Wasteland is a hard pill to swallow all at once: Grey, bleak, and tense, and with long stretches in the middle that play like filler meant to kill time until the big revelation at the end. Had I been following this series week by week, the tension of the mystery and promise of resolution might compel me to keep tuning in. Sitting down to watch all eight hours at once, I found myself getting restless and even bored: We know the twist is coming; let’s get to it already so I can go to the bathroom. Wasteland is not a bad series, but watching it at the festival was a punishing experience — less binge-watching than force-feeding. Even the show’s creator was impressed by the amount of people who stayed until the end.
The rest of Primetime was a tasting menu. The program screened the first three episodes of Transparent’s third season, which will be available on Amazon Prime on Friday; three half-hour episodes from the middle of the first season of nirvanna the band the show, a half-hour Canadian comedy airing on Viceland in 2017; two hour-long episodes from Black Mirror’s third season, streaming on Netflix in October; and two episodes of the Kenyan web series Tuko Macho.
The inclusion of Transparent and Black Mirror follows the TIFF tradition of giving a platform to blockbusters that will do just fine without the festival buzz (the opening film this year was Antoine Fuqua’s star-studded remake of The Magnificent Seven, out this week). The new episodes of both series were terrific, but given that both will be available to stream online within the next few weeks — and that both are already highly anticipated, critically lauded series — their inclusion in the festival felt a bit beside the point.
Incorporating ambitious, visually rich TV series in a popular film festival may seem like a natural step in TV’s climb up the pop culture ladder. But as more of us watch TV on our own schedule and our own devices, watching a movie in a theater is one of the few communal artistic experiences that remain accessible to most people in most parts of the world. Maybe it’s not so bad to keep film in the cinema and television in our living rooms. I want to go out to a movie, but I want to come home to TV.