matt zoller seitz

Seitz Asks: What Special Feature Do You Wish DVDs Had?

Photo: HBO

Seitz Asks is a weekly feature in which our critic proposes a question about the medium, gives his own answer, then engages with readers about their responses.

Though I do a good chunk of my catching up on old series through various streaming services these days, there come moments when I revert to watching TV on DVD, whether for special features or because it’s simply not available on Netflix or Hulu. Setting aside the question of how long DVDs are going to be around for — electronic media is headed in a nonmaterial direction, after all — I wouldn’t mind seeing an additional menu option on discs of TV shows that allowed you to play a string of episodes as if they were one long megaepisode.

If you clicked this option — maybe it could be called “Play All As One” — you’d be able to watch however many episodes were packed onto a disc without interruption, eliminating opening and end credits, and leaving just a brief pause between the end of one episode and the start of the next. This would be especially effective for multi-episode arcs.

For instance, there’s a four-episode arc in season two of Hill Street Blues that I’d love to watch in one chunk. It’s built mainly around the doom-spiral of alcoholic detective J.D. LaRue (Kiel Martin) and the prosecution of a racist narcotics officer (Charles Hallahan) who’s in danger of losing his job for justifiably shooting a black suspect; the plotting is so elegant that the whole thing really crests in the finale, making a 170-minute, four-part story feel as cohesive as one of Sidney Lumet’s yeasty cop thrillers.

The Office’s various two parters (such as “The Search Committee,” parts one and two) might also benefit from a “Play All as One” option. A lot of NBC’s Thursday-night shows write multi-part arcs that really do feel like long comic short stories, or chapters of a novella. Certain recent dramas tried this as well. A good many Deadwood episodes were two-parters set within a 24-hour period (such as “A Lie Agreed Upon,” parts one and two); in some cases, the show would end part one with a shot that was picked up, or “answered”, at the start of part two.  And the obsessive in me would love to be able to watch a totally interconnected saga such as Crime Story, 24, or Awake in endurance-test fashion; the experience would be totally immersive, removing even the necessity of skipping past credits and “previously on” montages, and leaving only the story. Would such a viewing benefit the shows in question, or expose their weakness? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out.

There are a few sound arguments against such a DVD feature. One is the union-mandated contractual necessity of opening and end credits. (But I don’t think these agreements are deal-breakers; if it were really crucial to preserve credits, why do all DVDs of commercial TV shows permit you to skip them anyway?) Another objection is that the episodes themselves have a certain structural integrity that shouldn’t be messed with. Stitch a bunch of episodes together and you might lose the rhythmic distinctiveness of certain installments, which often begin and end in certain places (and with certain images) for a very definite reason.

As an auteur-friendly viewer, I wouldn’t want to muck that up, which is why I suggest “Play All As One” as a menu option, not a default setting. But when you think about how you watch DVDs of TV shows that you really like — skipping credits and other interstitial material to get to the meat of the story — I don’t think this would be a desecration, just a way of formalizing viewing habits that a lot of people have already embraced. If it were possible to watch an entire season of The Wire or Game of Thrones that way, I’d give it a shot.

What Special Feature Do You Wish DVDs Had?