Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Because TV Shouldn't Be Used Just for a Quickie

There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve - A.C. Newman (mp3)
I Lost It - Lucinda Williams (mp3)

People spend more than half their working lives watching television. That has to shape the neural pathways. It creates an impatience for irresolution. -- David Milch, creator of Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and Deadwood

Because fathers can be miserable pieces of shit.

Because faith can't help but trump reason eventually.

Because we sometimes find ourselves doing mindless repetitive things simply because we've been told to.

Because sometimes we trust the wrong people.

Because sometimes the wrong people are right, or correct.

Because love is messy but essential, like caramel.

Because all people have at least a little goodness in them.

Because nobody's perfect.

Because puzzles are fun, but require patience.

Because the best heroes are often aggravatingly flawed.

Because most promises we break, we really intended on keeping.

Because even Sammy Hagar is haunted by the notion of fate and free will.

Because we live together and die alone.

These are just a sampling of the reasons the followers of LOST were so loyal, a reason I loved the show so much and will consider it, for the rest of my life, one of the best TV series of all time.

I'm privy to that David Milch quote thanks to the super-awesome TED talk by Dan Meyer, a talk aimed at addressing what he sees as a tragic flaw in our 21st Century culture, one that has trickled down into our educational system and the mentality of students.

We don't like irresolution. It frustrates, aggravates and bloviates. The reason Law & Order and CSI are so damn popular and have so many damn spin-offs is because every episode is a clean package. You can buy a DVD of any season of these shows, randomly pick out an episode, and be able to follow along with 95% of the plotline without asking a single question. Further, the odds are strong that, at the end of the episode, all loose ends are tied up, and all questions are answered: That dude shot the other dude. Any questions?

LOST was, in a sense, the anti-CSI, a show hell-bent on giving you more questions than answers at the end of an episode.

CSI is a whore, a street-walkin' prostitute. You can go visit her once, or fifty times, and all you need to do is be willing to pay for her. With commercials or whatever. She's available at any time, for any position. She's there to joylessly get you off and then return to the street for her next john.

Most sitcoms? Crack whores who can do things twice as fast for half the price. Seinfeld was, by all accounts, the biggest baddest most incredible crack ho the TV world ever knew. Any episode, at any time, can please untold numbers of people and needs almost no back story or context of any kind. Someone who has never seen a single episode could pop in episode 10 of the fourth season of Seinfeld and still expect to enjoy it.

LOST, on the other hand, was looking for relationships. It wanted to date you, to go steady. And, if you liked LOST and it liked you, it expected you to be devoted, and dedicated. If you missed a date, it was hell on wheels trying to catch up. If you missed two dates, then you were on the verge of breaking up. And the only way to get back in LOST's good graces was to do your homework, make up the lost time, and catch the hell up.

There were a million reasons to dislike LOST, so I'm not trying to tell all you non-LOST people that you're defective. We're not all supposed to want to marry the same people. Viva la difference. But I do believe this: if you only watch shows like CSI, where every episode is its own little Lunchable package, then you're missing out on the most important aspect of the TV genre.

Unlike movies, where an entire story must absolutely be told in the timespan of 90 minutes to three hours, a TV series has time on its side. It can build up multiple plots, develop a multitude of characters who change and mature and grow -- or sometimes devolve -- over time.

If you don't watch at least a few shows like 24 or The Wire or LOST or others requiring a patience with irresolution and a love of development, then why are you watching television at all? Why not just stick with movies?

Our culture, our kids, us. We're all impatient. We want answers. We want simplicity. We want disposable diapers and single-serving snacks.

Fight that shit, and fight it with everything you have.

Find ways to exercise your patience. Jog your memory. Wrestle with your morals and ethics. Aerobicize these parts of your head and heart. Build up those muscles. They'll come in much handier when you're 70 than those damn biceps.

LOST made it fun to talk to friends. It left you with stuff to think about. It made you ask questions, some of which were even really good and important ones. Not many shows give you much to talk about any more. I'll miss it dearly.


Bob said...

Though it flew completely under the radar, this last season of 24 has done all of those things you've talked about here. You think it's just going to be another season and then it turns darker and darker and progresses towards both unexpected and logical conclusions.

When one of these shows ends, it's like a member of the family is gone. I still miss snuggling up to Vic Mackey.

troutking said...

Never seen Lost, the Wire or 24 (but I do love the Sopranos) so I can't comment on any of those, but I gotta disagree with you about Seinfeld. You certainly can enjoy it on one level if you are a casual viewer, but as the Seinfeld party proved, fans of the show do have a "relationship" with the characters and the humor of that show. Unlike most sitcomes that have innumerable writers, every script of Seinfeld was written by or rewritten by Jerry and Larry David, so there is a vision there. Though it claimed to be a show about nothing, it was really about everything in modern day life (at least circa 1990s) and thus has an effect on how you view life's daily events.

Billy said...

@troutking -- Jerry Seinfeld himself said that none of the characters ever went through any changes. They were the same people in the last episode that they were in the first season. There was no maturation. Intentionally.

The characters, while loveable, are film versions of Calvin & Hobbes or Bloom County. I love Calvin. I love Binkley and Steve Dallas. I can tell you lots of trivia about their lives and quirks. But they're not the same as Vic Mackey or Jack Bauer or Jack Shepherd. Jerry and George, while part of perhaps TV's greatest-ever sitcom, are the TV equivalent of Opus and Bill the Cat.

This isn't an insult. Opus and Jerry could tackle issues and subjects in ways that Jack Bauer can't, or wouldn't.

There's plenty of room in Shakespeare for tragedy and comedy. But for me, TV is at its most powerful as the venue for long-form tragedy.

troutking said...

Billy, I don't disagree with any of your specific literary/analytical points, but I can safely assert---even though I'm working my way through the Sopranos for a third time---that Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have affected my views, personality and interaction with daily events far more than Tony Soprano or, gasp, Little Steven/Silvio. Maybe it's just because I'm Jewish and not Italian. Or maybe it's because, as Elvis Costello said, "I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused."

BeckEye said...

I was very interested to know what you were talking about but as soon as I realized it was LOST, I had to stop reading. I haven't seen a single episode and I plan on catching up at some point with a Netflix marathon.

Earl said...

My current TV addiction is Mad Men. Watches like great lit.

And for truly righteous long-form trash, there's none better in mine eyes than True Blood. Twilight can suck it.


Fabe said...

You are right on with your assessment of the TV viewing preferences of American people. It's unfortunate in my opinion how many miss out on amazing storytelling and character studies because of the desire to have every plot resolved for them quickly and easily. LOST was a fantastic work of art, in any genre and your list of the reasons why are so accurate. I wonder how long it will be before we get to experience another show as well made as that one.