By Jim Slotek
The argument that TV has become better than film is as old as television, and therefore prehistoric. But as someone who enjoys seeing villains smacked down and who also hates being jacked around, here’s where movies still rule.
As a good parent, ahem, I invariably watched what my boys were watching as they grew up. Which is why I, a grown man, am familiar with the Japanese anime series Dragonball Z (what’s your excuse?).
My initial exposure was a fight between the hero, Goku, and an unbeatable and sneeringly arrogant villain named Frieza. That single fight, I kid you not, lasted two weeks of daily episodes.
“Has Goku beaten Frieza yet?” I’d ask. Not yet.
A 10-year-old could figure out Frieza would be beaten eventually. But the producers of the show knew the kids (and some adults) would keep watching for as long as it took for it to happen.
In principle, it’s the same as what’s going on with The Walking Dead, where the leader of the Saviors, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) became the most hated villain in the show’s history with a couple of swings of his spiked bat Lucille, two dead central characters and a sickeningly dislodged eyeball.
The entire audience (including people, like me, who were starting to drift away) now were committed to watch until Negan was dead. That was the beginning of Season 7. It hadn’t happened by the end – although Rick (Andrew Lincoln) had assembled neighbouring zombie-survivors to go to war with the Saviors.
That’s a long time to wait to see someone defeated, if not killed. By comparison, my kids got off easy watching Dragonball Z.
You can understand the economics of protracted revenge-porn on The Walking Dead. AMC is supported by ads after all. But HBO is not, and Game Of Thrones uses the I-want-to-see-this-guy-die carrot season after season. People waited to see King Joffrey die from the moment Ned Stark was executed (and were disappointed when he was merely poisoned).
Much more satisfying in revenge-porn terms was the death of Ramsay Bolton. Audiences drooled for his death for a year and a half after he raped his new bride, Sansa Stark, on their wedding night. After he lost the Battle Of The Bastards last season, she got to watch (along with the audience) as he was eaten by his dogs.
The lesson: As soon as you’re dying to see someone die, they’ve got you. And they will keep you hanging for as long as they can get away with it.
By comparison, even a movie that’s unjustifiably long – like, say, The Fate Of The Furious, can only keep you waiting so long. Admittedly, two hours, 40 minutes is a long time to wait for something you know is going to happen. But by golly, Charlize Theron kidnapped someone’s loved ones and even killed one of them, so we’re going to watch shit blow up, and Vin Diesel and The Rock raise eyebrows at each other and flex until she is thwarted and maybe even killed.
But it’s not as if we have to back to the theatre every week to see if Theron’s got what’s coming to her yet.
That carrot is there in every Hollywood action movie. Without the expectation of cathartic release in the defeat and (preferably) death of someone snotty and evil (and preferably British), there would be no actions films, no Die Hards, no Bonds. But we can reliably depend on them delivering that release before the credits roll.
By comparison, TV villainy is like the tantric sex Sting is said to practice. Whatever its merits, it probably gets frustrating after you’ve waited a week or more.
is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.