Saturday, January 30, 2010

Must-See DVD

I read something when I was in my teens (oh, those halcyon salad days of youth!) that basically posed the question, why is it that people are supposed to respect you when you're well-read, but they're supposed to look down on you when you've watched a bunch of TV? Why is there no such thing as "well-viewed"?

Which, after a couple weeks of getting caught up with Weeds and getting to know Californication, and talking about Lost, is a timely question. There's a sense of televisual urgency at my address. My mom got my dad season one of The Wire for his birthday. I've been reccommended by at least two people in the last two weeks that Dexter is must-see TV. I finished off the rest of Glee and read the recaps of Freaks and Geeks on Television Without Pity, the incomparably excellent source for amazing retellings of episodes - imagine your pithiest friends telling you watch you missed when you went to go visit your sick aunt in the hospital (you idiot) and missed the finale of Chuck because you were busy being a human, with emotions.

Remember "Must-See TV," the Thursday-night lineup on NBC? It had Seinfeld and Friends, which are now almost quaint in their straightforward approach. They're still excellent shows, but in the face of those rowdy cable channels, the networks just can't compete. The TV on the upper channels is so good: fresh writing, interesting actors, and multiple storylines that don't treat the audience like we're morons who can't follow an episode of Starsky & Hutch without getting confused. Television's always been entertaining; now it's got a certain amount of critical and artistic heft to it as well. I'd guess it started when The Sopranos made HBO, just, like, a major player (although that might just be my perception. HBO's been around for a long time, and The Sopranos began when I was in my early teens and just starting to pay attention to this kind of thing. However, I do feel that HBO used to a synonym for "boxing matches and soft-core porn"); it also has to do with DVDs and renting things by the season instead of waiting around at home like a jerk every week. I will gladly give up a couple days in order to power through a season of Big Love, because it's fun and funny and feels like a movie instead of a TV show.

I think that's the appeal in this new generation of TV: it feels like a movie. I don't really watch all that many movies, because movie theatre seats are supremely uncomfortable and I can't lie down, plus 120 minutes is just a little bit outside my attention span but anything less and I feel ripped off. TV, on the other hand, gives people both more and less: shorter little bumps of TV, but longer overall storyline. The episodic nature of TV is what makes it appealing, because you don't have to commit to a whole nine hour block - you can do it in 22-minute chunks.

TV used to be gauche, this lowest-common denominator experience that both united the masses and made us feel stupid. With this fractured explosion of cable channels, however, network TV is over: they're littered with identical procedural shows (CSI: What?, etc.) and dumb-ass reality tripe. But the real action is just starting. This is a new generation of whip-smart and sexy TV, TV that swears and fornicates and shows some T and A and brings us great actors and great writers and over-the-top set design and lush family drama: this is must-see TV.

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