It takes a lot for me to like a tv show.
I stopped actively watching television shortly after Twin Peaks originally aired on cbs. I don’t like tv – it’s notorious for talking to people like easily navigable pieces of cattle (which granted, many are). Part of this is the ads, yes. I worked in a jingle house for a while and I fucking hated it. White, yuppie loafer wearing douche’s who would come in and pay once-talented musicians to rip off whatever popular song on the radio currently appealed to their ‘demographic’ by essentially changing one or two notes in the song and singing about snack cakes or whatever over it*. But it’s not just the ads. For example about a year ago a lot of people were raving about How I met Your Mother to me and based on the recommendations of some folks I knew I tried to watch a few episodes on DVD.
Couldn’t do it.
In trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it (instead of just giving my knee-jerk ‘fuck it’, I realized my disdain was primarily centered around the laugh track and the sound stage; the highly contrived nature that is a sitcom by definition. I thought about this for a while longer and realized that of course some shows have come along in the ‘sitcom’ arena that have eschewed these conventions, malcolm in the middle comes to mind, but generally anything like this that people have tried to turn me on to I’ve hated as well.
Then I was re-watching my Disinformation discs the other day and host Richard Metzger reminded me what it was that I hated about television.
Television ‘Programming’ – why do you think they call it that? I don’t like being told what to watch, when to laugh or what to buy.
So fuck tv, case closed, right?
Well, no. Not exactly. There are exceptions – and there seem to be more and more all the time.
Some of this no doubt lays in the fact that it is much better to be introduced and become hooked on a really intelligent, well-executed program on disc – no ads, and more contained viewing. But also it cannot be argued that HBO and the Sopranos forever changed the writing of both cable and traditional network television. The networks want a more sophisticated product. Sure there’s still shit out there, but there’s a lot of good stuff too, and my pig-headed stigma is something I’ve found it harder and harder to cling to. Of course I still always tread with trepidation, but growing up watching a lot of tv (bad 80’s tv to boot) has left it’s mark. It freaks me out a little, because I guess I feel like maybe I’ve gotten older and lost some of my piss and vinegar – some of the unbridled disgust for society and the human race that used to keep me pinned to the walls I was most comfortable with, afraid to, say, admit I liked a song by Kylie Minogue or The West Wing. So take this all as whatever – take it as a cathartic ramblings of a soul just like yourself, lost adrift in media over saturation, bombarded day after day by what They** want stuffed into my head. Take if for what you will, but let me just tell you I LOVE PUSHING DAISIES***.
Now, I guess I’m after the fact again because it’s off the air, but again, I prefer to see my tv on DVD to at least eliminate the adspeak. Apparently Daisies was canceled after it’s second season, so this is posthumous. Still, after approaching with a fair amount of skepticism I was won over by the end of season 1.
First: It looks like a film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet – you know, DELICATESSEN, AMELIE, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, etc. Although maybe not as dark I’d describe it the same way: fairytale-ish. Dark but pastel. Episodic yet film-like. Funny but disturbing in a if-you-really-think-about-it kind of way. Otherworldly but real. And the sets, they do not feel like most tv sets. And that could definitely be due to the fact that apparently Daisies had something like a million dollar price tag per episode, so I guess it should look like a film. But again slightly twisted fairytale quality: Yum, I love that.
Next is the writing. At first it felt a bit forced or, I don’t know, like it was trying too hard. Narration often does that to me, especially when it comes off a bit ‘quirky’ (I hate that word). But here what feels quirky at first soon begins to feel like another odd little weave in a much bigger, ambitious yes but pretentious no tapestry. The characters, especially Chi McBride who plays practically money-minded Emerson Cod, are strange and a little dark and very well written, with snappy dialogue that reminds me of what I really liked about the rapid fire exchanges that defined the West Wing in it’s later years****.
So yeah, I still hate the medium of television, but I’m now fully prepared to give things that look like they might be cool a chance (unless any of the people on ‘the list’ are’ starring that is) and enjoy the stuff that’s getting made that actually is good. And think about it, now that tv is a viable option for long-plotted quality shows maybe one day we will see some comic series (if someone really is going to try to do Preacher or Y the Last Man, why not on HBO?) handled at least decently?
* My favorite was the guy that wanted his company’s soft drink advertisement to sound like No Doubt but, his words, ‘a little bit more Urban’, ‘Urban’ of course being white yuppie exec. Speak for ‘black’.
** And make no mistake, if there is one thing 8 years of Captain Asshole should have taught EVERYBODY is that there is indeed a ‘They’. You might know them by other names – sony, chase, haliburton.
*** Oh, so that’s where all this is going? Didn’t see that coming.
**** West Wing was ‘snappy’ from the beginning but it’s my opinion that it did feel a bit forced and ‘too much’ until about the 5th season.