Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why I Love My Television

by Michelle Gagnonedie falco

So I became engaged in a heated debate the other day with a group of friends over the relative merits of television. One friend was a holdout who was caught by surprise with the recent switch to digital- she'd never owned a cable box, and didn't care to start now. I thought that was a shame, and said so. And here's why: Hands down, I think some of the most interesting stories are being told on television. A series opens up the possibilities of a much broader story and character arc than any film, in my opinion. Which isn't to say that there aren't some great movies out there, but I think some of the current TV programming beats the majority of films hands down.

Here are my favorites:

  • Nurse Jackie: Granted, there have only been two episodes thus far, but wow. I have a hard time imagining a movie studio greenlighting a project like this. Edie Falco proves there's life after Carmela Soprano, the supporting cast is great, and I can't wait to see what happens. It's the most caustically funny comedy out there right now.

  • the wire The Wire: Season after season this series paved new ground. I think it was the best police procedural ever made, and that includes Homicide, in which to be honest my interest waned halfway through.

  • Deadwood: Shakespeare in the Wild West. Swearengen was one of the best villains ever written, complex, smart, funny- he stole the show season after season. It's a shame this ended so soon.

  • Mad Men: It makes one yearn for the days of three martini lunches. A brilliant portrait of life in America at a time when everything was about to change.

  • United States of Tara: An Emmy is almost a given for Toni Collete in this role that allows her to chew the scenery. Roles like this for women of a ceUS Tarartain age just don't exist in film anymore. And Diablo Cody proves that Juno wasn't a fluke, she's a major talent.

  • The Tudors: The trashiness is leavened by the period costumes and fine acting of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

  • The Shield: Dark, gritty, and one of the best and most realistic endings to a drama ever televised.

  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: This show is so weird and out there I can't get enough of it. You so rarely see cannibalism explored in two dimensions, alongside race relations, white guilt, and character so completely devoid of any sense of humanity.

Note that all of these air on cable networks- my argument for investing in a box over an antenna. Granted, there's a lot of trash out there, but there are some true gems as well.

So I'm curious to hear what everyone's current favorites are- there are many I haven't listed here that are mainstays on my TIVO, but these are the ones I rush to see when they're on.

21 comments:

  1. Now I have to check out Nurse Jackie and The United States of Tara. I could a little humor in my life.

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  2. I love It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but like all shows, I wait for the DVDs

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  3. When a TV series has good characters and good stories, it can magnetize the viewer in wanting to continue those stories after the show has ended (probably one of the reasons fan fiction exists).

    That being said, only two modern shows pop to mind for me: NCIS and Bones. A lot of other ones aren't quite good enough to keep me coming back. I constantly find myself getting DVDs of older shows and watching those. I'm watching Emergency now and will be sad to finish it up. I thought I'd pop in and see how Rescue Me was, but I couldn't get past the summaries of the episodes. Too much angst!

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  4. You say you think "some of the current TV programming beats the majority of films hands down."

    But you don't explain how. You list some of your favorites, yet three of them are no longer airing and therefore are not current. But more importantly, you don't explain how these shows are superior to movies, nor do you explain how they are different.

    What does TV do that movies can't do? What are the differences between these media and what about TV makes it better?

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  5. Movies tend toward the commercial these days, so cable shows like the ones Michelle mentions offer the chance to do more of what film was doing back in the 70's - get in there with some real character work and offbeat stories.

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  6. Michelle, don't forget about DEXTER on Showtime. I think Dexter Morgan is one of the most compelling characters since Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

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  7. I'm still a 24 freak. I can't remember which older season it was,but when they announced that Vince Flynn was consulting, I thought WOW, this will be good. It was probably the worst IMHO. They were back on their game last season. I like it because they keep you guessing. They aren't afraid to kill off anybody (except Jack Bauer?).

    If you ever get a chance, go back and rent the series FIREFLY. It was fascinating. The characters were smart and complex. Like Deadwood, I don't know why it didn't catch.

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  8. THE WIRE, DEADWOOD, MAD MEN and one you seem to have missed, M, which means you are SO in for a treat: ROME.

    All four of them - best writing out there, and some of the best ever.

    To John Dishon - it's the WRITING. Every single level of it. And that attracts and inspires the very best from every actor. So far superior to movies right now that the two aren't even comparable.

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  9. We don't get cable, and have no plans to do so. I waste enough time as it is. ;-)

    Did anyone else watch Pushing Daisies? It was so original, and whimsical, with well-developed characters. Naturally, ABC took it off the air.

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  10. To stay on the "free side" of TV, I think CBS should be commended for their Jesse Stone movies. Tom Selleck fits the role like a glove. Understated and compelling.

    Also, the Brits do a nice job too. I'm thinking in particular of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries on PBS.

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  11. Ack, I can't believe I forgot Dexter- it's been awhile since it aired, so it slipped my mind.
    I loved Rome, Alex- tremendous show.
    John, when I said, "current" I actually meant recent-but you're right, I should have clarified and probably stuck to shows that are still airing (although many of these are still available in either re-runs or on demand if you have cable). I don't have the patience to wait for a season of a show I really love on DVD.
    Firefly was brilliant- I love Joss Whedon. My understanding is that the reason it got cancelled was poor ratings due to a terrible timeslot- the same one they gave to his latest show, Dollhouse (which I confess I never got around to watching- did anyone?) I hear that Breaking Bad is great too, but haven't seen it yet. Saw a few episodes of Pushing Daisies, but I think it was too far along in the season for me to catch up.
    I also really enjoy The Closer, Weeds, Burn Notice, True Blood, and (believe it or not) Top Gear.
    Right now I'm watching the HBO miniseries Generation Kill- did anyone else see this? It's amazing.

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  12. And I completely agree with Alex- the writing on these shows is what makes them so special. Plus, as I mentioned in the post, I think the potential for a much broader character and story arc gives that writing a chance to breathe and flourish.

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  13. I'm afraid to confess I haven't even seen any of those shows. I do like The Mentalist, which is very middle brow, I think. Otherwise, I'm pretty much a news junkie in terms of TV-watching habits.

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  14. I think TV offers some opportunities for storytelling with a greater arc than can ever be possible in films. I'm thinking of BSG here (sci-fi nerd that I am:)).

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  15. Kathryn, I'm a big fan of the Mentalist, too. I'm glad they moved the time slot since I am an even bigger fan of Fringe. For a former X-Files fan, it's amazing.

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  16. After work, little league, tae kwon do, dinner chatting with wife & kids, then other miscellaneous life items, TV comes in a close second to writing. My DVR's (yes 's, two of 'em) regularly record shows I'd like to watch but end up getting deleted by said family. In the end I watch history channel, military channel, and rugby matches when available.

    My favourites:
    Future Weapons
    Mystery Diagnosis
    Journeyman (only 2/3 of a season, but man it was cool...lost my hope for the future of TV when it was cancelled)
    Dr. Who (corny I know, but I've been watching it since 1978)

    Anyway, if I had time to watch more there'd probably be a few more on the list.

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  17. Wilfred, I always joke that based on my TV habit, it's amazing I get anything else done. Fortunately most of these shows run short seasons (10-12 episodes) and they're not all on at the same time. But it is a considerable list, now that I look at it. I'm with Basil- I write during the day, then at the end when I'm in my vegetative state I indulge.
    I loved XFiles, at least the early seasons before it got too muddy. Fringe never completely grabbed me, although I love the actor who played the father.
    BTW, Clare, I love that a historical novelist such as yourself is a sci-fi fan. Too funny.

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  18. Weeds and Rescue Me. Love them both!

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  19. Mythbusters is one of my favorites. Those people have the best jobs in the world.

    For scripted series, I think The Big Bang Theory is the funniest comedy on TV. Steven Colbert has the best talk show. And for intricate thriller writing, nothing beats Lost.

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  20. I agree. As a writer about film, I often find myself having the same argument with cine-snobs. Not only can some of the best storytelling be found on TV, but the season-/series-long format allows character/plot/theme development akin to the novel. Favorites: All of the above, plus House, Burn Notice, The Closer, Saving Grace, and the now-canceled Life.

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