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    Monday, August 21, 2006

    Triumph of Television

    It seems fitting that my 1000th post should extol the virtues of extolling the virtues of that most virtuous of art forms: television. Despite the fact that the bitch has my job (seriously, someone offer me living writing about television and I'll forego the Dr. I'm working to put in front of my name), I love, love, love Heather Havrilesky and it's fantastic to see her spread her wings a bit with a larger word count and a grander scheme in piece.

    She makes all the points I so love to make about television's perpetual improvement: Television has become a more reliably fulfilling and commercially uncompromised medium than film. This is largely due to the rise, in the last decade, of the serial drama, with its season-long arcs, slow-simmering character development, and diverse permutations, all of which have allowed TV writers more creative range than ever before. Instead of concise, often formulaic, self-contained episodes, we're treated to rich, complexly plotted stories about tortured Mafia families, soulful Muslim CIA agents and intergalactic spirituality crises that we end up caring deeply about.

    And situating TV's artistic leap as fundamentally an effect of serializing does my heart good. There's something fascinating in the way that serial art forms have been for so long maligned (soap opera, comic book, "series" novels), but that element, precisely that element, is the element recuperated and now lauded for its artistic (rather than sentimental) merits.

    I also burst with pride for "my shows" mentioned in the article, especially Six Feet Under and Battlestar Gallactica.

    I was also tremendously gratified by Havrilesky's note that Tivo and DVD as viewing methods have distanced the art of television from its formative profit motive. Exactly.

    If I know my readers, and I think I do, you'll get a kick out of the letters written to Salon in response to the piece - as always, the freaks come out of the woodwork. Blaming television-lovers for everything from poverty to the election (or whatever it was) of President Bush. Also, everyone has to come out for "their shows" that didn't get play in the article and, as usual, the Wheedon posse know how to stand by their man better than anyone else's. And, naturally, some fogies (no disrespect to older people, just to these older people) show up saying that the original Star Trek and The Avengers are really good TV. Mmmmm-hmmm. Finally, a few people who apparently didn't read the article have to weigh in on how only the rich can afford to watch good television because it's all on premium cable, whereas film is affordable. Please. I don't own a television and I'm a television FANATIC. One reason why: it's more cost effective to rent one disc of 6 hours of television vs. one disc of the same price with a 90 minute movie on it. Obviously, some people can't afford to go around renting movies, but, if you can rent DVDs or video, you can watch good television.

    But wait. I want to go back to something I said earlier. I'll just quote myself: There's something fascinating in the way that serial art forms have been for so long maligned (soap opera, comic book, "series" novels), but that element, precisely that element, is the element recuperated and now lauded for its artistic (rather than sentimental) merits.

    I need to clarify. Because part of what's cool is that, when we laud serial television, we are, to some extent, praising sentimentality. Or, if not praising it, acknowledging that it is fundamental to (or can be fundamental to) great art.

    But one itsy bitsy quibble: why is it that the only way we can save television from the cultural cemetery of the middle-brow is by putting it above film? There are things television does better than film, but not everything. Honestly though, after the beating TV has taken for the past 5 decades, film can take a punch or two, I guess.


    Blogger midwesterntransport said...

    oh, film sure can take a punch, especially given the CRAP that's been churned out.

    'course, i wouldn't mind seeing crap if it didn't cost 11 dollars a pop.

    i love six feet under! love it! i saw the first episode in a motel room while i was on my way home after hearing that my mother had cancer. mom's now fine, but honestly watching that family experience Elder Nathan's death just hit me in all the right places.

    that show and i were bff's afterwards.

    oh, and GF and I LOVE tv. we love it. also, in case you haven't hooked into it yet (i don't know if it's on dvd or not), The Closer is a really good show.

    4:39 PM  
    Anonymous Luke said...

    there's a lot of beef to be had with film and definitely TV deserves some more props for what it does on what i think is the more everyday sort of level. there's something to be said about having a consistency of important, diverse, progressive images, of stories on TV. but not in the saved by the bell "this is our episode about poor people" way...the Roseanne working class and the ER black doctors, women doctors sort of way

    congrats on the milestone!

    11:22 PM  
    Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

    Congrat on the 1000 - (1000, really - wow!).

    Snap! I'm just like you, a total TV glut and yet only own three different monitor/dvd combos. If you are a TV fan though, I really really strongly recommend getting a multiregion and picking up the wonderful, wonderous British TV - just "Life on Mars" and "Century Falls" should justify that, no?

    Besides, the UK gets box sets faster - we are on ER season 7, while the US is on ER season 5, Without a trace season 3 compared to Without a trace season 1.

    British Crime Drama with Frost, Prime Suspect, Cracker, 55 Degrees North, Touching Evil and earlier, seem to have set the stage which HBO picked up, the idea of the fallen heroes whose lives are as important as the individual case. Of course the difference is that viewers can actually related to the problems on BBC shows.

    I credit HBO in thier dramas and Showtime in thier specials short runs (like Gay Wedding, or Transnation) for pushing the Networks into giving people the possibilities of better programming (though they do still seem to love chopping shows that are "too edgy" from Book of Daniel to Wonderfalls). Take for example "The Wire" - where else (then HBO) and when else in history are you going to find a show where the majority of characters, including power players are black; where the "good" bad guy is an open homosexual AND a hero emulated by street kids; where one of the most competent officers is a lesbian in a stable relationship (until season 3); and where the most likable "fifth business" characters is a chonic junkie all in a show which isn't glamourizing anyone, indeed it is showing the sorted underbelly of humans.

    I don't know what we did to deserve HBO giving TV the knock up the side of the head but thank goodness.

    6:50 PM  

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