Stories are strange in that viewers and critics often compare one against another when judging a wide assortment of factors. But things are never equal, so it’s almost impossible to compare apples to apples. It begs the question of whether things should be compared at all? Or, at least, should stories be compared to others of relatively similar genre, tone, setting, and character? But those are all elements of storytelling. What about medium? Or, specifically, length?
In terms of television, shows are typically divided into two categories. There are dramas that range anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Then there are comedies that typically range anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour. Years ago, in the world of network television, this wasn’t as big of a deal as it is now. Shows would air in time blocks and have commercial breaks that would make every show relatively comparable to another one in a similar time block. But with the rise of premium channels and streaming, time blocks and commercials are no longer such a factor. Creators are allowed to stretch the time limit to whatever is needed to suit the episode. And it’s not just time limits. It’s also the length of seasons in general.
Let’s use a specific actor as an example: Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She’s had two breakout roles on two shows in two different decades — Seinfeld and Veep. Both ran for many seasons and shared a similar chemistry in that its cast typically dealt with idiotic problems while insulting each other. Although they ran for a comparable number of seasons, the episode numbers aren’t even close. Veep usually had no more than 10 episodes per season while Seinfeld sometimes had more than 20. This is just one example, but it makes comparing shows a bit of a challenge if one wants to set them on a level playing field. Is Veep or Seinfeld better? Just like comparing any other pair of shows, it’s okay to have an opinion. But it’s also important to remember where the show’s overlap and where they don’t.
Veep is streaming now on HBO Max. Seinfeld is streaming on Netflix.