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
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)
3. 30 Rock
4. Modern Family