Right now, you can fire up your phone, computer, 4k television or seven other things with screens to binge upon amazing movies and television shows that make the classics of the ’70s and ’80s look like high school art projects.
The list of viewing choices is incredible: WESTWORLD, a Marvel superhero movie every time you sneeze, THE WALKING DEAD, a new STAR WARS movie once a year, GAME OF THRONES, BREAKING BAD, BROADCHURCH and the SHERLOCK series starring Khan/Dr. Strange and his hobbit friend.
It’s an embarrassment of quality. And meta-story is the key reason why.
Because it’s not just the quality of special effects, sets and acting at work here. It’s how well that meta-story is told that affects whether you (a) stay up until 3 a.m. binging the entire series or (b) keep flipping through shows and movies before you give up and watch YouTube clips of animals being bros.
I can’t remember any TV shows or movies back in the day that told a fully story, start to finish, with a concrete end to the series, except for the original three STAR WARS movies. (Note: the prequels are dead to me.)
Back in the ‘80s, the shows I watched and loved had the same hero and sidekicks and a Villain of the Week, unless it was a sitcom.
A-TEAM, REMINGTON STEELE, AIRWOLF – all these shows you could watch in any order, unlike the meta-stories of today, where if you miss 15 minutes, you might get lost.
It seemed pretty clear that showrunners back then were content to keep making new seasons until the ratings went south.
They kept going until the network ended the money train, which was reflected in the sudden demise of most TV shows where loose ends tended to stay loose.
So where are the new giants of meta-storytelling doing it right, and where are they tripping up?
Week 1—GAME OF THRONES vs THE WALKING DEAD vs WESTWORLD
All three of these are sprawling adventures with ensemble casts and no clear hero or villain.
But they are true meta stories. There’s nothing episodic about either show. Things constantly change and both are building up to a climax versus the old model of “petering out when they cancel us.”
A big strength for all three? Constant surprises. Anybody might die in any episode, except for Rick Grimes, who never dies for some reason, while Westworld reserves the resurrect any character as a robot and Game of Thrones can’t part with Captain Good Hair Who Lives Among the Snow.
All three series are full of deadly betrayal and high stakes. There are no cartoonish white hats and black hats. Each character tends to be a little good and a lot of bad.
You also don’t have to find a new job if your big star, the hero, decides to leave the series to try movies, or gets drunk and slams his Rolls Royce into the side of a cliff.
HOWEVER: The lack of bedrock heroes and villains can make the audience confused and scared off from getting attached to characters they like, seeing how at any minute they could get stabbed in the back, nom-nom-nommed by a zombie or shot by the Man in Black.
This sort of story also has problems with villains, because they tend to die off and need to get replaced.
GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD have the advantage of known their destination, since the original authors mapped out the story in printed form using these things I like to call “words” placed inside these archaic, beautiful things they call “books.”
WESTWORLD will have to find its own way to the climax, since it’s based on a single movie from the ’70s. However: Season 1 was a brilliant start.
Verdict: GAME OF THRONES is the odds-on champion here, with a huge audience and a definite climax in the cards. THE WALKING DEAD feels a bit too uneven and small scale at times. How can they top Negan?
WESTWORLD is the hipster choice of these three, the one that feels most like a movie. Each episode shot and scored beautifully. It’s just harder to see where it goes after Season 1. But if they can pull it off, WESTWORLD will live forever as a classic.
Next week: D.C. versus Marvel, also known as ‘D.C. just can’t win’
Week 3—STAR WARS vs STAR TREK
Week 4—JAMES BOND vs JASON BOURNE
Week 5—HOUSE OF CARDS vs BREAKING BAD
Week 6—HARRY POTTER vs LORD OF THE RINGS