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The line is blurrier, but there’s still a big difference between TV and movies

"Mad Men" is an example of long-form TV at its best, which — unlike a movie — gives viewers time to breathe between episodes.
"Mad Men" is an example of long-form TV at its best, which — unlike a movie — gives viewers time to breathe between episodes.Jamie Trueblood/AMC

Q. The Golden Globes were unwatchable. I shut it off after the first two awards and flipped back a couple of times later. One thing they got right, though, was pointing out that the line between movies and television and all forms of broadcast/streaming entertainment is now gone, and we’re in a new era of watchingness. If it isn’t a series, it’s a movie. The platform doesn’t matter anymore.


A. It’s true, we are indeed in a new era of watchingness, which is a word I officially love. We were heading there long before the pandemic set in, but now we’re there for sure, with high-profile movies coming directly to our homes just as TV always has, without stopping at theaters.


Used to be, TV was the nightly time killer at home and movies were special events, to be experienced in the anonymous darkness of a theater among strangers. Now, there are extremely high–quality TV shows, taking on themes formerly reserved for movies, featuring stars who formerly would have nothing to do with TV; and movies have become less special, since we can watch them at home on our HDTVs, and since they have gone effects- and franchise-crazy.

But I still think there is a big difference between movies and TV, even if we’re watching them both under the same circumstances at home.

I dislike it when people call the likes of “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” stretched-out movies. Yes, they are well-written and finely acted, and the cinematography can be dazzling — but ultimately they are long-form, episodic TV. They keep moving forward, veering into different stories as they press ahead, using the time, ideally, to explore complicated themes and, sometimes, new characters. Unlike movies, they give us time to breathe between episodes of their extended narratives. TV writers struggle with series endings, I think, because their general approach to storytelling is to keep the show going. I think of TV shows as “Start, middle, middle, middle, middle, middle, end,” whereas I think of movies as “Start, middle, end.”


I was thinking about the difference between TV and movies watching two recent movie releases, “The Sound of Metal” and “Nomadland,” both of which I adored. They utilize silence and visual symbolism in ways that you don’t much see on TV shows (“Breaking Bad” being a notable exception). They each seem to lean into their movie-ness, and they emphasize lyricism and texture more than plotting. Obviously, this is a subject worth more exploration . . .


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.