The 3-Episode Rule of Prestige Television

Illustration for article titled The 3-Episode Rule of Prestige Television
Screenshot: HBO

A personal rule that I have with any new series is that I give it a mandatory three episodes to lock me in before I fully commit or decide to put it away forever, never to know how it ended or if it got any better. If the premise or cast is particularly strong, I extend my limit to four episodes. For my own peace of mind, I also chose to stop hate-watching things because the only person that loses, in the end, is me—and my spine, from hunching over my screen late at night trying to figure out if anything interesting will happen to Emily while she is in Paris. The beauty of this rule is that it acts as a sort of filter for the amount of television I allow myself to consume.

Prior to instating this rule, I just watched whatever was on the streaming services until it ended, and if I was dissatisfied by the end and felt like I’d lost 10 hours of my life, well tough titties right? But it turns out there is a better way to live. I have the power to say no to watching every single fucking show that is churned out by the bottomless pit that is television production. Have I missed out on some cultural moments? Yes, probably. I don’t know how The Wire ends. I’ve never seen the second episode of Breaking Bad. I’m not going to know what happens to Beth in The Queen’s Gambit. Life will just be full of unanswered questions.

But I’ve got more time for other things, like knitting and playing Assassin’s Creed, which is a much better use of my time than the last show that received my three episodes’ worth of viewership, HBO Max’s Industry.

Before I’d even started the first episode of Industry I’d pegged it as a show that I would follow all the way to the end. At the outset, it has everything I want in a dramatic series: a young attractive cast, English accents, more than one character that isn’t white, and a premise that revolves around the stock market. My expectation going into this series was that it would fill the Billions-shaped hole in my heart but also offer me something different in that the focus was on young aspiring traders and not the minted billionaires. Something new seasoned with something familiar—I felt like I was in for a good time. Not only did Billions pass the three-episode test, it hooked me by the mid-point of the first episode, a feat which was not duplicated in years (until I watched the pilot for Veneno, also on HBO Max).

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Industry’s only redeeming quality over its counterpart Billions, a superior show, is the central focus on a young Black genius and her peers as opposed to two old white guys and their invisible white families. I wasn’t expecting Industry to get me so quickly but I also wasn’t expecting how fast it lost me. I honestly wanted to give up after the second episode but I am a TV watcher of my word and held out a tiny, tiny shred of hope. The first episode is a classic uninspiring pilot: A bunch of university graduates vying for a permanent position at Pierpoint Bank, and the episode ends with an unforeseen twist that was actually very foreseeable (one of the kids dies because he was an insecure try-hard). The whole thing was very paint-by-numbers. The following two episodes lacked any developments that interested me and spent a little too much time giving the deplorable assholes who work at Pierpoint a backstory. Nothing against deplorable assholes as there are plenty in Billions, but those assholes are vastly more interesting than the ones in fictionalized London.

The part of me that wants to see more shows helmed by non-white actors with command performances wanted to love it and follow it wherever it led. But the logical part of me that understands I have a limited amount of time on this earth and not everything is worth several hours of my focus won out in that battle. And because of my three-episode rule, I will never know if Industry gets better, and I’m fine with that. The three-episode rule may not be perfect—some shows are just a slow burn and take their sweet ass time to get anywhere. But right now the only people I can freely and safely spend time with are TV characters and the three-episode rule protects me from becoming emotionally invested in imaginary people that aren’t worth the time or the effort of my care or imaginary friendship. My expert recommendation is to just wait until Billions comes back.

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DISCUSSION

You kind of lost me when you said you didn’t finish the Wire or go beyond one episode of Breaking Bad. How can we trust your taste when you abandoned two of the greatest shows in television history?