Remember when “must-see TV” didn’t mean you were literally required to watch every episode of a given show if you didn’t want to completely lose track of the plot? Television was once known as a medium where characters and situations never changed. Which comes first in story chronology, the episode where Lucy works in a chocolate factory or the episode where Lucy sets her nose on fire? The episode where Dick Van Dyke is a homicidal photographer, or the episode where Johnny Cash kills his pregnant underage mistress in a plane crash? It doesn’t matter, because the events have no relation to one another; in the golden age of television, almost every episode was a self-contained universe of storytelling.
Now, quick: what is the best TV show of the last 20 years? Conventional wisdom would suggest you picked either The Sopranos, The Wire, or Breaking Bad (with a begrudging allowance for Mad Men). Besides phenomenal writing, acting, directing, and the ability to drop the occasional f-bomb (or 3,500), what do these shows have in common? How about the fact that if you watch a random episode from the middle of any of them you’ll likely have no idea what anyone’s talking about and find no emotional investment in the plot or characters?
As people’s attention spans have gotten shorter, and as digital delivery has addicted us to watching whole seasons at once, television’s reliance on its audience’s attention span has greatly increased. The medium, once structured around the kind of storytelling in which each installment ended at the same place it began, is now praised for narrative arcs that span an entire season at a time, if not the complete length of the show.
There’s a lot to be said for grade-A programs like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, flawed experiments like Lost and the first four seasons of Dexter, and even relics of the ’90s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5, about their place in the history of television and its transition from episodic to serialized storytelling. But what happens to the old-style stories we once loved, now too boring to ever watch again because, even after an entire season, nothing actually happens?
The Union Forever is an ardent supporter of languishing in misplaced nostalgia for our ill-spent youth, but seriously, who today would sit through half a dozen episodes of Goku fighting ghosts in the Other World?
Enter Episodic Nostalgia, a new series updated every whenever we feel like it. Episodic Nostalgia pinpoints the key installments of classic series, stringing them together into a semi-coherent narrative that may or may not have been originally intended by its creators! Following our guide, every episode you watch advances the plot and there is no filler—there’s no better way to watch a show you probably shouldn’t waste your time watching in the first place.
First up: Beast Wars!!