Let’s Talk About TV, because everything else is too depressing

I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but over the course of my pregnancy and the first few months at home with Evangeline, I indulged in a little too much television.  Now, I’ve never been stridently opposed to watching tv.   If anything I enjoy it too much so, like chocolate cake and frappuccinos, I’ve always been careful to avoid overindulging because, let’s be honest, while there are a few of us out there feeling superior that the only television we watch is “Breaking Bad” and “The Big C” on our laptops (and I hate to break this to you but it’s still tv, even if it’s on your computer) for many more of us it’s a slippery slope from catching “Glee” once a week to all day marathons of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

Throughout my pregnancy, though, I found myself sufficiently fatigued by the end of the day that an hour or two of television before turning in with my book became habit.  Thanks to the invention of the DVR and dvds, I am no longer required to watch television in real time and so have the luxury of taping reruns or multiple episodes of shows both old and new, so I feel I can claim with one hundred percent certainty this: realty television, in combination with social media, has completely ruined the television-watching experience.  This might not be a a new or startling conclusion but it’s one I’ve come to nonetheless and it makes me sad.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I started watching “Ally McBeal” reruns on the Reelz channel.  I caught “Ally McBeal” occasionally and enjoyed but didn’t follow it with any true dedication at the time of its original run but have since fallen quite in love with – it is such a tender, melancholy show, with incredibly well-developed characters whose defense mechanisms are as interesting as their fatal flaws…what I find particularly impressive about it is how imperfect Ally’s character is – she’s vain, self-centered, self-absorbed, materialistic…and yet all of that is off-set by her belief in magic, true love and her overriding desire to do the right thing.  While Calista Flockhart’s character serves as the anchor of the show, the other characters in the show are no less developed, and it is the community created as the law firm Cage and Fish that really makes the show remarkable.

Watching a television show, as I did with “Ally McBeal” over my maternity leave, every day, instead of once a week, with summer hiatus and other breaks, lends an urgency to the characters’ problems that isn’t there with more spaced out vieiwing….it also heightens a show’s flaws and annoyances.  I watched “Grey’s Anatomy” in much the same way (don’t judge until you’ve nursed a baby for five. straight.hours) and I couldn’t believe how very…plagued…Seattle Grace hospital is – you certainly wouldn’t want to go there for any sort of serious injury or illness, I can tell you that much.

“Ally McBeal,” though, holds up from day to day, and I think that is in part because of the show’s overall commitment to place (the law firm, the bar below the law firm, and Ally’s apartment), character development and theme. 

I thought about this quite a bit, especially since I accidently caught an episode several weeks ago of “The Voice.” Except for a couple seasons of “Rock Star” I have never watched the music/dance/other random talent shows on television (truth: I’ve never seen one episode of American Idol or Dancing With The Stars)  but I was cleaning part of the second floor of our house and “The Voice” came on…I like Christina Aguilera and I really like Blake Shelton and oh my god I LOVE Adam Levine and I worship Cee Lo Green so I really didn’t see how this could be a bad show – until I watched it part of it.  Within the first ten minutes of the program I was overwhelmed with the demands placed on viewers – to text this and tweet that and like things on facebook – I turned it off immediately.

That is not television.  That is a three ring circus.

I mentioned to my brother how frustrating I found watching even five minutes of a show like “The Voice,” particularly when compared to something as smart as Ally and he, as he often has to with me, pointed out the obvious.

“Well, it’s because nobody hires writers anymore,” he said. “Realty t.v. – even if it is scripted – needs signficantly fewer writers. Why spend the money on well-written shows when people are willing to act like assholes and people will watch?”

He’s so totally right.  Perhaps it would be more correct to say significantly fewer television writers are hired these days because so many of us are willing to park ourselves in front of unscripted television and watch people behave terribly. I have long glamorized the idea of a bunch of writers sitting in a room together, hammering out plot and dialogue and character development, but unless you are willing to pay for HBO or Showtime (which I am not – I have my limits) you have at your disposable any number of shows where people fling themself off cliffs or eat insects (or worse) for our “entertainment.”

I realize even as I’m writing this that I’m not saying anything new here, but I have to say it’s just another thing that makes me sad.  Sure, television has always been a sort of lazy way to pass some time but at least there were creative forces behind it – and at its best, tv could really make you think.

In the interest of transparency, I don ‘t want to leave this post without sharing a little bit about what I’ve watched in the past, and what I will probably be watching come fall, so here you go:

Five Television Shows I Watched and Loved In the Past

1.The Gilmore Girls

2.  Alias

3. Ally McBeal

4. Arrested Development

5. The Practice (especially the James Spader years)

Five Television Shows I’m looking forward to resuming in the fall:

1. PARKS AND RECREATION (totally deserves caps – best show on tv)

2. Glee

3. 30 Rock

4. Modern Family

5. House

 

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7 Responses to Let’s Talk About TV, because everything else is too depressing

  1. Katy says:

    You know, I can totally relate to your experiences here. I watched The Wire in the same way–major marathons of entire seasons in one week. It made the viewing experience extremely intense. I was unable to sleep at night during season 4 because I was so engrossed in these characters and their education. The writing on that show is unbelievable. I find very few shows with such high calibre writing and the amount of reality television astounds me. Pickers…singers…taxidermists…fishermen. It seems there is a reality show about everything. Corey and I have to wait for HBO series to come out on DVD at the library to enjoy them!

    Also, there’s always money in the banana stand.

  2. litlove says:

    We are currently working our way through The Mentalist; we did season one last week and only have two episodes of season two to go. It’s wonderful – really well scripted and structured. Believe me, I am not about to sit in judgement on anyone’s tv viewing. Actually, in many ways I’d rather read. But my son loves to do the intensive viewing of a season thing, and he loves company, so…. you’ll be getting an idea of how this mothering thing goes by now. 🙂

  3. emily barton says:

    Sounds scarily like what’s happened in publishing, too, huh? I couldn’t agree more. Try reruns of Picket Fences, too. I’m sure you’ll love it. David Kelly’s a genius.

  4. shoreacres says:

    Hmmmm… Maybe I could pitch a reality show about a woman who threw out all her televisions and now lives with nothing more than online news aggregators, Pandora and Saturday morning NPR programming. 😉

    I just don’t know how to feel about the fact that I’ve never seen a single episode of any show on your list. I think my ties to tv began to fray when they took Northern Exposure and MASH off the air…..

  5. shoreacres says:

    Whoops! Have to amend that. I have seen House, and enjoyed it. Soft-hearted curmudgeons are cool.

  6. AnneCamille says:

    Like Shoreacres (before her retraction), I haven’t seen an episode of any of those shows. I did do a marathon viewing of Treme (done by the same people as The Wire) and loved it. I began to get a little annoyed in the middle of the 2nd season — an annoyance that I don’t think that I would have had if watched at a weekly, rather than daily pace — but it redeemed itself in the last 3 episodes of Season 2 and I am now eagerly awaiting for Season 3 to begin. Sadly, that is several months away. The closest I’ve come to seeing any part of American Idol is during its 1st or 2nd season, while having dinner in a hotel bar during a horrible ice storm. There was no room service and the other customer really wanted to watch it. I sat as far away as I could, with my back to the tv and used my forced “viewing” of it as reason enough to order another Lemon Drop Martini.

  7. Courtney says:

    Katy – I am actually watching both the Wire and True blood on dvd right now and seriously, I have to take breaks – a break from the wire because it is so amazing but also relatively depressing and a break from True Love because it scares me, LOL. I read an essay quite some time ago about how The Sopranos taught us to watch tv in a totally new way when it came out on dvd, and I must say it is true in my case!

    Litlove – I think it is so sweet that someone as bookish as yourself watches tv with her son because he likes it! You are just one of the kindest people I “know,” I think.

    Emily – I loved Picket Fences – didn’t realize it was DAvid Kelley though!

    Shoreacres – I could give up tv for a whiile – and I could definitely give it up in terms of any sort of regular watching, but I do love curling up with a few hours of it here and there…

    Anne – you never need a reason to order a second lemon drop martini! They are delicious!

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