Episode counts are very controversial when it comes to television. Ask a group of fans and many will say they prefer less episodes, many will prefer more, while some are currently content with the number.
However, there’s a common trend of giving a series only 10 episodes, particularly in the first season. There are many problems with this number and it affects the story, as well as a show’s chance of renewal.
This seems to happen more frequently on cable and streaming (broadcast usually goes with the number 13 for their unsteady performers), particularly on Freeform. Current shows like The Bold Type and Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger are renewed for another 10-episode season each, but limiting the episode count hurts the stories.
There are several problems with shorter seasons, but most importantly is the push for the plot to come to a conclusion by the season finale that feels undeserved, rushed, and should have been pushed out longer for the characters to deal with their current situations.
And, even worse, because of this constrained time to explore everything the writers want to/need to do before the end of the season, subplots are dropped without further mention all too often or come to a conclusion that, like the season finale, doesn’t feel earned or explored enough to merit the ending.
For example, Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger just ended its freshman season with the possibility of either Tandy or Tyrone dying, which was a good story, but is it really the time to introduce the inevitability of death for the duo when the series has only had 10 episodes?
Likewise, The Bold Type introduced an open relationship between a main character and her love interest, yet two episodes later this open relationship ended after barely any (on-screen) exploration, the entire reason this was introduced.
Now, this isn’t the fault of the show, but of the number of episodes and time allotted to them. It’s nearly impossible to fit everything necessary for the proper season finale into a small number of episodes, especially when it’s a series that airs once a year.
Even streaming shows with 10 episodes, like Marvel’s Runways on Hulu, feel this need to up the pace, push their characters past where they should realistically be, and rush stories to meet their cliffhanger planned for the season finale.
Character development is dramatically impacted by the choice to air a smaller number of episodes, too. While there’s definitely a limit to the number of filler episodes a series can have each season, some filler is good. It allows for a break from the main story that’s consuming the lives of these characters so we can see them outside of this and they can learn from their experiences and become better people with the more mundane stuff, too.
But with no filler, the characters aren’t allowed a chance to breathe, catch up with their lives, and we aren’t able to see any other sides to these characters. Usually, the filler episodes hold the best subplots for allowing viewers to learn more about the characters and their pasts, and we miss out on the backstory (which is often just as intriguing as the main plot).
While 10 episodes is too short, even a slightly larger number like 12 or 13 is perfect because there’s some room to breathe, allow the characters to rest and become as comfortable as possible in their worlds, and there’s a few extra episodes that don’t have to be entirely devoted to the Big Bad wreaking havoc on innocent bystanders.
So, please, to every network that does or is considering lowering their episode counts (I’m looking at you, Netflix), don’t. It’s hard to watch a show, especially a new one, that doesn’t have the time to feel around with their characters and stories and find what amount of time works best for the show to truly have the wonderful, thrilling experience people should have when watching a great TV show.