Monday, August 21, 2006

Rotting My Brain?

As Woody Allen says, “Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.” But what does good TV imitate? For you book-reading snobs out there, I think that television has become the busy man’s short story. And, when you look at how far television has come, and in particular, channels like HBO and FX, there is a lot in which we can be intellectually interested.

Recently, I have been thinking about what draws people to regularly watch and love a television show? I think for me, it has to do with the characters. In fact, I don’t mind a slow plot if the characters are written in such a way that just watching how they react to simple things is interesting. I would also contend that within the past five to ten years or so, there have been some of the greatest characters ever written for television. To name a few, Tony and Carmella Soprano from The Sopranos, Al Swearengen from Deadwood, Vic Mackey from The Shield, anyone from Arrested Development, and Christian from Nip/Tuck are all powerful and incredibly interesting characters.

One show that I loved on HBO was called Carnivale. And, if you didn't watch it, it was a sort of magical realism mixed with carnies. Anyway, I signed up to be on the yahoo group for the show so I could read how people were interpreting the plot twists and whatnot. The show has been canceled for more than a year, and I still get no less than 10-15 group emails a day about various aspects of the show, which only ran for two seasons. Such a devotion to a television show is just amazing to me.

It's also interesting how very sad people are when a show ends. Many of us are emotionally preparing for the last few episodes of the Sopranos or perhaps are still a little sad that West Wing is no more (unless that’s just me). And while it may be silly to care that much about a television show, the fact is that we do. And, it seems like a lot of it is us caring about these characters on TV have elements of “us” in them or how we imagine we might be in that particular setting or situation. I’m not sure if television can quite be counted as high culture just yet, but I would say there are certainly glimpses of it.


Anonymous bill said...

Guess there are two of us, at least, who are a bit sad about West Wing though my interest in the characters had declined over the past couple of years. For me, too, it is the characters that bring me back. Unfortunately the major networks seem weak in this area. Lots of "reality", lots of pseudo-science (CSI), occasionally a good ensemble cast, but the better characters seem to be in the off-net series.

10:53 AM  
Blogger V said...

Most of us had watched the West Wing characters for so long that there was at least a little loss at knowing we'd not be seeing them in our TVs anymore.

I think TV has gotten a little smarter about character development, but it seems to be more quirky and less substantive.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Scarlett said...

Why do we get so connected to fictional characters? I loved the west wing and on many occassions have wished that Jed Bartlett were our actual president. But the characters were so well written and acted that I felt like I knew them. Particularly when John Spencer passed away I felt like I had lost a friend and actually cried when they played the episode. Thank god for endless Bravo repeats!

12:26 PM  
Blogger Sweet said...

Yeah I'm definitely staying in to watch the Prison Break premiere tonight. The show's not even that good anymore, but the Wentworth Miller hotness is too much to resist.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Virgle Kent said...

Mad shout out for "The Shield" its the best written, hardest cop show of all time. It's like watching a Michael Mann movie every week.

No points for the weak sauce Arrested Development, if it was that good it would still be on... period. I mean look at Family Guy.


1:14 PM  
Blogger Miss Scarlet said...


Anyway, I definitely get into TV shows and get annoyed when some say none of it is good. I can't even think about Gilmore Girls ending. And I'm already way into Greys Anatomy. Thank goodness for DVDs!

1:51 PM  
Blogger Kathryn Is So Over said...

Now that I'm finally on the current season of Deadwood, I occasionally purposely let 2-3 episodes pile up in the TiVo so I can have a binge like I did when I was on the dvds from the last two seasons. I'm going to be VERY sad when there are no new episodes at all.

PS - Seth Bullock is way too skinny these days. I no longer find him attractive in many scenes. Timothy Olyphant needs to eat some more.

2:20 PM  
Blogger O-FACE said...

I totally agree. I thought Real Sex part hundred sumthing and G-string divas were excellent series as well

2:57 PM  
Blogger Ashburnite said...

I agree. We all have shows in which we get involved with the character's lives, and start to care about them. There are characters whom I can't wait to see every week (like Christian on Nip/Tuck, or Dr. House).
I am still a Sex & the City addict and am working on getting the whole series, since I just can't live without them.

3:23 PM  
Blogger doubleonegative said...

good points.

i have to quit evangelizing...but season four of the wire starts september 10th. without question the most intelligent show on tv. okay, well maybe i read that somewhere. but it. you won't regret it.

3:42 PM  
Blogger V said...

VK: Arrested Development is as funny as any show that's ever been on TV. Watch all three seasons. I promise.

K: I totally agree. He looked great in The Girl Next Door, the Wild West is taking its toll.

Double: Preaching to the choir around here--can't wait for this next season.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

CV is right about Arrested Development. Why no one watched this show is a mystery, except that maybe because it didn't have a laugh track or olsen twins in it.

It probably would have fared better on HBO.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Seems like the bulk of what I watch is on HBO, including one of my favorites that you didn't mention which is "The Wire." Totally addictive and set in Baltimore.

7:08 PM  
Blogger JoJo said...

You can add me to the West Wing mourners. But, the new Aaron Sorkin show "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" will be the leading candidate to suck me back into episodic television (Project Runway notwithstanding). I got a copy of the pilot and LOOOOVED it.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Floyd said...

Arrested Development would have been an incredible HBO show, except that sometimes beeps are funnier than the actual cuss words. I miss the show greatly.

I just got caught up on Deadwood tonight, and I am going to be PISSED when it finishes its run. That, combined with the Sopranos last gasp this spring, might just send me into a funk from which I'll never recover.

10:55 PM  
Blogger KassyK said...

I agree that some television is crap and enjoyable because of it’s crappiness but that other television is innovative and brilliant. My favorite three shows on tv are all character driven with incredible plotlines and chemistry btwn the actors as well.

LOST-There is a reason why this show won best show Emmy and Golden Globe last year (although snubbed this year). Btwn the backstories intertwining, the island mysteries, the character driven plotlines and the actual interaction btwn characters—this is tv at it’s best. Particularly watching Sayid, Hurley, John Locke and Sun for me are the perks. But I love the entire cast.

NIP/TUCK-Dr. Christian Troy is hands down one of the most hateful/loveable dynamic characters even shown on tv. While you despise him, you find yourself falling in love. He is appalling yet desirable. I have had quite a few Christian sex dreams. I cried when he saw Kamber in the hospital and I was in shock when he made that ugly woman wear a paper bag on her head so he would fuck her. WOW.

Law & Order:SVU-I love crime dramas in general but this show is the bomb. Mariska won the Emmy as well (or Globe?) for best actress in a drama and it was well deserved. Det. Olivia Bensen and Det. Elliott Stabler have such an incredible friendship/partner connection that they bring humanity to some of the most atrocious things show on tv.

I also would choose HOUSE over Grey’s Anatomy because to me it is more quality tv and I caught Carnivale too and loved it. Eerie but amazing. Great post V.

8:28 AM  
Blogger KassyK said...

PS-I love Arrested Development and The Office as well in terms of comedy.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Freckled K said...

I didn't know Carnivale was cancelled! I hate it when season finales end with a I will never know if/how good will conquer evil.

And Huff - I just found out they cancelled that. That too ended with a wide-open storyline.

And I still miss Valerie Cherish, of course.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Martin said...

Cable empowers series developers to really push the envelope for storytelling. Sex, violence, ambiguous characters, open-ended stories, etc. The only stuff I watch on the networks these days fits this bill, and that's usually genre stuff.

I break down my TV watching into two tiers: "Appointment" and "Casual." The former is stuff I am addicted to and can't stand to miss, and the latter is stuff I enjoy, but don't feel bad about if I miss an episode or two.

Appointment TV:
"Battlestar Galactica"
"The Sopranos"

Casual TV:
"The Shield"

Yeah, I'm a huge geek, but I'll take sci-fi over the shite they call "reality" shows any day of the week. ;)

10:41 AM  
Blogger KassyK said...

FreckledK-YES!! That's my tag line...I miss Valerie as well...that show was laugh out loud hilarious. Lisa Kudrow is so funny.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Freckled K said...

KassyK - Yep. The Comeback was brilliant. I'm gobsmacked that they didn't give it more of a shot. I believe it would have caught on with time.

3:29 PM  

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