You have to deal with people who don’t know what they’re talking about talk about how your films should be shorter. These suits and wannabe suits look at data and point at graphs and say that some arbitrary number is the optimal time for this type of movie to be. For some reason, to them, the actual story you’re telling isn’t the focus, but instead it’s this joke of a clock we let run our lives. This fallacy needs to get a grip and go straight to hell.
Even in this age of streaming where length is no longer dependent on ads and whatnot, still there is a constant refusal to slow it down, especially when it matters most. I can’t tell if it’s the studios pushing for what they know will work, the capitulating showrunners weary to veer too far from plot-advancing structure, or the consumers whose attention spans have actually disintegrated at the hand of overstimulation and infinite choice. Either way, someones need to take a stand and adopt a leisurely attitude when it comes to the pacing of a show that will be most effective if it were to take its sweet time advancing the everything. Longer build-ups lead to bigger payoffs, and sitting for a minute in a deliberate unchanging affords the fictional world a chance to breathe, to explore the various states they’ve created.
I know it is on one of the big boy networks, where they’re a little more set in their ways, but I’ll still start with Last Man on Earth, since they went ahead and encouraged this exact criticism by giving it that title. The first episode is about how an unusual man, rightfully living as if he’s the only remaining human on the planet, navigates his post-apocalyptic environment. The ways the character fends off loneliness, his survival techniques, the joy he finds in what’s left for him – it’s all left partially examined, since he discovers another person alive. In the first episode. Of a show called Last Man on Earth. Even by the third episode, a third person joins the cast, and before any time at all it’s an ensemble sitcom whose premise is almost secondary.
We should have had the opportunity to learn more about Phil, and his solo experience, in order to fully appreciate him and how he handles himself when the others are found. The entire first season should have contained only Phil, and his group of faceful ball friends who give him a reason to talk out loud and enlighten the viewers with his thoughts. Then, in the very last scene of the season, Carol could be introduced. All of Season 2 could have centred around the two of them figuring out how to live together with no one else in the world, as the show steers towards a strange yet necessary relationship. Then in Season 3 it can bring in whoever the hell it wants – by that time Phil and Carol will have solidified anything that comes after. Will Forte should have been trusted, and Kristen Schaal as well, to carry the show for the first two years. They really could have, and I’d like to think the audience would be there with them. The show is good, sure, but it could have been really special.
Then there’s People of Earth, which is on TBS, who actually demonstrated a few times they’re up for something innovative and ambitious enough to slow itself down. The first half of the first season could have focussed solely on the alien abductee support group, in a world similar to our own. The viewers might have considered that the supposed abductees were mistaken in their claims, which would make them more relatable and complex. The reveal in the first episode, that the aliens are real, is too early and immediately removes any doubts of this. Then the second half of the season could have only shown the aliens, on their spaceship, without their lives ever intertwining with the titular characters. Learning more about the aliens, their motivations and how they interact, would make them more intriguing. Only at the very end of the season, when both factions were sufficiently developed and we felt a real connection with each, could their narratives come together in a meaningful way. This sets up the second season’s arc and keeps the plot lines from growing tired.
I want to see a show have enough confidence in itself to not even introduce the principals until the world is properly established. There could be a group of people stuck in a church basement, discussing the apocalyptic situation happening outside and how they can get through it together. We learn their stories and start caring about each of them, hoping they can make it through the ordeal as long as they can stick together and rely on one another for support and guidance. Then, at the end of the episode, the church gets stormed a group of people carrying guns who kill everyone inside, the people we just connected with. This new group is part of some cult and has understandable reasons for doing what they do, as we will later discover. These are the actual main characters, and the show will have to win us back. Once this is done successfully, we’ll be fully invested in this world. The title of the show will reflect their situation and also be the same as the name of the cult – The Last People of Earth.