Would you watch a film that was nothing more than a minute-by-minute recording of someone sleeping? It may sound like a terrible idea (and a wasteful way to spend your precious time) but this kind of “slow TV” is becoming popular, even in the U.S.
If you came here to find a couple of slow-burning television series to sink your teeth into, you won’t find any of that below. Slow TV is a specific genre that’s far removed from slow-moving-and-thoughtful-drama TV. You won’t find any drama here — and that’s the whole point. Maybe that’s the very reason people are falling in love with slow TV.
What Exactly Is Slow TV?
A lot of people immediately think of Andy Warhol’s Sleep (a five-hour film of a sleeping man) and the Norwegian Broadcasting Company’s Bergensbanen (a seven-hour view of a train ride) and assume that slow TV has to be quiet, contemplative, and/or relaxing.
It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
Slow TV is any kind of television coverage that occurs in real-time, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be broadcast in real-time. In fact, some even say that live coverage disqualifies a show from being slow TV (so that includes things like sports). For them, slow TV must be recorded with the intent to watch it after the fact.
This is a huge step away from traditional TV shows, which are deliberately scripted and designed to maximize drama-per-minute. Even unscripted reality shows, as they exist right now, are distilled and edited down to deliver the maximum amount of entertainment that will fit in an allotted broadcasting slot. None of this is “slow” in any sense of the word.
Indeed, traditional TV is manufactured to hook us in and keep us addicted, which is why so many people love to binge-watch shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things. Unfortunately, the drama-heavy and addictive nature of modern TV is rarely good for the mind, the body, or soul. At best it can lead to dramatically shortened attention spans, but at worst can cause or exacerbate clinical depression.
But there’s something different about slow TV.
Reality TV Without Any Edits
You can think of slow TV as reality TV without any of the editing. Some of these shows can be meditative (like watching a seven-hour train ride through beautiful countryside) but they can also be informative or even entertaining (like watching a wood-chopping event). That being said, the former kind does have a bigger — or at least a more vocal — base of fans and viewers, and it seems that that’s what the main identity of slow TV is becoming.
Some have even called it therapeutic, capable of tapping into something deep within us and allowing us to enter a state of restfulness:
The science still remains to be seen, but Sadr believes that not only Slow TV, but television in general helps us achieve a state that feels natural and restorative.
While the idea of an hours-long television broadcast of a train ride may sound strange, it just might be one of the most natural things in the world.
And with that in mind, the draw of slow TV is obvious when you think about it: it demands absolutely no attention from you as a viewer. This means you can put it on in the background and let it roll as you do something else, such as chore. Or you can zone out on the couch and fall into a pleasant nap while watching, without fear of having missed anything when you wake up.
It’s like ambient or white noise but in TV form, which is awesome if you ask me.
7 Slow TV Shows to Watch on Netflix
As of this writing, slow TV is still mainly a Norwegian phenomenon — but it’s spreading to the U.S., to Europe, and everywhere else that’s slowly learning about this phenomenon. And Netflix apparently wants to join in before everyone else does, hence its addition of several slow TV shows.
1. Fireplace 4K
Fireplace 4K, also known as Fireplace for Your Home, is a show I fell in love with many months ago, long before I knew that slow TV was an actual genre of its own. It’s similar to some of the videos you’ll find on YouTube — hours and hours of atmospheric footage of rain, a cafe, nature, etc. — but this is in beautiful 4K resolution.
This particular show is nice to watch during winter. Since I have no fireplace in my apartment, I’ll turn the lights low after dinner and play the crackling sounds and sights of Fireplace 4K on my TV — and it’s pretty darn effective at setting a calm and relaxing mood.
Winter Wonderland is actually in the same series as Fireplace 4K mentioned above but takes you to the completely opposite end of the spectrum: cold instead of hot, bright instead of dark. Very peaceful, especially with the soft background music.
And it’s not just a single camera trained upon one single fireplace — every minute or so, Winter Wonderland jumps to a different camera. At one moment you could be watching a glacial stream, while the next shot could be a wide shot of snow-covered evergreens on a backdrop of frosty peaks.
There’s one more in the Fireplace 4K series called Cascade Mountain Stream, which is a 30-minute shot of a single camera watching a beautiful summer stream. The rhythmic babbling of water on rocks makes for a relaxing time.
3. National Knitting
National Knitting Evening is actually the second in a series of three, but the first (National Knitting Morning) and the last (National Knitting Night) aren’t available on Netflix at time of writing. Still, Evening is four hours long and that should be more than enough to get an idea of what it’s about.
There’s a lot of talking in this one, but it’s soft and informative. At some points you’ll learn about knitting techniques and at other points you’ll be watching a few women knit and chat about topics related to knitting.
4. National Firewood
Like National Knitting, National Firewood is a series of three titles. The difference is that Netflix actually has all three of this series, so you can watch it all the way through from start to finish — if you so desire.
Start with National Firewood Morning, follow up with National Firewood Evening, and finish off with National Firewood Night. Morning and Night are similar to Fireplace 4K (hours of crackling flames) while Evening is more like an exploration of wood, how to chop it, how to stack it, and how to prepare it for fire.
Train Ride Bergen to Oslo (Bergenbanen in Norwegian) is the 2009 show that kicked off the modern slow TV trend, which is funny to think about because it was actually produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bergen Line.
Over the course of seven hours, you’ll watch the journey from Bergen to Oslo through the lenses of four cameras, both on the interior and exterior of the train. It goes through all kinds of environments and terrain (e.g. barren, snowy, grassy, urban) and it’s both beautiful and interesting to see from this vantage point.
Inspired by the success of Bergenbanen, Northern Railway takes you on another train ride — this time from Trondheim to Bodø. While the actual train ride is 10 hours long, this is actually a compressed one-hour version of it. (The original 10-hour ride is entitled Nordlandsbanen.)
Because of its compressed nature, there are a lot of cuts to different shots. It doesn’t have as many long and single shots, which might be disappointing if you wanted something more like Bergenbanen. This one also has voice-over commentary throughout, which you may or may not find distracting.
Two years after Bergenbanen, yet another voyage was recorded from start to finish — this time a cruise up Norway’s western coast, from Bergen to Kirkenes, resulting in a journey of 134 hours across 11 cameras and culminating in Hurtigruten.
Northern Passage is a one-hour compressed version of Hurtigruten complete with voice-over commentary about the ship, the journey, the people, and the geography of Norway along the way.
Note: The following Slow TV shows are supposed to be available on Netflix but weren’t at the time of writing: Salmon Fishing and The Telemark Canal.
Netflix: Bringing Slow TV to the U.S.
You may be able to find slow TV on other streaming services if you know where to look. The Window Channel provides long-length ambient scenic videos that, for example, show the view from a window facing out towards a Pacific beach — and you can watch these on Amazon right now if you have an Amazon Prime Video subscription.
Opinions may vary but I think it’s bold moves like this, among other aspects, that make Netflix well worth the money. If you’re looking for shows on Netflix beyond the usual fare, we recommend these interesting sci-fi shows as well as these quirky British comedies.
How do you feel about slow TV? Are you going to watch any of these shows? Is slow TV a gimmick that’s already past its prime or will it develop into something even greater? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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