Mittell’s discussion of Narrative Complexity was really interesting and a lot to digest or discuss in a blog post. But I think his fundamental point about “narrative complexity,” aside from creating a language to analyze television, was that it engages the viewer in ways that film does not. To name a few:
- Fan Culture
- Longer story archs
- Operational Aesthetic
- Operational Reflexivity
“Operational Aesthetic” and “Operational Reflexivity” allow the other attributes to manifest themselves. “Operational Aesthetic” focuses on the mechanics of the complex storytelling. Mittell discusses the viewer being tricked by the show, enjoying this, then awing in the prowess exhibited in order to trick them. “Operational Reflexivity” might be a subcategory of this, it allows the viewer to engage in the complexities of the show, through the show’s lucidity of itself.
Complex storytelling is something film very rarely can offer because it requires a certain knowledge of back story, character development and “terms” that the show is created on, which can only be established through consistent viewing. The prowess of the show’s mechanics can only be appreciated when first understood. Complex narratives have to “earn” or establish the distortions, twists and often far-fetched occurrences, in order to be “true” to the show, in order to be justifiable within the context of the show’s terms and to the characters involved. A show has to be complex enough, so that viewer is obligated to watch every frame in order to be competent enough to engage in the story, be captivating enough to keep the viewer interested without resorting to melodrama, and still make sense. Television can offer this level of density and complexity because of the extensive amount of time the viewer has to engage, now, rewind, discuss, watch again and fully comprehend the series, which simply, for the most part, cannot be done in two hours with a film.