Poppin the Culture Cherry: 20 min episodes vs 1 hour episodes


As a regular TV show binger, Olivia Locascio wonders what goes into deciding whether each episode should be a short, clean 20-30 minutes long, or a long, detailed 40 minutes to 1 hour, and why.

The rise of online streaming services in the last few years has also led to a huge boost in films but TV shows especially. In particular, the TV shows that just have one season with a few episodes, and it ends there. These include the likes of Dead to Me, Russian Doll, The Umbrella Academy and Bad Education. On the other hand, we see TV shows that were created in the 90’s and 2000’s that insist on a series with around five to ten seasons with each episode as one hour long and there being at least 12 episodes on each season. These include the likes of Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls, Weeds and The Good Wife. This wasn’t, however, just a millennial fad; there are some more recent TV shows that follow the same methods such as Jane the Virgin and Orange Is the New Black. Or do we prefer longer series with multiple seasons but shorter episodes? Like Riverdale, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Skins and That 70’s Show. There’s a few cartoon shows that can be thrown in that category like Bojack Horseman, Rick and Morty and Bob’s Burgers. But what is it about these lengths of episodes that tickles our fancy? Does it actually have anything to do with the length of the episode?

Image Credit: Study Breaks Magazine

Image Credit: Study Breaks Magazine

The One With the Shorter Length

Need to binge something fast ahead of an impending deadline, or perhaps your days are way too jam-packed and you get about half an hour of ‘me’ time before heading to bed at night? You’re probably going to be needing to watch something that’s straight to the point. There have been times where I’ve been watching something quite lengthy either in its episodes or its a movie, and I’ve felt my eyes starting to shut. Not wanting to give in initially, finally I decide to shut my laptop but I’m still halfway through whatever I’m watching. I’ve lost my zone. I feel incomplete. But I need my sleep. These shorter length episode TV shows also let you binge watch them in one whole day if you can’t afford to get distracted for longer than a day. The bad thing about these kind of TV shows is that inevitable emotional attachment you get to the story and the characters. With the short amount of time it takes to finish the show, the shorter amount of time it takes for your heart to get that sinking feeling when it’s all over. Especially if it’s a damn good TV show and you have to wait, I don’t know, A YEAR until the next season comes out. Because apparently six half-hour episodes a season takes just that long to make. You’d think from just that very method, of taking such a long time to create such a short season, would be the ultimate cliffhanger? Unfortunately not. It’s very easy to forget the flow of the TV show and lose it so much that you’re not even bothered to wait for the next season that you’ve waited that pesky, long time for.

Image Credit: HBO.com

Image Credit: HBO.com

The One With the Longer Length

There’s nothing like coming out of a full 40 minute to one hour length episode feeling it equally created problems whilst resolving them. Like a good, three course, meal, you feel satisfied enough that you’ve got a taste of everything you needed in that time. No plotline dragged, no character input was unnecessary, and the 40 minutes felt like five. Now it’s back to being a real adult and getting through your responsibilities. Unless you’re like me, and the cliffhanger was so suspenseful, that you must watch yet another 40 minute episode. And then another 40 minute episode after that, and another after that. Oh look at that, the day’s over. Oh wait, it’s Monday? I’m meant to be at work? Apparently not. Other priorities. I HAVE TO KNOW WHO SHE CHOOSES TO MARRY. Even worse when the show is actually terrible. And you’ve just wasted time watching a full 40 minutes that essentially lead to nothing happening. And then spend another 40 minutes that essentially lead to nothing happening. ‘But I have to know how the nothing ends!’, you think.

Basically, there are pluses and minuses to both a short and sweet piece, and a lengthy, stretched-out one. Obviously the creators of the show have tailored their episode lengths based on the content of the show, the stories within each episode and the character development. And this in turn, would be tailored to how regularly the show is released, whether it’s an episode per week situation, or a full 10 episode season just waiting for you to waste your life with. Either way, we get entertained by both. What is favoured will evidently change depending on the person, and how much time they’re willing to waste. Unless you’re like me, and you’re happy to waste all of your time.

Olivia Locascio is a last year Communication student majoring in Journalism, and penultimate year Law student. She’s got her whole future planned out: columnist, author, screenwriter, and Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay. Watch out for this one.