New Books Network

We are said to be in a golden age of TV. The best stories today are told on television screens in serialized forms. The...

We are said to be in a golden age of TV. The best stories today are told on television screens in serialized forms. The Wire, Lost, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos are a few of the shows that have elevated the cache of television, introducing riskier forms of storytelling in a medium that has been typically formulaic and convention bound. Fans and critics alike celebrate them for innovation and television networks are filled programming with more and more of them.

In Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television (NYU Press 2015), is film and television scholar Jason Mittell of Middlebury College offers a sustained analysis of the poetics of television narrative, focusing on how storytelling has changed in recent years and how viewers make sense of these innovations. Complex television, Mittell says, is not a genre. It is a storytelling mode and set of associated production and reception practices that span a wide range of programs across an array of genres. Through close analyses of key programs, includingThe Wire, Lost, Veronica Mars, and Mad Mento name a four, the book traces the emergence of this narrative mode, focusing on issues such as viewer comprehension, transmedia storytelling, serial authorship, character change, and cultural evaluation.

Developing a television-specific set of narrative theories, Complex TV argues that television is the most vital and important storytelling medium of our time. It is not that the best stories today are on the small screen. Rather, that the most sophisticated, freshest, and the most complex techniques for telling them are.


John Balz is Director of Strategy at VML, a full-service marketing agency with offices around the globe. He has spent his career applying behavioral science strategies in the marketing and advertising field through direct mail and email, display and .coms, mobile messaging, e-commerce and social media. You can follow him on Twitter @Nudgeblog and contact him at nudgeblog@gmail.com.