By: Alexa Young
Is television truly worth watching if it cannot be done slowly? In the 2012 A.V. Club article, “In Defense of Slow TV,” Todd VanDerWerff defends slow TV, the art of watching television traditionally, typically on a week-by-week basis. As television has become more easily accessible through sources such as the Internet and TV on demand, slow television is beginning to fall off of the radar. From a lifetime of slow TV watching, VanDerWerff defends its role as “the way television is supposed to be watched.” This method of spreading out television episodes within a series highlights the luxury of time that is ultimately one of television’s most valuable facets. Essentially, it provides the viewer with the ability to savor the details of character and plot development, especially regarding serialized television. This essay summarizes VanDerWerff’s stance in defense of slow TV as it applies to the situational comedy How I Met Your Mother, as well as examines my personal viewing experience of How I Met Your Mother as it applies to his argument.
Slow TV, as VanDerWerff describes it, is an approach to television-watching in which the viewer sees the episodes as they are presented to the public, generally on a week-by-week basis—the slower method. VanDerWerff’s belief is that, by spreading out episodes of a series, you will watch the show the way that it was intended to be watched. When a viewer jumps into a TV show headfirst by watching back-to-back episodes in a marathon session, they lose the ability to savor the details littered throughout the series, and resort to focusing on the season-long momentum without full engagement. VanDerWerff refers specifically to the highly serial television program Breaking Bad to suggest that the way that television is watched can alter the way that a show is perceived. Normally a slow-moving program, Breaking Bad becomes some sort of a high-stakes thriller full of twists and violence when watched back-to-back. He suggests that when watched in this new manner, the moments that would otherwise be character development are misinterpreted and recognized solely as minor incidents that occur between the “important stuff.” Although watching television at a slower pace might trigger frustration, VanDerWerff recognizes the surpassing importance of time to allow for reflection of the show’s messages, as well as of the characters and their situations. Although How I Met Your Mother’s episodic nature deviates from most of VanDerWerff’s main points, the show also contains many elements of serial television, allowing for fair application of VanDerWerff’s theories regarding and supporting slow TV.
For the most part, I agree with VanDerWerff’s stance on slow TV—the luxury of time gives way to slow-motion character and plot development, two of the most significant yet overlooked rudiments of televised storytelling. However, in the case of How I Met Your Mother, and I am genuinely split on the matter of slow TV, versus watching television in a “cramming, “ or “binging” manner. The reason for this is not because I disagree with any points that VanDerWerff makes in defense of slow TV, but because of the type of show that How I Met Your Mother is—an episodic sitcom. In the 2010 A.V. Club Article, “How has the culture of TV (and TV-watching) changed?,” Scott Tobias and Noel Murray defend serial and episodic television, respectively. In their article, a serial show is classified as one that “has storylines and character arcs that develop gradually as the show progresses.” An episodic program, on the other hand, is “more like a short story than a novel—any issues of plot are resolved by the end of the episode.” The episodic nature of How I Met Your Mother lends itself away from slow TV, primarily because it is much more difficult to see the attention and detail given to individual episodes of the series. For that reason, I find difficulty in defending slow TV when it is viewed from an episodic standpoint. A major benefit to viewing a block of episodes in quick succession is that it allows you to get a better grasp of the show as a cohesive whole. Furthermore, if How I Met Your Mother were watched back-to-back, the viewer could much more easily remember the minute happenings, whereas if the gap of time between episodes were increased, there would be a tendency to recall only the biggest plot details—enough to follow along, but the intricacies would fade.
Despite the fact that How I Met Your Mother is characterized as an episodic television show, serial aspects such as inside jokes and development of character relationships enable the defense of slow TV. In the way that binge-watching might allow a watcher to remember more minute details from episode to episode, it may also leave the watcher missing much of the detail and references that would otherwise be noticed, simply because of an eagerness to move on. When there is less regard for the fun and necessary elements within a show, but more focus on the season-long momentum, engaging in the program cannot be achieved to the same extent. Any time that something is watched in manner other than that which it was intended, it loses something.
The way that television is watched is not only personal choice, but also an expression. VanDerWerff’s fondness of slow television is something that can be articulated and appreciated in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, particularly in regards to its more serial characteristics. There is no distinction between a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to watch television, but despite the fun and short-lived exhilaration that emanates when binge-watching, the richness and traditionalism that comes from slow TV is something that cannot be surpassed.
- VanDerWerff, Todd. “In Defense of Slow TV.” · For Our Consideration · The A.V. Club. TheOnion, 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.avclub.com/article/in-defense-of-slow-tv-68187>.
- Tobias, Scott, and Noel Murray. “How Has the Culture of TV (and TV-watching) Changed?” Web log post. The A.V. Club. 18 June 2010. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.