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ROOM TO BREATHE: Miniseries, like Top of the Lake (featuring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss, above), can accommodate more plot complexity than a standard two-hour feature. © 2013 SUNDANCE CHANNEL. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Right-sized stories

For the most part we consume visual narratives either in two-hour films or in television series that stretch out for years, even decades. Films offer the pleasure of something made and done, a one-time encounter that invites reflection and judgment. The boundaries of the format can generate beauty and power, but it has limitations. How many of us, for example, have criticized a movie because the characters were not well developed or because the plot felt rushed or fragmented?

These criticisms seldom apply to high-quality serial television. With 75 to 100 (or even more) hours available, a six-to-eight-year series can explore the most intimate recesses of characters’ psyches and develop story lines that mimic the complexity of real life. It is not surprising that this style of television is most often compared to the sprawling novels of Dickens and Dostoevsky—masterpieces of human psychology and narrative.


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