Playlist TV

I’m interested in seeing what happens with the webseries H+. More than it being about transhumanism or even post-apocalyptic themes, I’m intrigued by the ideas behind its format. Instead of it being a progression of a linear story episode to episode, it’s being presented as fragments of a larger narrative. Each episode is supposed to be self-contained, yet exist in different time periods related around a central event that changes the overall story of the world.

What really piqued my interest though, in relating the experience of seeing the episodes, was the following description:

Each episode is marked by its relation to The Event — some are just hours or minutes before or after it, and some take place years before (setting up the major players and shadowy conspiracies) or even years after, when the world is trying to hold itself together…Some eps end in cliffhangers, others jump further ahead in time and leave you to fill in the blanks. It’s a bit like LOST, if it was ALL about the flashbacks and flashforwards.

And here’s the thing: there is NO set order. After the first episode, you can watch these in any random order and it will (hopefully) still hold together as a show. The producers were very keen on the idea of Youtube playlists and hope that fans will roll their own combinations of episodes as they try to figure out which pieces of the puzzle fit together best.

It’s non-contiguous! Assuming this person is right, the episodes are planned so that they can later be rearranged and even re-watched in an ordering that might help a viewer understand it better. They can be remixed within a frame so that a potentially different narrative can be developed from the experience of seeing a set linear construction of the episodes. It might very well be the answer of trying to merge playlist culture and television.

In reading about it, I was immediately put in mind of the short story collections Naked Lunch and Jesus’ SonBoth, in their own ways, relate separate stories that are connected by people and places. More than even being assembled links in the chain of a narrative, like the chapters in Moby Dick and footnotes in House of Leaves, the stories in those collections can be read as separate entries. In fact, when I recommend those books, I often encourage that behavior; it’s often helpful to understanding all the events by starting in a different physical place than the beginning of both books and then going back to read earlier parts.

What separates H+ from the literary examples mentioned though is the expectation of being remixed. The authors might have intended that readers consider the structure of the works in conjunction with understanding the texts, but the producers in this case are encouraging their viewers to find a “playlist” that puts events in interesting trajectories. Instead of operating within the structure of the work, choosing to mentally reorder the progression, constructing the actual linearity is part of the puzzle to understanding the show. It’s a neat approach.