Originally published 27 November 2010.
Obsession is the most potent emotion. Addictions will kill you no matter what they are. Millions of Americans are unknowingly (or knowingly) addicted to television. It allows them to inhabit a world where they can feel connected with others without sharing any of themselves. Facebook, Twitter, and most modern internet culture functions in a similar way, but with the option of creating a second identity – a fictional avatar of yourself. But at least there is interaction, right?
To some, the television is a sign of the apocalypse. To others, it is a life-vest. Are either of these things true? What is the effect of television on all of us? It inhabits a huge part of our cultural identity whether or not we watch it. The majority of homes have at least 2 TV’s. Parents frequently claim that it will melt your brain and there is a common guilt that arises from watching too much of it. Guilt? Brain melting? Sounds like the apocalypse.
We all need to start watching more television. Possibly twice as much as we already do. If doubling your daily intake of shows will interfere with sleeping, eating, or bathing, then you simply need to change your viewing style to get more out of the experience. Television is the Pop Bible. The Modern Homer. We quote it. We talk about it. We obsess over it.
Cinema has already entered the history books as the great art form of the 20th Century. Filmmakers are starting to realize that television not only offers an opportunity for a more thorough exploration of characterization and thematic material, but is also beginning to preserve quality over viewership – critical success over commercial success – to the most extent that thick entertainment hierarchies can manage. Truly good shows are beginning to function like epic serial novels – no different from reading A Tale of Two Cities as published. Well-made episodes are like microscopic art films. If asked to point out the ten most well-made films of the last decade, a critic would be stupid if they left out “The Blue Comet”, the penultimate installment of The Sopranos. It is no accident that this was written by both David Chase, the show creator, and Matthew Weiner, who is now running Mad Men, the contemporary pinnacle of potential.
In fact, why is anyone going to the movies anymore? In ten years, prices will be exorbitant and all of the great filmmakers will have realized the potential of the serial. The television will become an art exhibit free to access from our walls and computers. The standard of beauty will rise exponentially and cheap, brainless writing and directing will be reduced to critical panning, followed closely by public shame and scorn. This revolution will be gentle. Many viewers will not be aware of it. They will only feel different – more stimulated and thoughtful. This new style of television is the only way to create a truly popular art and to bring culture to those who are disillusioned by esoteric museum exhibits. The evening news will become a Werner Herzog documentary. Programs for children will be a new generation of Aesop fables and tales from the Brothers Grimm, colorful and captivating. Fiction will enter a new era of impeccable pacing and planning. Books will disappear and burn. Movie theaters will vanish. All will become fat.
All we have to do to enter this new era of art is get obsessed. Change the way we watch television. Scrutinize every angle. Question the implications of every line of dialogue. Take copious notes on the development of plot structures and narratives. Treat viewing like a profession. Stop loving it. Start hating it. Make cynical comments on your Twitter about the last episode of Glee. Post a link on your Facebook to a CNN bit on gay marriage or Koran burning. After all, there is at least some interaction, right?
We the People need a Culture Boobjob. Let’s get fat also.
Worth Watching front to back:
Originally published 27 August 2010.
Outstanding Series: Mad Men. Again. With a special WTF?! sticker for “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” where the British gentleman gets his foot chopped off. Breaking Bad deserves this award someday, but season 3 can’t handle Don Draper and his uncanny ability to polish of a decanter.
Lead Actor: Move over Bryan Cranston, Matthew Fox might make you skip a year in your complete domination of this category as Walter White. Jack Shepherd’s death was pretty unforgettable. And Jon Hamm might get this when his writers let him be a little more chromatic.
Lead Actress: January Jones absolutely rocked Betty Draper last year. The late episodes during the divorce were ugly and sad and maybe for the best and maybe not and everything a divorce is. She and her myriad of herbal cigarettes will take this one if Connie Britton doesn’t take an also well deserved nod.
Supporting Actor: I’ve never seen Men of a Certain Age or Damages, so I don’t feel totally qualified here. But both Emerson and O’Quinn had a couple great episodes this year. It’s Aaron Paul, though, that dominated “Half Measures” and will take this one.
Supporting Actress: Absolutely no idea. Random guess, one of the two from The Good Wife.
Outstanding Directing: Jack Bender for the Lost finale. An impossible gig.
Outstanding Writing: Mad Men’s “The Gypsy and the Hobo” was the best hour of television all year. Ridiculously, it was not nominated. That said, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”‘s win will reaffirm the fact that Matthew Weiner is a freak of serialized fiction nature.
Outstanding Series: Glee
Lead Actor: Steve Carell. The Office was pretty mediocre this year but Michael had real standout moments. Also, Alec Baldwin should be aware by now that he is unbelievably hilarious and doesn’t need any more decoration for Jack Donaghy.
Lead Actress: Amy Poehler was the best this year. What an awesome line-up, though. Whoever wins deserves it.
Supporting Actor: I love you NPH, and you will get Best Guest Actor, but Chris Colfer is busy defining a new type of casting in television.
Supporting Actress: I kind of just want Sofia Vergara and Jane Lynch to have a leg wrestling match for it. Go Sue Sylvester.
Outstanding Directing: It’s a toss-up. Let’s go with 30 Rock’s I Do Do. If not, Allen Coulter earned it as well.
Outstanding Writing: Tina Fey