Friday, July 18, 2008

On Television

Two of my favorite shows are ending between this week and next. One for good and the other for an extended hiatus. I am rather sad about this.

Mad Men begins in a week--which is exciting but there is something inherently tragic about Mad Men which makes one feel as if one is watching too much Eugene O'Neil.

So, I would like to take this time to talk about what I watch and why.

I watch too much television, I know that. And I realized as I went through things that I can track my life in other people's milestones--the shows I watched, the albums I bought, the clothes that other people designed. I can also track some of my life in shows that I've done, friends that I've had, jobs I've tried--so I'm not so helpless as some.

In this year I've watched pretty faithfully the following:

Law & Order (which got good again), L&O: SVU (which sucked a bit), L&O: CI (with two detectives for the price of one)
CSI (but NOT CSI: NY or CSI: Miami)
Lost (which my husband does not watch with me--he watches everything above--more on that later)
Eli Stone (which he also does not watch)

Doctor Who
Sarah Jane Adventures

Mad Men (coming soon)
The Riches
Nip/Tuck (though not faithfully as it was a bit over-the-top for an over-the-top show)
{Interestingly I have been unable to interest my husband in any of these}


Masterpiece Mystery (selectively) or as I like to call it, Misterpiece Mastery
British Mysteries wherever I can find them--Waking the Dead (though I've seen all the ones they're showing), Silent Witness (though she annoys me), MI:5, Wire in the Blood

Keith Olberman for news, since the hip have moved on from John Stewart

Sporadically--Mythbusters, Ace of Cakes, America Eats, Phantom Gourmet (a restaurant critique show up here), other science and discovery shows

We'll also watch reruns of The Simpsons, SpongeBob, James Herriot (which we've both seen all the way through about 8 times). Selected other cartoons--my husband watching Family Guy without me though I find it funny just in small doses.

I feel as though I've forgotten some. Would have watched 24 but that didn't happen and we had some discussion as to whether it was worth watching anymore. I managed to go the entire season without ever watching ER but my husband got sucked into one episode and sucked it did.

You will notice that there are NO "reality" shows in the competitive style. There are also no sit-coms (unless you count The Simpsons). I have watched sit-coms in the past, the last one being Scrubs, and we'll watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond, but for the most part it doesn't satisfy me as a genre. And here's why. At some point I remember reading someone famous saying that in writing for television you had to have an adventure, but somehow return to the exact same spot 20 minutes later. Nowhere is this more true than in a sit-com, because the comedy comes from the same situation week after week. People make the same mistakes over and over and we keep laughing. People don't take jobs elsewhere. A minor character might marry, but only to further the original joke. All of television used to be like that, but thank God we have moved away from that model. Jack Bauer will (probably) live through the season, but any of his co-workers are fair game, or worse, they will be revealed to be traitors--to be not at all what we thought they were. That kind of transition used to be used only if someone wanted out of their contract.

Of course, Jack will be back next season making many of the same mistakes so the fundamentals won't be changed, but at least it's more interesting getting there.

Contrast this with any other form of entertainment. A play, a movie, a book is about the most important moments of a person's life in a contained amount of time. The characters should be deeply changed by the end of story or what was the point.

Of course, that's not always true--there is certainly an interesting genre of literature and film where almost nothing happens, but in the grand sense a good story is about getting from A to B, whatever that may mean--internally, externally, internally and externally. Television writing or at least sit-com writing is going to B but coming back to A.

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