Complex TV


One of the challenges of a long-form serial narrative is maintaining viewer comprehension throughout a variety of viewing practices, whether it is weekly and seasonal installments through broadcast schedules or the more variable patterns afforded by DVDs, online viewing, and DVRs. This chapter builds on cognitive theories of narrative comprehension to consider how television serials have created methods to both maximize understanding and play with knowledge differentials between characters and viewers in programs including Dexter and Veronica Mars. I focus on issues of viewer memory as addressed both within the core narrative text and in associated paratexts, considering the varying ways programs trigger memories and exploit viewers’ fading memories to create unusual surprises in programs such as Battlestar Galactica and Lost. The chapter also analyzes different approaches to suspense, surprise, anticipation, and curiosity that have emerged for long-form serial television and how viewers thwart such narrative pleasures through spoilers. Finally, it concludes with a detailed account of the serial viewer’s activity in watching an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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