My most profound interest in television studies concerns the audio-visual force created by the art of television auteurs that impacts the way we think about, feel, and see the world around us. But should we describe the highest achievements of television narrative as cinematic? Well, consider David Chase’s The Sopranos and how it alters our experience of space in a purely televisual manner. In The Sopranos, spaces, for example Jennifer Melfi’s office, are defined by months and years of continuing spectatorship. Over the course of the series, this particular space is defined visually through repetition and variation as an area that conveys what is happening between Tony and Dr. Melfi. It is, normatively, as close as we come in this narrative to sacred space. As a result, every time the space appears it is an occasion for conveying respect and violation, and each appearance of the space becomes part of an overall series image that gives us perspective on spatial and temporal aspects of human relationships and their fluidity. Some appearances are more potent than others, however, and one of the most intense occurs in “Employee of the Month” 3.4, when Tony crosses the space to comfort Melfi who is caught between professional ethics and her desire to ask Tony for vengeance against her rapist. Unlike in cinema, the force of that event is the result of years of spatial definition.
As Tony moves toward Melfi and Melfi reacts the screen is charged with layered and unspeakable insights about their relationship, about how space and time defines social interchange, and about gender relations. This is art; this is vision in motion. And it is unalterably rooted in the temporal aspects of televisual production circumstances, in this case 86 episodes and six seasons over eight years, that are impossible for cinema. This vortex of meanings. which derives from previous moments and enters into the audiovisual force of all moments in that space for years to come, becomes an evolving part of the aesthetics of the series. What should we call it? If we call it “cinematic,” do we not lose the particularity and magnitude of the television auteur’s work, exalting cinema as the good object toward which inferior televisuality must strive?