Visions from Lilliput

The rise of the minisode
By JAMES PARKER  |  July 28, 2008

In a sense, every successful portmanteau word represents a narrow escape. The adventurous designers of the combination spoon/fork, for example, could easily have called their invention a foon. And the gaffes available to Sony Pictures Television, when it decided last year to produce five-minute Web-friendly versions of a heap of popular shows, were without limit: tinyvision, teewee, the dinkyNet. . . But sound æsthetics prevailed, and just as the fork with spikes was named a spork, the condensed TV episode enters the language in righteousness as a minisode.

One could argue, however boringly, that in the phenomenon of the minisode — which proclaims its retention of the “full narrative arc” of its original, even as it scrunches that into near-nonsense — our culture is presenting yet another symptom of intellectual decline, creeping ADD, capitalist brain acceleration, or what have you. Twenty-five minutes with the Minisode Network on YouTube (it also runs on MySpace, Crackle, Joost, AOL Video, and Verizon Wireless) were enough to convince me otherwise: the minisode is its own thing, a kind of minimal, calligraphic rendition of the original story, rather illuminating in the spareness of its strokes. Did I say strokes? An episode of Diff’rent Strokes came in at just over four minutes and still seemed purgatorially long. Most of the old-school comedy dramas, in fact, are mercilessly deconstructed by the minisode, each one boiled down to its rag of a plot and its three haggard jokes. Larry Hagman frowns and jiggles the ice in his drink in I Dream of Jeannie; Edna Garrett mugs maternally through The Facts of Life; almost nothing else seems to be happening. The form rejects filler, but what if filler is all there is?

The kind of TV that adapts itself most readily to the minisode, in fact, is resilient mutant super-trash TV — daytime talk shows, soaps. Ricki Lake was more or less made to be minisoded: from premise (“The bitch gave me chlamydia!”) to moral (“This is not an easy show to sum up, but I think we can all agree that the children are of the utmost importance. . . . ”) all in 4:57 or less. A minisode of The Young and the Restless in which Nicki and Victor exchanged vows while Ashley recorded a tearful video message for Abby seemed to me an admirable display of dramatic economy. The plot moved smartly. The characters were vivid and alive. The posters in the YouTube comments box certainly seemed to dig it: “I hate his new wh*re of a wife she a gold digger why can’t he see that?” wondered MoonGoddessFox. Equally immune to abbreviation is the obstacular ugliness and frenzy of The Three Stooges: the minisode, in fact, might be the format that finally permits me to get to grips with this very unsettling body of work.

What’s bizarre is that the Minisode Network is already undercutting its brand by commissioning original minisodes. This would seem to negate the interrogative and haiku-like qualities of the minisode form: the point, surely, is not to make five minutes of your own TV but to vandalize half an hour of somebody else’s. And the “new” minisodes aren’t great: you haven’t been bored till you’ve watched the gang in Rescue Me sitting around the firehouse slinging manly clods of sub-Tarantino dialogue at one another: “Clemens used steroids? You’re freakin’ kiddin’ me!” etc. Put a spork in them: they’re done.

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  Topics: Television , Internet, Internet Broadcasting, Science and Technology,  More more >
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