When I first started thinking about the difference between Film and TV I was mostly concerned with time, the former being anywhere from an hour and a half to about three hours and the later being blocked into either 30(22) or 60(42) minute slots. After reading Mittell’s Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television, I started to think about how format itself and TV’s use of complex narrative gives me a completely different relationship with tv shows than with movies.
No where else did this hit harder than in Mittell’s comment about how the entire storyline of the first(and only) season of Firefly, a subtle and satisfyingly laid out fourteen hour epic, was summed up and played out in a two hour movie. For anyone who has just watched the movie, you get a clear story, you get the characters and quick satisfaction. Those who watched the show entered the movie with a completely different background. You knew all of the characters like they were family, you learned about how they became part of the crew of Serenity, and how they acted around each other. You the viewer were around for all of the good times and bad times that the crew experienced. Firefly used many of the mechanical operations that Mittell discusses, most notably flashbacks to previous times with the crew, and episodes that start out with the outcome and then go back to see how that situation came to be. Through the series each character had at least one episode about them, where the viewer could delve into the characters psyche and make sense of their choices and relationships, all the while the larger mysteries of the reavers, River Tam and any connection between them is slowly progressed.
I feel that this is certainly a plus to TV over film. The one exemption could possibly be the serialized movie, for example the Harry Potter movies. With is mostly cheating because most people know the characters through the books first. Taken strictly as a series of movies, even though there will be eight of them, and a number of different approaches due to the different directors, you will never be able to get the same connection to the characters, and therefore the story, that television shows like Firefly can provide.