The future of television appears to be subscription based content streaming. As the number of soaps aired on traditional networks continues to decrease, a market opportunity opened up. Unless you’ve got the money of Netflix or Amazon behind you, streaming content means low production values with simple edits. Soaps, by their very nature, require the exact opposite of that. Beacon Hill is an attempt by experienced veterans to create a new soap for the streaming age.
Here’s what Beacon Hill does right: A solid soap needs four to five sets (Main family homes, indoor gathering place, outdoor gathering place, offices). You need two warring families who have tons of messy interpersonal frenemy bonds. There are scandalous unrevealed secrets and dominating parental figures pulling the strings. Every episode ideally ends with a WTF moment that makes the viewer rush back for more. Soaps tend to swing between relatable family drama, off the wall fantasy and hot social issues. (Mad Men is a soap. Sorry if you didn’t know.) Beacon Hill hits most of these points capably. Their veteran cast includes some of the best in the business.
Here’s what Beacon Hill does wrong: 6 to 10 minute episodes with 2 minutes of credits is a ridiculous balance of content and time investment. This sets the viewer up to have 20% of their time taken up by branding. I understand the logic is that your average 30 minute show is 40% commercials and credits. The viewer perception is different because the interruptions are staged differently. Beacon Hill may be delivering more content, but it feels like less. Six 15 minute clips would feel much meatier than twelve shorter ones. The LBD got away with a similar balance because it was free. Beacon Hill is not free. You have to be careful of the human Rip-Off reflex. Beacon Hill raised far more questions than it answered in Season 1. It felt like paying for a prologue instead of paying for a story. None of the story lines introduced were really satisfied. Add incompletion to over branding and you’ve got a tall hurdle to clear for a Season 2 purchase.
Here’s why you should watch Beacon Hill anyway: It’s fascinating to see what people who understand the form are trying to do with it. Beacon Hill is stuffed with soap staples twisted slightly for a new production. The central couple of Beacon Hill (their Luke and Laura, if you will) are lesbians. The older, more established couple that guides them? Lesbians. Beacon Hill is also a show aimed at traditional viewers that resists making the focus on a f/f pairing controversial. Katherine is a self assured elected official on the edge of national success. She considers her sexuality a plus and her life reflects that self assurance. Sara, her former lover and the prodigal daughter of the show, is more fragile. She ran from a supportive partner and community because of toxic family issues she attributed to her sexuality that were actually endemic to her family as a whole. Sara and Katherine have mad chemistry and the creators know it.
Here’s why you might want to skip Beacon Hill: This is the whitest show ever to visit whitesville. Yes, in their defense Beacon Hill is 90% white on census records, but still. The show is too focused on Sara and Katherine’s confrontation to make the other characters more than props. Sara’s grandfather is such a broad character, he might as well be a ham sandwich. While the creators know the payouts for all the seeds planted the viewer does not. There’s too little reward for the price and the number of carrots strewn. As the first week of a new soap, it’s the perfect balance. As an entire season of a pay per view there’s a value problem. The cast of Beacon Hill has a built in fan base of exceptional loyalty. Without that, I think the show would be DOA. It’s up to Season 2 to make or break this beautifully produced start up.
*This post originally appeared at Love In The Margins.