Happy September 2nd, 2010 everyone.
Because I spent my Thursday making an enormous amount of strawberry jam rather than watching television, today you get this AMAZINGNESS from William Shatner in lieu of a blog post.
Because the network upfronts are on the horizon, lots of tidbits about next year’s schedules are beginning to surface, particularly from much-beleaguered NBC.
- Hooray, a fourth season of Chuck! Thirteen episodes, and no word yet on whether it will be a fall or winter premiere, but it’s just so nice to not be fretting about Chuck’s existence long into the summer. I think it’ll be interesting to see the dynamic between Chuck and NBC’s new spy-couple J.J. Abrams project, The Undercovers, and I can only hope that something as high-profile as a J.J. Abrams show might help throw a little attention back onto Chuck.
- With the news that NBC has renewed Chuck, Parenthood, and all of its Thursday comedies come the news that finally (finally!), Heroes has been put out of its misery. Did you even realize that show was still on? How about Trauma or Mercy, both of which were also cancelled? Here’s hoping NBC manages to put its act together next year.
- Although buried in NBC news, it’s also been suggested that ABC is cancelling Romantically Challenged, FlashForward, and (very sadly) Better Off Ted. None of these come as real surprises given the ratings, but I certainly will mourn the loss of Phil and Lem.
- Okay, okay, I was saving the craziest one for last: NBC has cancelled Law and Order. I’m just gonna let that sit there for a second.… Yeah. A few things to keep in mind – Law and Order: SVU will still be around, and there will also be the inauguration of a Law and Order: Los Angeles version, so it’s not as though the franchise will suddenly disappear. Still, it’s the end of a very long-running, defining, successful, and culturally influential era. Relieve some of the show’s most familiar devices on this slideshow, and take a moment to do a nice “CHUNG CHUNG” the next time someone says something dramatic.
Um, it’s Thursday. And I haven’t watched this week’s Justified yet, and I don’t watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, and I thought last night’s Modern Family was really good, but am having a hard time coming up with anything more in depth than “Luke’s argument that Van Gogh painted Starry Night because aliens are watching us from above would make an excellent art history paper.” So, links!
- As a supporting piece of argument for my post last Friday on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the academic canonization of television, Slate.com has this article on the booming academic focus on The Wire. Yes, I’m sure there’s a least a little “aren’t we just so current, building a curricula around this television show” patting on the back, but for the most part, I’m still convinced that the bigger story here is how little anyone is surprised or shocked about it. The show is just that good, and it’s really useful as a tool to talk about narrative, about sociology, poverty, race, politics, education, crime, drugs, American cities, bureaucracy, the list goes on.
- And speaking of meta-discussions about criticism and high vs. low culture, there’s an interesting debate going on at the moment, that started with this pretty careless piece about why music criticism is never a good idea, and has started to garner some interesting responses. The responses are all interesting, but my favorite bit is actually a comment on this one, which points out that far from trying to kill people’s buzz, criticism itself can be a pleasurable act. This seems to be so inherently true that it’s easy to forget, but it deserves to be a part of the discussion. I mean… why else are there so many blogs? Everywhere! Spouting opinion and judgment and (very, very occasionally) thoughtful commentary! Like this one!
- Chuck ratings are not looking good. TV by the Numbers has declared that it’s officially panic time for Chuck fans, so I’m looking forward to some Subway sandwiches in my future.
- Hey, check out this (my guess is) Scandinavian guy who cloned himself and then spent a long time figuring out how to play themes from television shows!
I was planning to write about Project Runway today, but as the internet appears to be unusually withholding in that quarter, it’ll have to wait until later. In the mean time, allow me to briefly express some further appreciation for Supernatural, which may not have the flash of Big Love or the epic complexity of Lost, but it continues to do what it does very well.
Last night’s Valentine’s themed episode was a great example of the show firing on all pistons. It began with a super creepy, gore-tastic opening scene where two cute people on a first date start to make out and then transition into actually eating each other to death. It followed that up with some humor, a guy who killed himself by using a toilet brush to cram himself full of Twinkies, the arrival of Famine (of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse fame), and a brief but moving exploration of Sam and Dean’s evolving, twisted relationship.
Supernatural isn’t built to be a powerful, world-changing television show, but it’s so consistently effective at being scary, funny, and thoughtful that it’s head-and-shoulders above other, similarly lowbrow shows. Perhaps more than any other positive feature, Supernatural is just exceptionally good at balancing its conflicting story demands. The usual strain between week-to-week episodic stories and the long arc apocalypse plot is almost absent, letting minor ghost problems and the end of the world get all mixed up together, to the benefit of both plotlines. It’s also reliably fun, which is more than I can say for The Vampire Diaries.
A few updates on the crazy Chuck-pocalypse:
There were a lot of great things written about the whole shipper angle of the blow up, particularly this piece by Linda Holmes, and this one on Cultural Learnings. This blog also got a link on the LA Times Show Tracker blog, which was pretty cool. Most importantly, though, this interview with Chuck creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak addresses both the special relationship between Chuck and its fans, and gives Schwartz and Fedak an opportunity to mildly reassert that they are actually the ones in charge of the story. Shipping can be positive and build loyalty to a show, but a show’s plot is not a matter for popular vote.
Last night’s Golden Globes were the usual awards ceremony mixed bag, with highlights like Robert Downey Jr.’s wacky acceptance speech for Sherlock Holmes (which is quite enjoyable, by the way, and actually doesn’t stray as far from Conan Doyle as one might initially think, but that’s a whole other blog post) and low moments like several of Ricky Gervais’ jokes that didn’t land well. (The worst was Paul McCartney, who had a full-on, hand-to-mouth look of horror when Gervais noted that McCartney must be trying to save money after spending so much of it last year).
I know, you really care, don’t you? Yeah. It’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for a room full of wealthy movie stars congratulating themselves on their work, and it’s even more awkward when they all put on Haitian flag lapel pins and chide each other about charitable donations. Still, as Matthew Weiner reminded the audience in his speech, it’s great that the Hollywood Foreign Press gives awards for outstanding television, even if the reasoning behind who wins can be a little opaque.
So, a few of the night’s better moments:
Speaking of Matt Weiner, Mad Men won best television drama, an obvious and worthy decision for that category. Glee won for best musical or comedy television, and although I feel like the award is premature for that show, I’m happy an expensive hour-long program is getting some love.
Of course there were several references to the problems at NBC, especially because NBC was the network hosting the whole shebang. My favorite was Julianna Margulies, who won best actress in a television drama for The Good Wife and thanked CBS for “believing in the 10pm drama.” Hulu doesn’t have that clip, though, so instead you get Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks cracking on NBC.
As mentioned above, Robert Downey Jr. has a nice handle on the appropriate tone, content and entertainment value of an acceptance speech.
And finally, the best Ricky Gervais moment was every bit as cruel as the flopped Paul McCartney joke, but because it was making fun of Mel Gibson, no one seemed to mind.
While I wait with baited breath for the arrival of new television (and not, for instance, last night’s episode of I Get That A Lot where Rachel Ray pretends to work in a laundry mat and then assures disbelieving customers that she is not actually Rachel Ray), I present you with a few things for your reading and viewing pleasure.
- Yesterday, Linda Holmes posted a great blog piece on her NPR TV blog Monkey See about the changes that have occurred on The Big Bang Theory over the past three seasons. The bottom line, for Holmes, is that Penny is transformed from the mere object of a male gaze in the beginning to a thinking, laughing, functioning human being later in the show. It’s really worth a read, and a great example of how seemingly silly academic cliches like the “male gaze” can actually go a long way toward explicating vague ideas like “The Big Bang Theory is way better than it used to be, but I’m not really sure what’s different.”
- The People’s Choice Awards were last night. I did not watch, but apparently the people are largely in favor of things to do with vampires.
- I’m still stuck on the David Tennant era of Doctor Who, and how much I’ll miss his odd face, awesome overcoat, and nerd glasses. I’ll also miss his willingness to do things like this:
- In case you’re not really up on your technology news, there’s a big conference going on in Las Vegas this week to announce all sorts of exciting gadgets and proof-of-concept devices like a see-through screen and ereaders and…3D television?
- New television is coming back, and along with the deluge of new shows and returning classics, we will soon get the triumphant premiere of the final season of Lost. The first new episode will be on February 2nd. Unless, that is, the White House decides that February 2nd would be a good day to hold President Obama’s first State of the Union address, which is one of its two possible dates. Heh.
This is the time of year when we all reflect on what happened in our recent past, and as it’s the end of the decade as well, there’s a particularly strong inclination toward navel-gazing and list-making. Before I launch into some posts about holiday-themed television, I want to (participate!) highlight some of the interesting thoughts floating around about the 2000s.
I’m particularly fond of this Emily Nussbaum piece from the NYMagazine, which discusses this decade as the moment when television became an art form and we collectively began to understand TV as an object for study and analysis rather than lowbrow pabulum. She highlights all the shows you’d expect, The Wire and The Sopranos especially, but also talks about the importance of shows like Slings and Arrows and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and gives one of my favorite characterizations of The West Wing ever – “a liberal holodeck”). The piece also has a thoughtful mention of the way technology like DVDs and DVRS have made all of this artful TV possible, which I agree has been crucial in our appreciation of television as a form.
The Nussbaum piece is polished to a high sheen – on the other end of the spectrum, there’s this great discussion between several television critics about some of their favorite shows. Only the first of its three parts has been released so far, but it deals with Lost and its many issues in a thoughtful and pleasantly casual way. Like the Nussbaum article, this conversation touches on fandom and its role in television appreciation.
And now for some lists – here are Maureen Ryan’s, James Poniewozik’s, and Alan Sepinwall’s absurdly comprehensive List of Lists. The best thing about list projects like these is the inevitable contentious decisions and subsequent fallout from blog commenters. As Alan Sepinwall described, list making is always a process of explaining that while you like Thing 1, you like Thing 2 better, and then watching the entire internet explode in outrage over your snub of Thing 1.
I think this post plus yesterday’s comments on the Golden Globes is plenty of meta-commentary for now, and tomorrow I’ll begin discussing holiday television. My plan is to meander through whatever occurs to me as well as hitting some of the greats – last year’s A Colbert Christmas, the perpetual A Charlie Brown Christmas, the awesome Angela Lansbury made-for-TV movie Mrs. Claus if I can find a copy – with the ultimate goal of landing on that holiest of holy grails, the Star Wars Holiday Special. I’ve never seen it, but have often heard of its awesome, gut-wrenching power and look forward to experiencing the horror. Let me know if you have a favorite and I’ll try to get to it.
I am traveling all day today, and I am so excited about cross-country day-before-Thanksgiving air travel! In lieu of a longer post, I’m leaving you with two amazing videos which were floating around the internets yesterday.
First, Jimmy Fallon has the best Neil Young impression I’ve ever seen:
And second, feast your eyes on this Muppet rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and rejoice:
After that stellar season finale, I find I’m loathe to let go of Mad Men quite so quickly, and wanted to make a few more comments before letting it drift off into hiatus-land. (For so long! Ahh!)
Most importantly, I want to point to this Daily Beast interview Matthew Weiner gave to Jace Lacob of Televisionary. It appears to be the only press piece of its kind right now, and it’s quite intriguing. Weiner describes the process of putting together each new season, admits he doesn’t know what will happen to characters like Sal Salvatore, Ken Cosgrove, or Paul Kinsey, and suggests that the Draper’s marriage is unambiguously finished (despite Alan Sepinwall’s musings to the contrary). Weiner also mentions that while he cares very little about giving the audience what they want, he does care a great deal about giving Roger and Joan what they want. My sense is that Joan Holloway would manage to reach outside her own fictional status and take what she wanted, regardless of whether Matt Weiner approved.
The most interesting aspect of the interview, from my perspective, is that Weiner describes his commitment to using all the material he has, refusing to save anything particularly good for a later moment. That sort of thinking makes dramas like Mad Men a radically different viewing experience than other shows built around perpetually delaying the thing the audience clearly wants. Often, that type of delayed gratification appears in the form of thwarted relationships (Luke and Lorelai on The Gilmore Girls comes to mind as a particularly egregious example), but it can also show up as the continually deferred explanations about the island on LOST, or even the perpetually ticking nuclear bomb on 24. Obviously, a certain amount of suspense is crucial to maintaining your audience, but there’s a difference between building tension as support for your storytelling, and building suspense with the ultimate goal of frustrating your audience. After a depressingly short length of time, the week-to-week experience of watching LOST starts to feel like an exercise in futility. Nothing will ever actually get explained, so everyone will continue to look at each other longingly while we occasionally discover that they once walked past each other in a convenience store a few years ago. When you don’t keep anything back, though, every single episode feels essential. In the middle of a season of LOST, you can be sure very little will get revealed or resolved. Midway through season three Mad Men, a secretary drove a John Deere over a guy’s foot.
Long story short, Mad Men is better than LOST, and if you read the interview with Matt Weiner, it’s not hard to figure out why. It’s sort of like that parable in Gattaca – you should never save something for the return trip.
If you, like me, are jonesing for a bit more Mad Men to assuage the grief of parting, there are Mad Men thoughts from The Daily Beast and Alan Sepinwall above, as well as Salon, the slate.com TV Club, and a nice interview with Chelcie Ross, the actor who plays Conrad Hilton, over at The Watcher.