Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Later on today, I hope to have a post up about the concert I went to last night for a benefit for The Kitchen. The concert was a recreation of an event in 1979, a music festival which had Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk, Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson in it. So, anyway, it was the first time since then (And the last time, most likely) that group, or any significant percentage of that group of important artists was on stage together. I’ll be writing more about it when I’m more awake.

But…. On my way out of the shower this morning I got to thinking about Television. Mostly this is because I just wanted the series finale of “Sex & The City” a couple of days ago and I was just thinking, it’s amazing the terrible rut that television has fallen into. I remember a couple of years ago when people were heralding a new golden age of TV. It turns out what they were actually heralding was the brief spurt of creativity that would mark that golden age’s dying out.

Now let me also be clear for a moment and say that when I say “television” I mean American Television, and there are, occasionally, very good (or at least very fun) programs to be found out there. Truth be told, however, most of it is just unbearable, including shows I used to love.

Part of the problem is that the much-talked-about golden age of television revolved around increasingly high concept shows. Once you get used to the high concept (IT AL HAPPENS IN REAL TIME! IT’S ABOUT FORENSIC PATHOLOGISTS!) the shows are revealed for the essentially boring, poorly written, poorly acted disasters they really are. I enjoyed watching four episodes of CSI on my way to Singapore this year, but the monotone acting, unfortunate penchant for talking badly about social issues, and constant Michael Bayisms rob the show of any kind of staying power. 24 on the other hand, has devolved into self-parody, eagerly accepting and then immediately casting off plot lines when they don’t work. For a show that is all about logistics and plotting, it has some of the most incoherent plots and badly constructed structures out there.

Then there are the once-greats. My list of once-greats would probably include “The Simpsons”, “West Wing”, and (if you include once-goods or once-funs) “Will & Grace” and “Friends” but whatever, I’m sure you have your own. The shows that should’ve been cancelled long ago, but keep plodding along, raking in cash and breaking your heart. It’s pretty clear that the wheels have come off all four old wagons listed above, and some of them have been on TV for less than six years.

And then there’s reality television. The old grandmothers of reality TV, “The Road Rules” and “Real World” franchises are now nothing more than blowjobs and survival competitions. I miss when they were about fighting and alcoholism. Survivor was never interesting, and continues to be filled with an arcane, inaccessible mythos all its own. The first season of “American Idol” was hilarious, like being a sober fly on the wall to America’s drunken karaoke binge. But now we have to put up with the same tired formula flogged again and again, like that karaoke binge was going on in the most boring hell you could ever think up.

On and on and on, if there’s a good idea on television (The Apprentice happens to be mine) you can be sure it will be robbed of all its life blood within three seasons. Cable, then, remains or savior. For now you can watch syndicated re-runs of the shows you used to love (West Wing on Bravo) as well as the only good original programming around outside PBS. Where else will you find shows as funny as “The Daily Show” or “South Park”. From what I hear, “The Shield” is doing a good job making corrupt cops loveable again. And then there’s “Showbiz Moms and Dads” one of the scariest, funniest reality shows I’ve ever seen.

Finally, how is HBO? Well, honestly, I don’t know. I cancelled it and rely on my mother’s videotaping ability to watch most of it. Hey, thank God, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, The Wire and Six Feet Under all keep coming back. But none of their new TV show ideas seem to work. Carnivale is Twin Peaks robbed of everything interesting, Deadwood is ridiculous self-parody (cowboys can swear too!), K Street was only interesting to people living in DC or from DC, etc. Hopefully HBO can keep it going almost single-handedly until the other networks figure out how to rob it of everything, make it accessible, and put it on the air.


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