There is a general trend in mainstream media and sequential art to generally value serialized works (in shows, series, comics, etc) over episodic ones. They are considered to be more elegant, more dynamic and more interesting than episodic ones. While this might definitely hold true, is it so as a rule? Or are we overlooking the advantages of episodic story telling while riding the craze of serialization?
In my opinion, given the medium in which series are aired (streaming services) and the way webcomics are now an established medium for comics, serialization is offering itself to the audience's tendency for instant gratification: now we can binge watch a whole season of a show, so we don't need to wait over a cliffhanger as much, or hold ourselves back before we can see how a gripping story is resolved. Whole seasons of shows are released at once, from “Steven Bombs” of Steven Universe to Daredevil. In such a case, perhaps an episodic arrangement in a show, like what there used to be in the 80s and 90s, fragments one's enjoyment of binge-watching a bunch of episodes, since in episodic story telling the characters sort of revert to normal with the resolution of each episode's plotline and won't be following a progressive development of the characters.
However, episodic storytelling also has its pros: in telling concise, self-contained stories the audience can acclimate themselves with any one episode without needing to be previously informed about what has happened or forcing dialogue to infodump things for ‘newcomer audience’ every once in a while in a story. Episodic storytelling can hone the characters to be fully realized and iconic and can potentially be more versatile. A vast array of different plotlines and different challenges for the characters can also be tried without needing to comply with one main storyline where there's little room for side-adventures or digression from the main challenge (like in MacGyver or Star Trek). Different characters in the cast can become the main character and be explored in different episodes, giving the audience different experiences and even POV story telling. In general, episodic story telling can be formulaic and contained in one single episode but in the same time it can also be very versatile.
As a creator, I would feel very hesitant to call one approach to story telling superior or more elegant to the other. It really comes down to what the creator wants to do, and even perhaps for how long they wish to do it. Each style is just different and offers different tools with which to tell a story (or several ones).
And of course, for eclectics, there is always the fusion of the two- the creation of a serialized show or comic which, however, progresses neatly in episodic segments. One of the best examples of these would be The Last Airbender- the main plotline became the rails upon which all the episodes of the show rolled on, while keeping an episodic format (this is especially masterfully done in Season 3). This combo can give the best of two worlds: the engaging allure of one big overarching story with great suspense that keeps you hooked with the exploration and versatility of characters and micro-stories that are still tied to and ultimately progress the plot.
What do you think? What type of story telling are you employing? Would you ever try going for the other alternatives?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 1, 2018
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