Looking forward to stuff is one of the nicest experiences in the world and yet, as a culture, we seem determined to eradicate this pleasure. Waiting is regarded as a bad thing; a waste of time. And yet what better way to spend time than in hopeful anticipation? But modern society requires its pleasures now; we have become consumers of time as much as we have of products, one finger firmly held on the fast-forward button of life. Nowhere does this phenomenon manifest itself more eloquently than in our approach to watching television series.
Recent weeks have seen two high profile TV shows scheduled on Saturday and Sunday evenings on BBC1: Bodyguard and Killing Eve. They are prime-time viewing; big-budget, all-star casts; generating a lot of critical attention and praise. Bodyguard runs to six episodes; Killing Eve, eight. They are both the kind of suspenseful programmes, which have you on the edge of your seat, gripped; each episode ends on a cliffhanger, which has you desperate to know what is going to happen next. And, with one of those shows, that desperation can be gratified. Instantly.
The BBC has chosen different approaches to showing Bodyguard and Killing Eve. Whereas Bodyguard has only appeared in its entirety on iPlayer after the complete series had been aired on TV, the entire series of Killing Eve is already available on iPlayer, even though it is currently less than halfway through its run. Anyone who cannot stand the suspense of waiting a week to find out what happens immediately after the final scenes of episode three can tune in immediately to iPlayer and watch episode four, and five, and six, and seven. Even watch episode eight if you like. But then how are you going to spend your Sunday evenings for the next five weeks?
Surely it is a question that the BBC must be asking too? Whereas the finale of Bodyguard saw whopping viewing figures of 10.4 million, it will be interesting to see if the last episode of Killing Eve attracts the same kind of numbers or, equally, whether it is being talked about on social media and around the water-cooler with the same kind of fervour. Channel 4 has taken this scheduling to its ultimate conclusion with its Walter Presents brand, teasing just a solitary opening episode of a series on terrestrial TV, with the box-set then available on 4OD for those that get hooked in. Presumably, for the truly impatient, it is possible to skip to the last episode of the box-set and just watch the final denouement?
I know the reason why these kind of box-sets are offered online on iPlayer and 4OD is to be more attuned to the viewing habits of the Millennial Generation. But when did bingeing suddenly become such a good thing?
Personally, I like to indulge my taste for anticipation. Not just in TV, but in holidays, in meals, even in love. I like to have things to look forward to. Often this is because the end results are ultimately so disappointing.
Let me explain. I’m not going to talk about holidays, or meals, or love. Instead, I am going to return to two examples from TV. Relatively recently, I watched the entire series, week by week on BBC4 of the Spanish memory-loss thriller Sé quién eres or I Know Who You Are, all sixteen episodes. For over a quarter of a year, I was gripped wondering if the dastardly Juan Elías really had lost his memory, or if he was faking it all along. By the time the final episode arrived, I was in a positive lather of anticipation, as sweet a feeling as it is possible to imagine. For what? An eventual anti-climax. An ending, which left me disappointed and disillusioned. So, had the last sixteen weeks all been for nothing? Not at all. Because they had been spent full of happy anticipation.
I experienced a similar rollercoaster of emotions watching the recent BBC series Keeping Faith. Over eight episodes and eight weeks I sat alongside Faith, wondering what had happened to her errant husband. Each week, I waited in expectant anticipation of the next episode, anxious to see if any more light would be shed on his mysterious disappearance. I felt like I could have watched Keeping Faith for one hour every week for the rest of my life. Except, after eight episodes it ended, and all I was left with was a lot of more questions than answers.
Disappointed? Not entirely. Because now I am eagerly anticipating that the BBC might commission a second series.
© Stephanie Snifter
Stephanie Snifter anticipates with pleasure her readers’ responses to her article.