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Question of the week: is TV more forgiving of bad acting than movies are?

Posted on May 8, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion on Castle.jpg

Willa Parkin over on Slate recently made an interesting suggestion:

In a movie, an actor has approximately two hours to convince the audience of his or her skill. They only get one shot at us, and if they’re unnatural or uncomfortable, overly mannered or under-emotive, we won’t connect to or care about them. They will have failed to do their job, and we will see them for what they are: bad.

TV is a whole other story. Actors have multiple episodes to hone their performances, and even if each installment is far shorter than a movie, it’s also contained. It films, it finishes, the actors can see it and take notes. Over the long run of a series, many initially not-so-great actors have dramatically improved — think of Taylor Kitsch on “Friday Night Lights,” Tina Fey on “30 Rock,” or Courteney Cox on “Friends” — just as their writers learn to create material that plays to their strengths, giving them the story lines and jokes best suited to them.

But while the actors and the writers are getting better, the audience is also doing work. As a show goes on, we start to think of bad acting as a character trait, and stop seeing it as the performer’s lack of skill. “Mad Men’s” Betty Draper is emotionless and unreadable because Betty has been infantilized her whole life by a sexist society that has rewarded her for being pretty, not interesting — not because January Jones can only play one note. “Castle’s” Katic is stilted and stiff because her character, Kate Beckett, is uptight and traumatized — not because Katic can’t express feelings and wouldn’t have chemistry with a bottle of peroxide. “Friday Night Light’s” Julie Taylor is oddly unknowable because she’s young and immature (despite having three to four times as much screen time as “FNL” characters we know intimately), not because Aimee Teegarden isn’t up to the level of her costars. (Though the aforementioned examples are all actresses, men fall into this category too: Like David Boreanaz in “Bones” or Winston on “New Girl.”)

So this week's question is a simple "Do you agree?" –

Is TV more forgiving of bad acting than movies are?

Answers below or on your own blog, please

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