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Presenting the "Magical Episode 4 Theory": Viewers should wait four episodes before giving up on a show

  • "The fourth episode is usually when a show 'clicks' behind the scenes, according to the experts," explains Shirley Li.  "When I first started my admittedly unscientific pursuit, I assessed my favorite ongoing shows," says Li. "I quickly noticed that fourth episodes tended to include major character development, shocking narrative swings, or moments that would go on to define the series as a whole. (Apologies for any spoilers.) Lost, for example, revealed a key twist in (Episode 4) 'Walkabout,' which informed the show’s faith-versus-science mythology. Breaking Bad’s 'Cancer Man' ramped up the series’ overarching tension between its criminal protagonist and his DEA-agent brother-in-law. Glee—don’t judge, this was Season 1—had a fourth episode that revealed a teen pregnancy and incorporated a revolutionary-for-its-time coming-out scene. I kept writing about shows that were all over the map in terms of genre, network, and release strategy (Alias, 24, New Girl, Modern Family, The Crown, House of Cards, Jane the Virgin—I could go on). As I did, a logic emerged: If a pilot has to introduce the show’s world, and the second and third episodes must prove that the series can sustain itself, then by Episode 4 the cast and crew should be comfortable enough that their ease will translate to viewers. Maybe it’s all confirmation bias, and maybe I should look more closely at shows that aired before the 2000s. But binge-watching shows on streaming services only began in earnest in the 2010s, and in that context, I’m convinced. If you need a newer example, the fourth episode of Ted Lasso’s first season resolved two characters’ major conflict and shed light on an antagonist’s personal struggles—putting the Apple TV+ series on track to become TV’s 'nicest show.' Brett Goldstein, one of Ted Lasso’s writers and stars, even explained in an interview that he felt the show came together during the making of that episode."

    TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Lost, Peak TV, Prestige TV