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Ariane Hudelet

This chapter connects one of the central themes of The Good Wife – new technologies and the impact of the digital revolution – to the stylistic choices made by the series to represent virtuality. It focuses on the way the long duration of the Network show allows it to show how characters’ identities are increasingly mediated, and how thought processes, memories and fantasies are connected to, and sometimes modelled on, new media and communication technologies. After detailing the stylistic features that connect the characters’ perceptions, memories or fantasies to the language of new media, the analysis focuses on S6E14 (‘Mind’s Eye’), as Alicia Florrick is getting ready to face the editorial board interview in her campaign to become State’s Attorney. The fact that she cannot speak is used as a narrative and aesthetic tool to displace the action within her mind and the editing and camerawork of the episode stress the connection between imagination and digital media or communication tools, consciousness being thus represented as a series of internal, dialogical mises-en-scène. This chapter thus suggests that the series offers a nuanced exploration of the connection between psyche and media, elaborating a form of audiovisual stream of consciousness that accounts for the familiar and uncanny dimension of these digital technologies, a representation that is neither a catastrophic, dystopian denunciation, nor a mere glorification of technological prowess.

in Substance / style
Rescuing John From Cincinnati from the HBO narrative
Robert Watts

This chapter explores the historical contingencies of television style by revisiting David Milch’s much-maligned ‘surf noir’ drama John From Cincinnati (HBO, 2007). Cancelled after a single series, Milch’s enigmatic follow-up to Deadwood (HBO, 2004–6) was widely charged by critics with proffering ‘empty’ style over substance; deemed an aesthetic as well as commercial failure, having been scheduled in HBO’s flagship Sunday night slot following the finale of The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007). Applying the series’ own concept of the ‘halo effect’ to examine its critical reception in both the US and the UK, the chapter explores the degree to which damning assessments of John’s stylistic choices can be viewed as being shaped and fixed by the contextual narratives surrounding the programme at its initial moment of transmission. Engaging with disciplinary debates around television aesthetics, the chapter considers the relative lack of diachronic reappraisals of television texts as compared to other art forms. Discussing the merits and pitfalls of mobilising scholars’ own ‘felt responses’ (as well as auteurist approaches) in the process of re-evaluating television texts as aesthetic objects, it ultimately calls for more sustained attention to the conditions under which any TV drama considered a ‘failure’ in its historical moment might be granted (or denied) a ‘second life’. What emerges is a continuing sense of television as an ephemeral or ‘time-tied’ medium (Ellis, 2007), even in a post-broadcast, on-demand age of apparent abundance.

in Substance / style
Tim Butler Garrett

This chapter addresses Mad Men’s tendency to end its episodes by concentrating in close-up on the face of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who is often pictured in moods of quiet isolation. Such moments undermine historical views of television as a medium whose meanings are chiefly articulated or reinforced by the spoken word (for example, see Ellis 1992). In doing so, the chapter argues, these moments open up further understanding of serial drama’s persistent fascination with the intelligibility of the human face on-screen.

Briefly looking at a range of examples across a number of episodes, the chapter shows how the interpretative challenge of reading the face is heightened in Mad Men by a frequent tension between the semantic void of silence and the floodgates of feeling opened up by the series’ powerful uses of music and song. It concentrates on two central examples: the ending of Season 4’s seventh episode, ‘The Suitcase’, and the closing moments of the Season 6 finale, ‘In Care Of’ (6.13). Each episode’s ending stands as an example of Mad Men’s fascination with moments that evoke a palpable sense of revelation between characters, of their silent exchange and communication.

in Sound / image
Josette Wolthuis

This chapter extends the discussion of complexity in television drama beyond storytelling and character by indicating how elements of style and mise-en-scène, specifically costume design, contribute to the balance between simplicity and complexity in the text. It thereby challenges and expands upon Jason Mittell’s (2013; 2015) earlier work on the subject. Through a textual analysis of four selected moments from BBC’s Killing Eve (2018–) in which the identity and behaviour of its protagonists are put into question, this discussion shows how costumes can not only tell us who characters are but can also ‘lie’, which adds complexity to the text by means of a delicate balance between simple and complex stylistic strategies. Costume therefore plays an active role in the creation of a complex drama.

in Complexity / simplicity
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Moments in television

In television scholarship, sound and image have been attended to in different ways, but image has historically dominated. The chapters gathered here attend to both: they weigh the impact and significance of specific choices of sound and image, explore their interactions, and assess their roles in establishing meaning and style. The contributors address a wide range of technical and stylistic elements relating to the television image. They consider production design choices, the spatial organisation of the television frame and how camera movements position and reposition parts of the visible world. They explore mise-en-scène, landscapes and backgrounds, settings and scenery, and costumes and props. They attend to details of actors’ performances, as well as lighting design and patterns of colour and scale. As regards sound, each chapter distinguishes different components on a soundtrack, delineating diegetic from non-diegetic sound, and evaluating the roles of elements such as music, dialogue, voice-over, bodily sounds, performed and non-performed sounds. Attending to sound design, contributors address motifs, repetition and rhythm in both music and non-musical sound. Consideration is also given to the significance of quietness, the absence of sounds, and silence. Programmes studied comprise The Twilight Zone, Inspector Morse, Children of the Stones, Dancing on the Edge, Road, Twin Peaks: The Return, Bodyguard, The Walking Dead and Mad Men. Sound and image are evaluated across these examples from a wide range of television forms, formats and genres, which includes series, serial and one-off dramas, children’s programmes, science fiction, thrillers and detective shows.

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Moments in television

Substance and style have been attended to separately in different strands of television studies, from those who have sought to establish the discipline as serious and worthy of study, to the work of television aesthetics, which has taken stylistic achievement as a primary focus. This collection interrogates and overturns the typical relationships between the terms, instead setting them alongside one another and renegotiating their relationship through new perspectives and with reference to a range of television programming. Contributors draw attention to the ways substance and style inform one another, placing value on their integration and highlighting the potential for new meanings to form through their combination. In this way, the binary is used to re-evaluate television that has been deemed a failure, or to highlight the achievements of programming or creative personnel who are less celebrated. Chapters present style as a matter of substance, in terms of it being both part of the material constitution of television and an aspect of television that rewards detailed attention. Substance is developed through a range of interpretations which invite discussion of television’s essential qualities and capabilities as well as its meaningfulness, in conjunction with its stylistic achievements. Programmes studied comprise The Americans, Call the Midwife, Les Revenants, The Good Wife, Friends, The Simpsons, John From Cincinnati, Police Squad! and The Time Tunnel. Substance and style are evaluated across these examples from a wide range of television forms, formats and genres, which include series and serial dramas, sitcoms, science fiction, animation, horror, thrillers and period dramas.

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Unpacking the political satire in Veep
Michael P. Young

This chapter destabilises the binary of complexity and simplicity through the stylistic analysis of the US television programme Veep (HBO, 2012–19) in the exploration of schadenfreude embedded within its generic structure. Arguing that political satire has long been used as a didactic and moralising corrective to prevailing national political discourse, the chapter is organised around three episodes exemplifying the significance of performance, juxtaposition and caricature in the depiction of characters who are wholly unlikeable, but still a pleasure to watch. Giving equal weight is the supposition that Veep’s use of pithy language, improbable farce and highly stylised visual spectacle belie its incisive critique into American exceptionalism, superficiality and venal political impotence.

in Complexity / simplicity
Living pictures in The Walking Dead
Christa van Raalte

The popular AMC television series The Walking Dead (2010 – present), while often considered part of the recent ‘Golden Age of Television’, has also suffered from the schlock-horror associations of the zombie, and the perception that, like its source material (a black-and-white comic book dealing with the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse), it is at heart little more than an exercise in violence, horror and gore that relies too much on shock tactics

But whereas the strengths of so many of the exemplars of this ‘golden age’ lie in their character development, intelligent plotting and psychologically adept scripts, The Walking Dead (while also possessing these qualities) should be considered significant in the contemporary televisual landscape because of its uniquely poetic visual sense, achieved through the powerful tableaux vivants (a theatrical form dating back at least as far as the eighteenth century, where people and props are arranged to form a ‘living picture’) it creates, and through its thoughtful and nuanced use of sound and image.

This chapter presents a conceptual framework to illuminate how the programme achieves these striking moments and unique tone, and surveys the audio-visual antecedents and influences (considering visual and sonic qualities shared with Hitchcock, Tarkovsky and Bergman) at work in the series’s understanding of sound, image and materiality.

in Sound / image
The Long Wait
Sarah Cardwell

The Long Wait established a seasonal television tradition: the John Lewis Christmas advert. This chapter explores the simplicity which underpins The Long Wait’s artistic and aesthetic achievements, and thereby makes a case for the value of simplicity as a potentially precious quality in television works. It examines a number of the film’s artistic and stylistic choices, including its use of perspective; imagery and framing; shapes, patterns and movements; integration of audio and visual qualities; visual echoes and repetitions; and rhythm, reverberation and resonance. It considers how the film addresses its theme – temporality – in a way that generates complexity available to the attentive and engaged viewer.

The Long Wait was created within a televisual landscape and critical context in which complexity is celebrated as a criterion of value, yet it demonstrates, commends and celebrates simplicity. It does so by drawing extensively and creatively, explicitly and implicitly, upon conceptions of simplicity old and new. In its intricate layering of details, The Long Wait is formally sophisticated, its meticulous artistic design becoming apparent under close scrutiny. Thus the work maintains its formal simplicity via two complexities: the deft artistry behind its creation and the concealment of this creative process to make a virtue of simplicity. Similarly, its clarity of purpose and the inextricable connections between its chosen perspective and its theme confer simple, singular coherence.

In a critical context which prioritises complexity, The Long Wait’s commitment to simplicity offers a salutary reminder of its aesthetic value – one that we might appreciate more keenly.

in Complexity / simplicity
Jonathan Bignell

In 1967, the first colour drama serial in the UK was broadcast: an adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. This chapter evaluates the colour in Vanity Fair using analysis of the programme, archival documentation and public discourses at the time. The significance of colour in this serial relates to the aesthetic frameworks through which literary adaptations were conceptualised, and to what colour meant in the television culture of 1967. The achievement of Vanity Fair depends not only on how it looks today but also how it could have been viewed at the time it was made. As Britain’s first and oldest television institution it might seem simple and obvious that the BBC would take the next technical step in broadcasting. It might also seem simple and obvious that colour would offer greater realism and visual pleasure to viewers. These ways of understanding simplicity depend on an assumption of incremental development, adaptation and extension. But conversely, the engineering challenges of making colour pictures and the production challenges of staging a multi-episode serial in colour were immense. For cultural commentators and BBC executives, there were also concerns about the tastefulness of colour, which was tainted both by an association with Hollywood and the uneven technical quality of US colour television. Introducing colour was fraught with difficulty and risk, and meant finding a way through complexities of technology, institutional policy and cultural politics. It also demanded creative responses to new artistic challenges, making the most of colour while maintaining conformity with established aesthetic norms.

in Complexity / simplicity