Ad Breaks

I don’t like watching movies on tv. I know, I know, this sounds like it’s the start of some elitist rant about how movies are better in their original form and have to be enjoyed at 23.976fps with a precise refresh rate and color profile. And that, well, that’s more-or-less true, but I’m also a strong supporter of the democratization of media and you should be able to watch a movie however and wherever you want (unless you have motion smoothing on, in which case you are a monster).

But, anyway. I don’t like watching movies on tv for one really simple reason: commercials. I get it, it’s part of the whole, y’know broadcast television thing, but it’s still annoying. That and commercials totally kill the momentum of the story.

See, movies are meant to be watched all in one go. A well-crafted movie, like Prey, ratchets up the tension from scene to scene, adding stakes along the way and paying off foreshadowing. Scene 14 and Scene 15 are meant to be watched in succession, one immediately after the other. Breaking it up robs the story of its pacing, especially when that break is to some discordant commercials. In addition, the sheer frequency of the commercials gets frustrating since it feels like we’re veering away from the plot every few beats. It’s like a crappy d-plot that everyone forgot to cut out. Or at least it felt that way the last time I watched a movie on tv.

But, by a similar token, Broadcast tv shows can feel slightly off when watched without ad breaks. Don’t get me wrong, they still work and I definitely prefer not having to sit through commercials, but the commercial break is intrinsic to American television, so much so that the writing structures of half-hour (three-act) and hour-long (five-act) are built around commercial breaks. These shows are made to use those breaks, often using the expected pause to create cliffhangers between acts. Like the breaks between chapters in a book, they exist as a pause. Take that away and there’s a phantom pain, as if something indelible has been removed.

The shows still work, though, as anyone who’s spent a summer binge-watching Parks and Recreation can tell you (I did. I’m telling you this). Likewise, commercial breaks in a movie suck, but I really like the idea of a ten-minute intermission halfway through to get up and hit the bathroom or change your mind about not buying popcorn. Maybe my beef with all those commercial breaks stems from having a movie interrupted every few minutes by the same dang Progressive ad while trying to decide if this comedy from 2010 holds up or if I should find something else to watch as I while away the hours until it was time to leave the hotel for the airport.

Maybe I’m the problem here, with my stubborn, asinine refusal to put up with one of life’s inconveniences getting in the way of being able to mindlessly watch something. Or maybe I’m watching the dying gasps of the standard network television model, as more advertising is needed to account for the decline in viewership brought about by the proliferation of streaming. Either way, I’m the problem.

But at least I turn motion smoothing off.

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