Monday, September 23, 2013

I, too, like it: On "good TV"

Time to do a little tweet-expanding again. These are from last night, when I caught some people live-tweeting the Emmys (Emmies?).


Only one person "wrote in" to disagree with me, and he said he didn't want to argue, so, OK, don't argue. But here's the thing: It's fine to "like TV" (see above) but can we at least agree that TV is about as profit-driven as you can get while still kinda sorta qualifying as art? THB, I don't think of TV as "an artform" any more than I think of cars as an artform. TBH part 2, I kind of prefer trash TV to "good TV" because good TV works too well. I become attached to and obsessed with fake people to an upsetting degree. (I'm still mad about Matthew & Mary ... and don't get me started on Cuddy & House.) It's different from movies or books because shows last weeks/months/years as opposed to 2-3 hours or 200-700 pages; I'm less likely to feel betrayed by a book because it's written by one person, not an evolving team of people subservient to network and advertiser demands; plus if a book starts to betray me I just stop reading it, but once I'm addicted to a show I feel compelled to finish it even though I hate it. And all the while I'm being forced to watch fake people use Windows tablets and buy Jimmy Choos.

23 comments:

  1. In my view really great television transcends these concerns. The Wire, The Sopranos. I don't think it takes longer to watch The Wire from start to finish than it takes to read Anna Karenina. (You can also save some time by not watching the problematic 5th season.) The Sopranos was very successful commercially, The Wire less so, but in neither case was there any pressure from advertisers. Both were "auteur" products with no discernible pressure to be more "marketable" or whatever. (It's true that the 2nd season of The Wire has more white characters, and maybe that was partly an effort to broaden its audience, but it's also a great season, arguably the best.)

    I am sympathetic to the addictiveness problem, but I've spent plenty of nights unable to put a book down because I am hooked. Basically I am unwilling to say "crack is crack" when we are speaking of something with artistic merit, which I think the best shows have.

    But this is a pretty limited point, I can't think of a single TV show that rises to this level of greatness other than the ones I've mentioned. Maybe some anime shows if you're into that kind of thing.

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    1. I have shows that I think transcend these concerns too, notably my all-time favorite MSCL. (Even there, half the extant episodes suck and of course it was cancelled because it was TOO REAL.) But regardless of what TV is capable of achieving, it mostly feels cheap to me and I never feel like I'm missing out when everyone's talking about whatever the new great show is. I'd probably like it if I watched it, yeah, but I don't care.

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    2. Fuck, just misclicked and lost my comment. Short version:

      There are a lot more great books than great TV shows, so I think your strategy is sound. But if you are ever in the market for a great TV show, I urge you to check out The Wire, it is up there among the best books/movies/TV shows I have encountered.

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    3. It's the #1 most recommended show ever.

      The thing is, it's not like I can just watch it in an afternoon and be done with it ... once I start watching, I KNOW I'll be addicted and need to see it all, and I don't WANT that. I know a lot of people consciously seek out experiences like this ... they like reading serial novels for example. But I don't really enjoy the feeling of being addicted to a show. Like staying up way too late on the "Just one .. more ... episode" train. It makes me feel gross to binge on TV even when it's great. Because there are other worthwhile things I could be doing too and I lack portion control.

      But yeah, if I ever have a LOT of time and not much else to do, then, sure.

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  2. This shows that I wasn't misreading your tweets after all. I do think you're wrong, but I still don't want to argue. It's not your opinion that made me angry, it was that I felt I was being treated as a complete idiot who had no idea what he was talking about. Which is what happens pretty much anytime I disagree with you. So I get upset and don't handle it very well and it leads to bad feelings, which I regret, and I'm sorry. I know I should stop caring so much.

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    1. I don't care if you agree with me or not and I don't think you're an idiot by any means, but: You don't need to tell me or anyone if something I say to a general audience on Twitter is "not very interesting" to you.

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    2. Yes, I'm sorry if that was rude.

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    3. Also I don't think you can characterize my argument as "dismissing" TV entirely while not paying attention to it. I pay partial attention and I dismiss it partially.

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  3. well, just be happy for all the time~

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  4. I have a weakness for vintage TV shows. Dark Shadows, especially the early b & w. The Avengers with Diana Rigg playing Emma Peele (my all-time favorite female TV character.) The Twilight Zone (I've had dreams in which I'm Rod Serling). The Mary Tyler Moore Show (particularly the early episodes with Cloris Leachman and Valerie Harper). Maybe a few others. By weakness I mean I can get hooked on them. I'm past snobbery: last night's post-prandial reading was the liner notes from Grand Funk Railroad's "red album," an article about polymorphous pansexuality in a Penthouse from '74 (found it in a junk shop), and Pascal's Pensées. I mean I don't make any divisions any more--haven't for a long time. I just follow my nose.

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    1. We caught a marathon of old Twilight Zone episodes recently in a hotel. I appreciate really formulaic TV sometimes, hence the appeal of House. Every episode is the same! But different.

      Lately I've been watching old seasons of The Real World. I'm not above TV by any means, I just try to be aware of its general grossness.

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  5. Less "serious" point first, when you said "THB," I didn't know what that mean so I looked it up and Urban Dictionary told me it stood for "touch her butt," but when you said "TBH" the second time I realized it meant "to be honest." So there's that.

    Next, I'll pile on and also recommend The Wire. I still miss all those characters, Omar especially. But overall, I kind of share this orientation toward TV. I get addicted to it really easily, too, and generally prefer not to be in that state of addiction so I can keep that time to devote to other things (books, etc.) But I do like knowing that all this TV is out there waiting for me some day if I ever need it, like if I am convalescing from some kind of illness or accident.

    A thing that is about to happen here in Chicago is the Sunday Salon Reading Series, and I'm reading in it, but! It's the night of the finale of Breaking Bad. We are doomed.

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    1. Whoops yes I meant To Be Honest all along. I hope that didn't cause a national surge of butt-touching.

      Yeah I think being stuck in a hospital is probably the best time to get addicted to a TV show. I've also been told many times to watch Friday Night Lights.

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  6. At any given time, there tend to be two or three TV shows I go out of my way to watch. These days a couple I like are Big Bang Theory and The Good Wife. Both are fairly high on the mind-candy factor, especially The Good Wife.

    I've watched DVD sets of Babylon 5 and Daria (the animated series that was originally on MTV). Babylon 5 is, to my taste, the best science fiction show that's been on TV, considering the series as a whole. (The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits were also both good, though I'm not sure if I'd call them Science Fiction in a strict sense, maybe more like moral tales.)

    I find Daria wickedly funny. Another DVD set I have is the Smothers Brothers show from the late 1960's -- more or less a set of "highlights" of the series. Also a couple of DVD sets of the Dick Cavett show, again highlights of the series (the ones with rock musicians).

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    1. Cavett with rockers was great. Also great were Firing Line debates between Buckley and the likes of Mailer, Ginsberg, and Chomsky.

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    2. For Serling, science fiction was like metaphor in the blues.

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  7. Now that I've had a few days to cool off, I can see that I was overly emotional. I wish I could explain why this is such a deeply personal topic for me, but it is. My opinion is still the same, but I shouldn't get angry about it. I know you don't think I'm an idiot, and I'm sorry I said that.

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  8. "Crack is crack." Exactly. I have a love-hate with TV shows. I always feel a bit resentful when I find a new one that I love, and weirdly relieved when it ends. This might be why I also resist watching good shows that are actually still on TV (I did this with 30 Rock). I wait until they are over and then watch them all at once to minimize the damage, so to speak.

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    1. Oh my god, I'm so relieved that someone else feels this way!! I too would much rather NOT watch shows in real time. The cliffhangers are so manipulative. I want to just see it all in one go, like yanking off the wax.

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  9. I'm super-late to this discussion but feel the urge to chime in. I wanted to respond when I first saw your tweets but feel intimidated to engage with you (you're intimidating sometimes!).

    I think I agree with you in that good or bad television can be addictive- it's seemingly addictive regardless of its quality. I find myself unable to tear myself away from shows that are a shadow of their former selves in the hopes that they may have a bit of a revival (Smallville, although arguably in that case the last two seasons or so may have been better than some of the middle seasons). I also find myself addicted to shows that were never that good (One Tree Hill).

    The BEST TV shows, I could rewatch over and over though - much like I could re-read Pride and Prejudice or Omeros over and over and over. See: Veronica Mars.

    I had a discussion on Twitter with Alyssa in the last few months about television... I actually feel it's one of the most vital art forms these days. I find myself really bored with "art fiction" and that kind of thing. I mostly read genre fiction. A good deal of the genre fiction might be termed "crack," although I think there is some that can transcend that a bit. But, television really moves and speaks to me in a way. I'll try to make the argument for it...

    -Television allows for really complex, serialized storytelling. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the genre fiction I read is part or a series or story cycle. I love the huge sweep of the stories that television can tell at its best.
    -Television allows for character evolution in a way that films can't - I think I told Alyssa that I'm "over" movies or something like that. Maybe that's not strictly true, but the 2-hour format of a movie just doesn't allow for the complexities, nuance, etc. of great television. And living with characters for years is something that's really good - if they're good characters. I feel that I'm really suggestible, and both movies and television get me super-emotional... but the payoff of television is that I get to see what happens next.
    -Television is an inherently more optimistic format than movies. A defining point of television is that there is always another episode. You have to maintain at least some of your characters episode-to-episode and season-to-season. Movies can just kill everyone off. Honestly, at this stage in my life, given that I'm really emotionally suggestible, the optimism of the television format is something that I crave. I know they'll be back next week! (Again, this ties in with genre fiction, I think). Yet, at the same time, television can still tell dark, sad stories. I just know that there will be some kind of a resolution where life goes on.

    All that said, I don't have any desire to watch very dark TV shows - I have no plans to ever watch The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc. See the last bullet point above. I guess I tend to melodrama in everything these days (television, novels, etc). If I started a blog about television and reading habits (something I've contemplated), I'd probably call it The Melodramatist or something.

    Overall, I guess the characterization of television as "crack" bugs me... On one level I get what you're saying, but I'm not sure how it's different from our consumption of any other art or entertainment. It's like we're all subject to a Marxian false consciousness if we enjoy the artistic products of our culture.

    Anyway, I really do think that a century or two from now people will be studying the television of our era. I could be totally deluded I guess... I don't know.

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    1. Hi Susan! Thanks for your thoughtful comment and sorry for being intimidating, I probably pissed a lot of people off.

      For me, TV is deeply different from our consumption of other art/entertainment, because I don't experience any other artform as nearly as addictive. (I do experience booze as addictive, I guess that counts as entertainment?)

      I don't think we really disagree though -- I'm not judgmental of people who watch TV because I watch it too! I just try to maintain a little healthy skepticism and distance.

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