03 January 2009

TV Plea

These days I watch virtually no television other than sports. There's nothing virtuous about this; I live three flights of stairs away from the set at our house, I'm busy most evenings and don't honestly have much chance, and--most importantly--I'm seldom able to find shows that I actually like.

Especially not on broadcast television, which is a shame. There's a great scene in Studio 60 where the eponymous show-within-a-show's network president is trying to woo a young writer who's created a drama about the United Nations and wants to take it to HBO. Knowing he once wrote an off-broadway play about Pericles, she appeals to Pericles's quote that "All things good should flow into the boulevard," the point being that she thought the show was too good to be tucked away on cable. I've always found that scene, and Sorkin's "glass tubes" ode to Filo Farnsworth in Sports Night, to be surprisingly moving. I can't remember what TV was like before cable, but I imagine it must have felt much more like a common experience than it does now.

Anyway, over the past two days I finally caught up with discerning TV watchers everywhere and caught Freaks and Geeks on DVD. It was, as a friend of mine once said of his not having read Infinite Jest, a point of growing professional embarassment. In my case, the profession isn't English literature--it's bitching about good TV shows always getting canceled. I have no legitimate claim to this profession (again, I am at best a failure and at worst a poser as a TV snob), but when your favorite TV shows are Sports Night, Studio 60, Arrested Development, Firefly, etc., it's hard not to take some kind of vocational interest in this high calling.

Aside from Studio 60, I didn't watch any of those shows while they were still on the air. And it seems to me that part of the fun of watching TV is blocking off a chunk of your week to get a little excited and to watch the new episode with friends. That's how I felt about Studio 60. It's how my dormmates and I felt as we treked to our buddy's house to watch Smallville each week during my freshman year. I can even remember my parents and I feeling that way about Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a little kid in Florida. I think it's part of what's worthwhile about watching TV in the first place, and it prevents falling into the profoundly 2000s-era mailaise you get from falling in love with and then immediately having to say goodbye to a great cancelled-early show as you watch its entirety on DVD in grotesque marathon style (my eyes still hurt from last night's final Freaks and Geeks binge).

Here's my plea to the genuine TV snobs (or merely the very fortunate) among you on this Saturday morning: can someone please tell me which shows are that good right now? I don't have "Rock & Roll Lifestyle"-type aspirations of hearing of them first or anything. I just want to get to experience them the way TV was meant to be watched rather than in gloomy DVD postmortem. I don't read the Onion AV Club much much anymore (out of desperation to get some work done); please help me compensate and to have a genuinely positive TV watching experience, before it's too late. In the meantime, I guess I'll be tracking down the Undeclared DVDs.


THaskin said...

My personal current favorites:

1. The Big Bang Theory on CBS (which is about four physicists and a blonde across the hall who attempts to deal with their dorkiness ... not entirely original and it plays to a lot of stereotypes but very funny). 1.5 seasons done.

2. Burn Notice on USA (about a spy who gets blacklisted by a segment of the USA government, so he starts to raise hell in Miami trying to get his name back ... lost of action, comedy, and smarts). 1.5 seasons done.

Kyle Matthew Oliver said...

Thanks, Troy. Those both sound like manageable amounts of catch-up. Lots more suggestions from others on my Facebook wall if you're interested in seeing what other people suggested.

ryan said...

Congratulations on finally scooping up Freaks and Geeks, Kyle. I saw it or the first time three summers ago, on DVD. I think we burned through the entire show in two weeks in long, eye-burning binges (there wasn't a dry eye in the house, of course, when the credits rolled on the final episode). Watching it, I spent a lot of time in the back of my mind wondering how TV of this caliber ever made it onto the networks when it did, and how my perception of the media landscape would have been different if I'd seen the show during its original run (I think particularly of the sequence in which one of the boys is biking around the neighborhood late at night with the strange garage door opener he found in his father's car, clicking it at every garage he passed in the vain hope of catching his father out in an affair). It was as if someone had taken The Wonder Years, another show I loved when I was younger, and distilled it into a drama that transcended the genre to become its own classic work of art.

Not to lay the praise on too thickly now, but I'd like to say the same thing about the new Battlestar Galactica, now about to enter its final run of episodes. Kyle, you and I both share a pretty deep-seated love of Star Trek, TNG, but I've been hard pressed not to think that Battlestar surpasses that series in the new ground it has been able to break in the Sci-Fi genre, in its dramatic range, and in its big-picture narrative structure.

Star Trek always worked, for me, when it recalled its roots as basically a series of Patrick O'Brien, British Men At Sea novels set in deep space. The worst excesses of the show -- the aimless drifting into time travel, the relentless drive to punch up action over character -- stemmed from thinking of Trek as just another Sci-Fi show. Galactica never makes that mistake (it makes others, of course...)

I'd suggest starting with the Galactica Miniseries, and going on from there.

enigmakaty said...

I agree with ryan. In satisfying the void post-firefly and post-startrek, Battlestar Galactica is clutch.