Wednesday, December 31, 2008

TV is Your Father Now

Television in 2008 was a bit on the slow side. Damn those writers and their legitimized complaints! Hollywood has never been about sensible contracts, it's been about paying millions to Jennifer Aniston.

With the writer's strike behind us we can get back to what we all know best: socially isolating routine. Television in 2008 DID have a few things to teach us, especially profound as we bring in the New Year. So now for the best and worst -- and those shows just shameful enough to guide our lives in the right direction -- I present TV Teaches 2008. Television has raised you so well, so heed its solid advice.

Learn from Your Disappointments:

True Blood

Lesson: Lightning does not strike twice. (And can't reanimate the dead.)

How did Alan Ball's knack for creating fascinating character studies on Six Feet Under translate into the lifeless caricatures of True Blood? How does a telepathic woman named Sookie Stackhouse -- who freely masturbates on her front steps AND hooks up with the undead and a shape-shifting man-beast -- manage to be that excruciatingly dull? I guess Alan Ball really is trying.

This show's still in the grave, struggling to claw its way out admirably with gratuitous nudity and slapdash violence. But a corpse is a corpse no matter how you dress it up. Here's hoping that second season finds its footing. And a pulse.


Lesson: Like any good high, it eventually wears off.

Mary Louise Parker is still effortlessly stunning, even when her character makes absolutely no sense. Part of the fun of Weeds in its solid first two seasons was that willingness to go anywhere and subvert the family sitcom dynamics. But I'm not sure I like when "anywhere" consists of young son Shane talking to his dead father and masturbating to photos of mom. This is ditch weed, pure and simple; worth a couple laughs before you feel sick to your stomach.

Learn from Your Guilt:

The Real Housewives of Atlanta

Lesson: Money can't buy you happiness or talent, but it can pay for your divorce lawyer or someone to raise your child.

As with most reality television, you'll hate yourself in the morning, but not as much as you'll hate other people. Take the lineup of edited-for-their-degradation personalities this season:

Sherée wants to be a fashion designer, minus that whole design thing. With all that expensive planning for the debut party of her line, she can't be bothered to have any actual clothes to show for it. Meanwhile, Deshawn sets ridiculously high but spirited goals for her charity auction, while the Atlanta elite offer up disgruntled shrugs instead of bids. Her grand total? Zero dollars and everyone's condescending two cents. And then there's Kim, a twenty-nine-going-on-fifty mom who spends thousands of her "Big Papa's" dollars trying to put out her country album. If only she cared about music or could sing. There's also brash Nene and boring-because-she's-friendly Lisa. It's trash television that does society a service: it helps you look down on the people that look down on you.

Learn from the Best:

Summer Heights High

Lesson: You were the awkward kid in high school, and you still are.

HBO made a smart move picking this one up. Chris Lilley's Aussie mockumentary about personal lives at a public school is hysterical and his triple performance is just astounding. It's contrastingly sweet and crass, and consistently clever, and manages to transcend the format in a way that even Christopher Guest could respect. All the better that Lilley uses actual high school students to meld with his troupe of delusional characters. Also impressive that, as a comedy about high school, it actually manages to capture the atmosphere perfectly while still managing to be broad and offend absolutely everyone.

Mad Men

Lesson: The old days weren't any better, but you could drink in your office... Legally.

Drama with subtlety, rich in character and nuance, with episodes that merit repeat viewings? If you had told me I could find this on AMC, I would have told you to step out of the sixties and into the real world. This kind of quality is so rare nowadays, even on cable television. Even more marvellous that a show about selling an image actually manages to live up to the advertising. I'd say Don Draper is the new Tony Soprano, without the therapy and the mob connections. He's at the top of the world, unknowable and fascinating even to himself, and yet the cracks of the facade are starting to manifest and shake the ground of those in his path. I look forward to the elegantly marketed aftermath.


Pax Romano said...

Happy New Year's Eve ... that said, I sort of like True Blood; no, it's no where near as good as 6FU was, but still I enjoyed enough to go get the novels.

When Mad Men first came on two years ago, I was telling everyone how good it was, all those Johnny Come Lately's found it this year. You are right, the best television drama since ... The Sopranos and 6FU.

Adam said...

I desperately wish I liked True Blood. After watching that entire first season I see no point in my continuing on with it if even the violence, nudity and all things gay can't keep me interested. Although I suppose there's always the chance that the show could hit its stride later on.