A while ago, Erika (of Verity! – which is wonderful Doctor Who podcast that you should totally start listening to if you’re not already doing so.) wrote a blog post about jumping into a serialized piece of media mid stream. Erika’s post was influenced by a Star Trek podcast episode – which I admit that I haven’t listened to largely because I haven’t really watched much Star Trek yet (I know, I know – I need to watch all the Star Trek). I really wanted to discuss this topic a bit and if I reiterate a point from the podcast I apologize in advance.
So Erika’s main point was that you shouldn’t feel like you have to start a television show or other piece of serialized media at the beginning if you don’t want to. Not only is it possible to get a lot out of something you jump into midstream, but jumping in midstream can have some advantages. And I agree with Erika on those points, but my nerd brain still wants to jump in with some thoughts.
Erika mentioned her great grandmother watching (listening to?) the soap opera Guiding Light. This made me laugh because my grandmother used to be the same way about All My Children and One Life to Live. My grandmother used to watch my siblings and I a lot while we were growing up and if either of those shows happened to be on, you can bet my grandma would stop everything to watch. Of course with shows like GL or AMC or OLTL it was quite common for viewers to jump in late in the game. And make no mistake: these shows ran on American televisions for decades. Hundreds of episodes of these shows were filmed. Attempting to start any of these series from the beginning would have been an extremely daunting task. But I wonder: with long running soap operas (or possibly comics or other types of media) did anyone involved in the show really expect new viewers to go back and watch early episodes? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s even a legal way to go back and watch old episodes of daytime soaps like GL, AMC, or OLTL even if you wanted to (I did a quick search on Amazon, and it looks like bits and pieces of them are available for sale but not the whole thing). I kind of feel like those shows are written in such a way that new viewers can pick up on enough of the back story pretty quickly.
Is a show like Babylon 5 really the same? I’m currently watching the series for the first time myself and started at the beginning. I can’t imagine experiencing the show any other way – which isn’t to say that starting the show midstream like Erika did is wrong. But I’m also not sure that it’s fair to compare the commitment associated with watching Babylon 5 from the beginning to that of watching a daytime soap opera from the beginning. The former ran for five 22 episode seasons while the latter generally ran five days a week for decades, often with no noticeable season breaks.
Erika notes that if she had begun watching Babylon 5 in its first season, she might not have stuck with it. That’s fair. It did, however, make me think of how often I’ve come to enjoy shows with shaky first seasons. Farscape. Babylon 5. Pretty much any Whedon show. I’ve pretty much come to expect the first season to be rough. With all the options we currently have to watch TV, it’s pretty rare for me to watch something as it airs. Instead, almost everything I watch has been off the air for years. If I were someone who watched things as they aired, I’d probably give up on a show like Babylon 5 if I tried watching it around the time the first season was airing. Hell, I attempted to watch the first few episodes of Agents of SHIELD when they were first airing and gave up for this very reason. These days, if someone tells me “the first season of this show is really shaky, but it starts getting good in season 2,” I’m likely to believe it.
All that said, if jumping into a show midstream is what you need to do in order to get into a show you’re interested in, then by all means – do it. Not that you need my permission to do anything.
TL;DR: Erika is awesome and while I agree with the central point of her blog post, my nerd brain decided it needed to word vomit all over my blog.