Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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December 2018

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Dabbling in Video & Comics, DC Universe Carves a Niche for Itself in the Crowded Streaming Field

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There’s an increasingly familiar refrain that follows news of additional streaming services. “Not another one,” cries the public-at-large, reflective of the transitional period television finds itself in. An indefinite one, for we don’t really know what will happen to the cable-streaming paradigm years from now. What we do know, or rather should know, is that consumer markets don’t arbitrarily decide that enough is enough. As long as people continue to use streaming services, and they most certainly will, new ones will sprout up.

DC Universe quickly sets itself apart from its competition by its breadth of content, much of which deviates from the standard streaming fare. The service bills itself as “The Ultimate DC Experience,” dedicating much of its focus to the core of DC’s business: comic books. Included are plenty of offerings from throughout DC’s long history, beautifully converted into an easy to use digital format.

The service impressed me at first glance for its focus on curation, something that befuddles most other streaming services. From the homepage to the sections of the DC Encyclopedia, you can find many collections of specific comics that give you a good sense of what you might want to read. I appreciated the absence of an algorithm that never works in favor of a system that looks like it was put together by an actual human being. It’s easy to spend the amount of time one intended to reserve for entertainment simply in the search of that content, lost in the pages of options. So far I’ve never found myself lingering on what to read or watch with DC Universe, which does its best to make the vast world of comics far less intimidating.

DC Universe’s investment in curation also carries over to a sense of community put forth by the site. A program called DC Daily covers a wide variety of topics from episode to episode, giving users something new to look forward to each day. The site also features daily articles and a community message board, neither of which seems particularly groundbreaking in the year 2018 except for the fact that no other service puts any stock into that kind of stuff. It’s small touches like these that separate DC Universe from other streaming sites, not just presenting content but exploring it. Not since Filmstruck’s demise has a streaming service put more effort into cultivating an interest in what it has to offer.

Despite the diversity of content, DC Universe’s library is still a bit rough around the edges. It seems a bit unfair to knock the absence of the CW Arrowverse shows, Gotham, Teen Titans Go!, or the newer DCEU movies, since contracts for those rights must have been signed long before the service’s debut, but its video content is still fairly meager. Highlights include the complete run of Super Friends, long absent from streaming, as well as remastered versions of Batman: The Animated Series and the original Wonder Woman series, both of which look absolutely beautiful in HD.

The service is off to a great start with its original programming. I was very impressed with Titans and am excited to see its spinoff Doom Patrol next year. The animated original Young Justice: Outsiders is also set to debut just after the new year. Other scripted originals on the slate for later next year include the live-action Stargirl and Swamp Thing and an animated series centered on Harley Quinn. If any of these shows have similar production values to the excellent Titans, the service should quickly pile up a nice collection of original content.

DC Universe was born into a rapidly changing TV environment, one that isn’t likely to heed the “not another streaming service” cries from sectors of the consumer market. What sets DC Universe apart is what it’s trying to bring to the table. The generic backlash against streaming services seems to forget that not all of these sites are trying to offer the same thing.

The barometer we use to gauge the quality of streaming services, namely original content, is a bit unfair. No service can compete with Netflix’s unsustainable twelve billion dollar budget for original programming, nor is DC Universe designed to appeal to mass consumers in the same way. Instead, it sets its focus on living up to its slogan, “the ultimate DC membership,” with an impressive library of content designed to fully immerse one in the DC experience. Art is designed to be a communal experience. Other services could learn a lot from DC Universe’s efforts to add a human touch to the equation.

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Sunday

30

November 2014

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Should The Walking Dead Revisit Its Seasonal Episode Count?

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

The Walking Dead will air its “season finale” tonight. The quotation marks are there to highlight the somewhat grey area surrounding that phrase. While the show comes back in February, AMC is advertising this as a finale and past seasons have showed us that this show puts more stock in providing a noteworthy midseason break than many other shows that use the same practice.

The rationale behind splitting up a season into two parts is clear. It’s a common way for cable shows to expand their episode counts beyond the standard thirteen. In the case of The Walking Dead, it also allows the show to keep plotlines fresh. Season two was the only one to use a thirteen-episode model. The group’s elongated stay at Herschel’s farm provided plenty of reasons why this isn’t the greatest idea.

Problem is that the show has changed quite a bit since then beyond just the cast changes, though it’s worth noting that only seven of the characters from season two are still alive. This isn’t a show where the characters stay in one place for very long anymore. It’s also followed Lost’s later season model in keeping its ensemble cast separated into groups for large periods of time.

This makes splitting up the seasons into eight episode blocks problematic. There is a ton of stuff going on and its happening to tons of characters. Remember how little screen time T-Dog and Beth got back when everyone was just hanging out on the farm? The cast has grown exponentially since then while the death count has slowed down, leaving the show with the task of figuring out what to do with all its characters.

The simple answer? Expand the episode count to twenty.

This is neither unprecedented nor ridiculous in nature. The SyFy Channel’s old Sci-Fi Friday block of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica used this model to great success. None of these shows were quite the phenomenon that The Walking Dead is either. This show is AMC’s cash cow, especially with Breaking Bad over and Mad Men on its way out. There’s nothing really standing in the way of more episodes.

You can make the argument that The Walking Dead is the most popular cable show of all time. Its ratings crush most of what’s on network TV and that doesn’t take in harder to quantify numbers like Twitter traffic and Netflix views. It may not be a contender in many awards shows, but it has what matters most, the interest of the people.

We can use the critical complaints to examine why a switch would be a good idea from a storyline perspective. Splitting up the season the way The Walking Dead does creates the need for an extra finale and primer, which also affects episode progression. The constant rise/fall dynamic makes for great suspense and anticipation, but it also takes precious screen time away from advancing the plot. This problem is exacerbated by extreme character centric episodes that leave out the bulk of the cast.

Which is probably the point. Urgency exists mostly in the eyes of the characters. For the show itself, it’s not really headed in a specific direction. Since the prison, the characters have been roaming, but so has the plot. That’s really all it can do.

If you look at the last three eight episode blocks, you see a pattern. The first episode wraps up the cliffhanger and there’s at least two episodes dedicated to very specific character studies that leave out the majority of the cast. Excluding the finale, that leaves four episodes to get the plot forward before it needs to blow things up again (sometimes literally). For a show with such a large cast, that’s not enough time at all.

Expanding the episode count would make Beth or Governor centric type episodes easier to stomach. Its easy to see why the show likes these types of episodes, but this isn’t the type of show that can afford to toss episodes away on non-essential characters. Adding more episodes lets the show have its cake and eat it too, with plenty of filler.

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