched, as well as how many horror games I’ve played. I’ve seen fathers murder their sons. I’ve seen people brutally dismembered. I’ve seen enough gore to last me several lifetimes. So it’s a surprise to me when I find something that actually puts me a little on edge.
Horror in movies has become so obsessed with demons and demonic possessions that I can’t even consider this category a contest. Television wins man, just straight up wins.
You might accuse me of being one-sided on this, and you’re probably right. I just wanted to take a closer look at what separates out movies and television shows. And hey, they were close there. Television only won out by one category. So the final tally is television 3, movies 2.
Both formats have their merits and demerits. I prefer television shows as a personal preference, but movies still hold a great fascination for me as well. Also explosions. Lots of explosions.
Well that’s all I have for this week. Tune in next week for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week everybody.