TV Series and Contemporary Lives

Marc Rastoin, SJ

 Marc Rastoin, SJ / Film & TV / 22 February 2021

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It has been said that the 19th century saw the rise of the novel as a major art form, whereas the 20th century saw that of the cinema. Could we one day say that the 21st century was the turn of the television series or  Who knows!

For the last twenty years or so they have certainly achieved considerable importance in contemporary culture. Countless publications testify to this. “It is too early to say that television series are the main art of the 20th century. On the other hand, as a form of expression they have undoubtedly acquired a maturity and a dose of inventiveness that make them complex and exciting, with a freedom of tone that many cinematic films no longer enjoy. Their division into episodes also allows them to adapt to our increasingly unstable and fragmented rhythms of life.”[1]

Long considered a minor cultural genre, TV series, which have multiplied exponentially, have also seen a significant overall improvement in their quality. There are now series that, aesthetically and, in terms of narrative quality, compete with the best films. Their omnipresence in contemporary culture, especially – but not only – among the younger generation, raises many questions: Do they bring an original artistic form to storytelling? Do the particularities of screenplays, generally determined by their length, contribute to a representation of human life and its choices that impoverishes or enriches the viewer? Do they constitute a radical innovation or a visual variation of the old genre of 19th-century feuilletons (the section of a newspaper devoted to fiction)?

To try to answer these questions, it may be useful to examine a number of narrative devices specific to this cultural genre. This issue was recently addressed by La Civiltà Cattolica in an article that highlighted the specificity of the relationship with time generated by this artistic mode.[2] It is an observation often made in more serious articles dealing with TV series.

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