What are the main points of argument in "Broken on Purpose: Poetry, Serial Television, and the Season"?

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In “Broken on Purpose; Poetry, Serial Television, and the Season,” Sean O’Sullivan explores the formal relationship between serialized television and poetry. In considering this relationship, O’Sullivan suggests that a season of serial television constitutes a new “unit of meaning” (43).

Although authors and critics often compare the use of episode...

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in serialized television to the use of chapters in a novel, O’Sullivan feels that the use of fragmentation in episodic television has a closer relationship to poetic fragmentation. O’Sullivan suggests that a key difference between serial television and the novel is television’s tendency to emphasize multiple narratives rather than a singular narrative. He notes that before 1999, television programs often varied in number of episodes, fragmented by commercials and promotions in a relatively arbitrary way. O’Sullivan believes that HBO’sThe Sopranos altered this narrative mode by employing a thirteen-episode format without commercials, allowing serialized television to use fragmentation more intentionally. This intentional use of sequential fragmentation makes serialized television more akin to poetry than prose:

Think of those thirteen episodes as lines of verse, and this new model of the season is something like a sonnet—a clear but flexible shape that both hews to established protocols and breaks those protocols when necessary. (43)

When considered this way, the thirteen-episode sequence becomes a new “unit of meaning” rather than a less than intentional grouping of episodes. This shorter season duration encourages the viewer to consider the season as a whole rather than a set of vaguely connected episodes. O’Sullivan goes on to link the advent of DVD technology to the popularity of the season as a “unit of meaning” in the mainstream culture, and expands upon other ways The Soprano’s echoes elements of the sonnet.

O'Sullivan, Sean. "Broken on Purpose; Poetry, Serial Television, and the Season." Literary Theory: An Anthology, Third Edition. Edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2017, pp. 42-54.

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