This past season of Suits seems to have joined in on cable TV’s trend of catering to the dwindling attention spans of viewers. At only six episodes long, it was one of the shortest TV seasons out there (though certainly not the shortest — the BBC runs three-episode seasons of Sherlock). But even though this method is becoming common practice, is it effective?
The hope is that short sesasons will provide tighter, more cohesive storylines — an absence of meandering fluff (something prevalent in network TV, thanks to seasons of 20 episodes or more). It’s what’s keeping the audience riveted, and it’s also what’s making binge-watching on services like Netflix, Amazon Streaming, or Hulu even more appetizing. Late to a series? You can burn through a season a day or two.
The question is, though, was six episodes too short, or did it hit the Goldilocks measurement of just right? To this viewer, this past season of Suits seemed more rushed, like they took conflict that could have been stretched out over the course of several episodes and crammed it all into an hour. Rick Hoffman’ Louis Litt had a heart attack, proposed to his girlfriend and lost her all in the span of one single hour. Patrick J. Adams’ Mike Ross waffled back and forth about leaving the firm for what seemed like too short a time. This season wasn’t given space to breathe — a six-episode cap warranted longer individual broadcasts, in earnest. FX adds time to its episodes all the time (for example, Sons of Anarchy) and it has proven a more effective way to tell stories. The cost? Missing out on a rerun of Law & Order: SVU once a week. Not too big a price to pay,
Another big trend is the splitting of seasons into two parts. Breaking Bad‘s two eight-episode semi-seasons made the final run of the show feel stifled. The time between the setup for Walter White to put all his chess pieces in place and his vindication felt too rushed — an extra episode or two in the home stretch might have helped. As a result of the format, the series finale seemed to fly by to quickly, with the last 15 minutes cramming in what needed another hour at least.
Obviously, there’s no one-size-fit-all for a season’s length. Some want to have entire real seasons (winter, spring, summer) go by as they watch their shows while others may want to have the show wrapped up as quickly as possible so they can move onto the next thing. I tend to find that the sweet spot is at least 12 to 13 episodes. Just long enough to really be able to have some meat in the plot but not so long that they have a ton of fillers that move the main plot along at a glacier’s pace (Supernatural, I’m looking at you). I just think that this season of Suits felt as though its jacket sleeves ended at the elbows its pant legs ended at the knees. Do a better job of tailoring next time.