It's Not TV. It's H-Bore-O.

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It's Not TV.  It's HBO.  That's the saying, and it's been the saying for years now.  The fact that a show is on HBO signals a certain kind of quality - content-wise and in terms of production values.  I can't really argue with either.  On paper, everything HBO does is top notch.  No, it's the execution that causes me concern.

I was watching the latest episode of Boardwalk Empire last week - you know, that highly acclaimed, big-buzz new show from Martin Scorsese and Terrence Winter (of The Sopranos fame).  Then it struck me.  Why am I looking at the clock so much?  Why does this 60 minutes feel like 120?  Why is it so damn slow?
That got me thinking.  A lot of HBO shows are glacially paced.  The Sopranos, as good as it was, had way too many episodes in its later seasons that just took their sweet time getting to the end of the hour.  Same thing with Treme, which ended its first season a few months ago. Even HBO miniseries are not immune from the pacing issues.  I had to give up on The Pacific after five episodes - and this coming from someone who is a huge fan of Band of Brothers.
The thing is - most of these shows are fine if you watch them live and there's nothing else on.  The issue only really arises if you let episodes sit on your DVR for several days, just taking up space, waiting for you to watch them.  At that point, it becomes a chore to watch them.  A dreaded task, if you will, and I get enough of those at work on a daily basis.  Watching TV shouldn't be a chore - it should be pleasurable.  So as good as most HBO shows are, why are they no fun to watch?
This is not a universal statement.  Some HBO shows are actually quite quick - most of the half-hour comedies move pretty swiftly.  I also think True Blood and Big Love are able to avoid the pacing curse.  Everything else?  A tough slog.  Deadwood - terrific and Ian McShane frickin' rules, but sloooow.  Even The Wire, perhaps the greatest show ever made, took about 6 episodes each season before it hooked you and started rolling.
I'm not asking for much - just pick up the pacing!  Yes, I know HBO means quality.  Yes, I know these shows are better than Bleep My Dad Says.  But that shouldn't give its creators license to drag out scenes past their breaking point.  It just reeks of pretentiousness, and a mob show like Boardwalk Empire has no business being pretentious.  Each episode should be a ride - one that's over before it even started.  So far, that's not the case.  All the production qualities in the world can't hide the fact that the show is a giant bore.  
That's why, as much as it pains me to do it, I'm giving up on Boardwalk Empire.  Screw the accolades.  Screw the pedigree.  I simply cannot waste an hour every week, with one eye on the television and another one watching the clock.  I might still catch it live if nothing else is on, or maybe I'll just pick up a book.  At least that way I'll be able to control how quickly I move through it.

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  • I'm going to respectfully disagree with this -- somewhat.

    I'm actually enjoying 'Boardwalk Empire,' and I'm hoping that all my patience will pay off by the end of the season (a la 'The Wire'). And while 'Treme' was slow, it was always engaging. 'The Pacific,' whatever its pacing, was just...ugh.

    HBO is not the only offender here, either. There seems to be a trend in television that slow = artistic. I'm thinking of AMC, specifically. While 'Mad Men' has been engrossing this year, no one can claim it moves quickly. And 'Breaking Bad' also suffers from a ramp-up time, just like 'The Wire.' And I didn't watch 'Rubicon,' but I know you complained about its pacing, too.

    I guess what I'm saying is, if the end result of 'Boardwalk Empire' can come anywhere close to the quality of 'Mad Men' or 'The Wire," I'm going to stick it out.

  • John, you are right. I really like the show and think it is really interesting, but HBO has a problem with that timing issue and pacing issue with a lot of their shows. Deadwood was that way, Carnivale was that way, even True Blood can get that way at points. Heck Entourage a 30 minute show can be that way sometimes. But Julie is right, the quality makes it worth it in the end.

  • PS- did you see Secrateriat yet? It was good for what it was. interesting to sports people, a very good background on a very known story. I don't think as interesting as say Seabiscuit, but it did the job and kept me interested. A little long at points, but hopefully you liked it. Going to see Let Me In this weekend.

  • In reply to movieczar:

    I saw the first hour of Secretariat with Augie, but it wasn't very kid friendly so he wanted to leave. I think I'd probably agree with you - not bad, but nothing I haven't seen before, especially in Seabiscuit.

  • This is something I've always wondered. I don't have HBO, so i Netflix the shows and I'm amazed how many are recommended as "It's great, you have to watch 4-5 episodes before you get into it, but then its great." How does a show survive with that kind of a warm up lap? It would never make it on network tv.

  • In reply to Ashby:

    And that's why it's on HBO. FOX couldn't give 'Lone Star' three episodes to get traction (though, to be fair, they've stuck with 'Fringe' so far -- thank goodness!)

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