Khemit and Matt dig deep into modern TV to find the best examples of existential, nihilistic, and absurdist inquiry. This episode explores why many of these shows resonate with us and what that means for our own lives. Recommendations galore, plus the introduction of the Grudge Match segment!
In our 3rd Podcast we talk about the much-welcome resurgence in mature sci-fi Television that is taking place at the moment. We use shows like Altered Carbon and The Expanse to guide the conversation, and take frequent detours to talk about other great and not-so-great TV along the way.
The occasional cuts you may notice are excised interruptions by Matt’s inexhaustible children. Perhaps we’ll compile them into a stand-alone podcast some day!
If you want to get your eyes raped, go watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In a not unpredictable maneuver, Marvel is attempting to capitalize on their big screen success by expanding their media empire onto the small screen. In this case by taking a passé organization from the Marvel Comic universe, S.H.I.E.L.D., and creating a paranormal exploration show a la Supernatural or [place other crappy paranormal TV show title here] around it.
The show, which follows Agent Coulson from the Avengers film and his quirky team of experts around the world as they try to stop crises. Coulson was resurrected through unknown means (or he’s a clone or LMD, who cares really) to serve as the show’s protagonist and only solid if unimpressive link to Marvel’s film franchise. The show depends entirely on 2 things for its current success: 1) legions of fanboys who will watch anything tagged with the Marvel brand no matter how bland and derivative, and 2) A large swath of the American public who actually enjoy CW style shows like this one. If you are one of those people then feel free to disregard everything said here. Also, feel free to kill yourself.
The writing on the show is middle school level at best. The jokes are flat one liners that seem perfectly suited to a tween sitcom. The romantically and ideologically tense relationship between the strict company man and the new upstart team member is so sickeningly ham fisted that it is almost insulting. The mystery of the week format that the show follows has been done so many times that its almost farcical. And lets not even get into the acting, if it can even be called that… The dead eyes of Agent Coulson as he smirks his way through every episode makes me want to ask “what did we do to deserve this?”
So what did we do, Marvel? For finally giving the fans what they want, you were rewarded in kind with one of the highest grossing films ever with The Avengers. You smartly chose a talented director and writing staff who could pull your myriad characters together into a pretty damn good flick. Your other films, though most were not as impressive (see Iron Man 2, Spider-Man 3, etc.), have been passable enough to keep us as an audience on board.
So is it really a good idea to flush all the goodwill we now have towards Marvel down the toilet by shoveling this kind of crap down our throats? Why not continue doing what’s been working for you and take a considered and unique approach to your next phase.
Sure, we know it’s all about the bottom line, but why parlay your success into something crappy when you could easily make a good show and get not only the dregs of your fans and the general public but an actually worthwhile audience. The 2 groups from above are going to watch regardless. Think bigger. When you play the universal appeal card you see decent returns. But when you take calculated risks (like you did when hiring Joss Whedon for the Avengers) you have the potential to make much, much more.
The show is performing pretty well so far in terms of ratings because the two groups I mentioned above are both rabid and large. But here’s the thing: the show sucks. It can’t stand up on its own, and being propped up by the greater Marvel universe looming over its shoulder will only keep people on board for so long.
While I am a lifelong comic book fan, in no way am I writing this as a comic book purist who can’t stand to see his precious Marvel Universe defiled. I’m writing this as a TV enthusiast who is genuinely disturbed by the type of crap that keeps permeating the airwaves. As the newest player in the game, Marvel is just the most obvious target. I could write a post on Arrow to shame DC as well, but it’d be pretty much the same post.
Brief rant to close on: Your TV sucks, America. I don’t really blame Marvel for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not really. I blame you for being complacent and watching any old turd that comes on the tube. I’m talking to you: the one reading this and saying “Aw, he’s exaggerating. Its not that bad.” Sorry but it really, really is… you’ve just been watching it so long that you actually believe its got substance. You have the TV version of Stockholm Syndrome. Stop getting sucked in by bad shows. Stop letting studios win with their formulaic, lazy nonsense. Vote with your remote. Demand better. Be better.
That is all.
Science fiction has never been easy to pull off in movies. In some ways it is harder than fantasy. While often wondrous to the point of the absurd, its roots are usually firmly grounded in the physics and reality we know and love(?). I make a distinction between the venerable histories which include The Day the Earth Stood Still (NOT the Keannu Reeves version), 2001, and Contact rather than the more operatic/scifi-fantasies like Flash Gordon, Ice Pirates and even Star Wars – still fun, but often blurring the line between fantasy and true science fiction.
A fantasy movie like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter can beguile with magic and creatures that require no further explanation other than they exist. The audience/readers make that pact from the beginning. “We are suspending all disbelief! Just be somewhat logically consistent and throw in a few dragons and we will be there to enjoy it with you!” … and I’ve spent many a happy hour doing just that.
Over the years, I’ve consumed much of the fantasy that has been written for print and screen. There are a few fundamental differences between sci-fi and fantasy. By default, fantasy and scifi-fantasy is more about pure dreaming without constraints AND is meant to be consumed rather than questioned. Even my current favorite, Game of Thrones, doesn’t really ask us/the reader any meaningful questions about how what happens in Westeros has any implications/consequences to us mortals here on Earth.
Good science fiction is always more relevant because it says “if you take where we (humanity) are now and then…. “ the edge of the universe and beyond is the limit. The readers immediately have a stake, whether they want to or not, in the outcome of the story because… that story is THEIR future!
Science fiction is also held to an (admittedly arguable) higher standard of disbelief because things have to look and feel like they will be a reality in a few (or few hundred/thousand) years. An increasingly tech and (hopefully) science savvy audience contributes to this evolution. Various actuators need to move correctly and give off a convincing (if somewhat dramatized) hiss or crank. Aliens and celestial phenomena need to at least be plausible if not probable. It’s science with a wink and a nudge.
What I’ve personally enjoyed most about science fiction are the questions that are able to be asked and explored. For instance;
- The fundamental nature and evolution of humanity in Theodore Sturgeon’s, More than Human (anything written by him is worth it btw).
- The ENDPOINT of the universe itself in Stephen Baxter’s The Ring.
- What would society look like if no one could deceive each other in James Halperin’s The Truth Machine?
- What are the fundamental purposes and relationships between men/machines/the universe in the Hyperion Cantos?
- What would you do in a society with technology that, near as to make no difference, was boundless in The Culture books by Ian M. Banks.
- Blade of Tyshalle
- I could go on and on.
In movies, some examples of this type of exploration are Bladerunner, Dune and even the Matrix.
In recent television, Star Trek:TNG (barring some questionable “we ran out of ideas” holo-deck episodes) and Battlestar Galactica (excising the ridiculous angel ending of course) and maybe even Firefly (I said it) are the apex of modern speculative science fiction on screen. All tackled modern day culture and political issues head-on and with aplomb (not with a plum, which is messier)– often leaving the viewer simultaneously more knowledgeable, but still questioning.
The best sci-fi asks questions about being human in the present day and throws it into a technologically enabled future social grinder to see if anything interesting comes out.
I enjoy fantasy fiction.
I learn about myself and humanity from science fiction.
Which, in the longest preamble possible, brings me to Neil Blomkamp. This man is the current avatar of gritty, realistic SF design. I have been a fan of his work for quite a few years now. In his Tetra Vaal movie short about a company marketing a security robot for conflict zones, I had a flash back to the sensation of awe and wonder experienced when witnessing the first brontosaurus in Jurassic Park. When a bullet shattered a wall that the CG robot was taking cover behind, and the machine flinched backwards and responded in an almost frighteningly realistic and human way, I think I had a geekasm. He followed this up with another brilliantly seductive short about an android on the run in Yellow. Finally, talks of him helming a live-action movie version of Halo culminated in some impressive, combat shorts but support for it ultimately fell apart.
However, a pattern was emerging. This guy knows how to merge the real/unreal. Almost as an exact counter-point/foil to the CG laden MESS that were the Star Wars prequels, here was a leader who intentionally took lo-fi, often hand carried, camera footage and married it with CG that could be mistaken for absolutely real. The only question was whether he had the writing/director chops for a full length movie.
Thankfully, we received District 9. The film is not without its flaws, but overall it is simply a genius film and a pleasure to watch. It took a carbon copy of apartheid and replaced black people for “prawns” (aliens). What could have been an inspirational but forgettable movie rehashing the well trodden issues between the oppressor and oppressee, becomes those things AND an exercise in human nature and character development. Blomkamp’s main character is a white middle-aged idiot who is just smart enough to marry his boss’ daughter but too dumb to do more than what he is told, or to question his life or his bigoted beliefs. His only saving grace is that he is not smart enough to be devious and is endearingly genuine and human, despite his beliefs. By the end of the movie, and because we got to witness real horror, racism and oppression through the eyes of the opressor, District 9 will remain as one of my favorite sci-fi movies.
This is not up until now mentioning Blomkamp’s REAL talent which is to have designed and filmed a world that feels and looks real – for around $30M. $30M! In an age when studios toss around $150M like it’s the new cost of entry for special effects movies, this number is simply mind-boggling. This guy could make 6 great movies for every crappy “blockbuster”, I told myself.
So it is with a heavy heart that I come to watch and review Elysium. I won’t spend much time on it. To be honest there isn’t much to it.
DO go see it for the impeccable future world design and production execution.
DON’T go see it for almost anything else.
It is hard not to see a similar theme with Elysium that Blomkamp had in District 9. What are the issues faced when there are a privelaged minority exploiting the powerless masses? But, where District 9 took a risky, creative move and explored these issues with a privileged character growing and exploring, Elysium isn’t nearly that courageous. Matt Damon’s character, I have no idea what his name is, is a recovering con-artist/future-car thief. This serves no other purpose than to dislike and hate him as far as I can tell. He is one of the masses on Earth, being continuously exploited by the affluent overlords in the floating wagon-wheel called Elysium, in space. His lower plebian status inherently means we are supposed to like him – but we never do. His humanity, skill in technology and planning is never on display but is talked about occasionally through pointless side-characters to make us believe he is a real person – don’t believe them.
Bad decision after ridiculously bad decision somehow results in a shallow “happy ending” which makes absolutely no sense. Matt Damon, no doubt cast because of his ability to play the “every man” appears to have phoned it in. I can’t remember one thing that was interesting or worthwhile about his character. So much was made in the media of how Damon got ripped for this role, but I can’t see a single plot reason why this was even necessary. The supporting cast is little better with Jodi Foster getting a special mention putting in a ridiculous accent and pretentious walk worthy of the shiniest Razzie this year.
But it’s pretty – real pretty. The design of everything from future Bugatti space-cars, robot security, to human implants implies some of the best/worst that our technology driven society will offer.
But alas, what could have been an ACTUALLY interesting tale about inequality, privilege and opportunity, turns into a boring “hero’s journey” where the “hero” is a bumbling moron, but not written as one, and his journey is linear with: no surprises, transparent villains in his way, and an ending that rings as soulless and uplifting as an Anthony Weiner apology tour. Its worst crime though is that it never asks any new or interesting questions of the viewer. It doesn’t demand him/her to examine their own ideas – in this way it is more fantasy than science fiction. It just asks you to sit back and consume – like Transformers.
In the end, it’s less the Elysian Fields and more like the Plains of Armageddon (and not in a good way).
Neil, I forgive you, but you’re better than this. Go back to making science fiction.
Well let’s get right into it, shall we?
In the world of sitcoms, only one show has ever managed to cross the uncanny valley that bridges shows with laugh tracks and shows with truly humorous content. In pretty much all other sitcoms, the laugh track is too often used to remind people that what they are watching is funny rather than adding melodic resonance to the already ongoing laughs of the audience.
The show in question is not Seinfeld. Nor is it Friends, nor Frasier, nor any of the other sitcoms you will find on your typical ‘top ten sitcoms’ list.
The show was News Radio.
And to clarify, I speak only of seasons 1 through 4 with both Phil Hartman and Khandi Alexander still present. Once Jon Lovitz was brought in for season 5 the whole thing fell apart, not unpredictably (the year was 1998 and Lovitz was already well on the downturn of a less than illustrious career in tomfoolery – probably his best role since then was an un-credited role in the mediocre movie The Wedding Singer the same year). Phil Hartman’s murder might have also had a dampening effect on the whole thing….
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed many other sitcoms over the years… Well, actually that’s not a genuine statement. It’d be more honest to say that I’ve WATCHED a lot of sitcoms over the years but have enjoyed very few (enjoying shows like Family Matters and Full House as an adolescent doesn’t count). In any case, News Radio stood out in a class of its own. Its unique mixture of slapstick and rhetorical humor was pioneered elsewhere and attempted in many other shows, but was never pitched as perfectly.
Overall TV is getting better, but network television still sucks. It has always sucked really, but we had way fewer options before. Now, with cable channels like AMC and HBO pouring money into making better shows, the bar for TV is rising. However, most network television shows still stay well below it. News Radio was definitively above the bar in its day, and still stands out as above the bar of what we usually see on network television now. How exactly it was able to accomplish that within the confines of a… well, let’s be honest, shitty… format (laugh track sitcoms) is beyond me. It’s a testament to the writing and the actors involved that it was able to transcend its imposed borders.
And an ensemble cast never looked so good: Lisa and Dave’s relationship was always treated just as ridiculous as it seemed; eccentric billionaire Jimmy James was the prototype for 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy; Matthew Brock will go down in history as the least offensive and most hilarious character ever played by Andy Dick; Khandi Alexander as Catherine Duke was the perfect counterpoint to the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Bill McNeal; Beth’s over the top incompetence made her no less endearing; and I love the UFC, but Joe Rogan’s TV career peaked with his role as Joe …what was that last name again?
And the show never took itself too seriously, a mistake made in the later years of many popular sitcoms. Hell they even turned a network mandated funeral episode into a farce by eulogizing a rat and throwing it in an incinerator.
Anyway, to make a long story short, News Radio kicked ass. If you’ve never seen it, you need to see it.
If you saw it and you didn’t like it, you are wrong.
So I’ve been bashing a lot of shows lately, and I feel like I should switch gears a bit to talk about why I do it. Refocusing on the FYMPlanet mission is probably in order here: the goal is not just to slam mediocre shows or to try to shame people into not watching their favorite guilty pleasure. Far from it. You’ll notice that I personally watch all of the shows that I criticize for their lack of impact. I’m not against the shows I trash here, I simply don’t think they work and I do my best to outline why.
At the end of the day, what I really want is for the mediocre and bad shows that people watch to be a backup option rather than the go-to. I also want people to be able to recognize the flaws in the shows they watch. That’s not to say this will cause them not to watch it anymore; it won’t. But it will dissipate the shared delusion that popularity and profundity are the same things.
I think that understanding the fundamentals of storytelling and the elements that go into good TV is important.
Not for some arbitrary aesthetic reason, but because the more people recognize mediocrity in all its various forms, the more they will seek out things that are better. In the long run, this may lead to better programming overall as studios realize that the drivel that has been successful in the past is no longer making the cut. We’re not there yet, but TV is definitely producing more worthwhile content than ever before. Is that simply because it’s producing more content period, and that percentage-wise the number of “good” shows is staying the same? I don’t know, but what if all of the mediocre shows could be tweaked so they were BETTER?
Wouldn’t it be great if someone made a show like Dexter with dynamic characters and good acting? What if The Walking Dead featured an engaging storyline and quit treating its characters like cardboard cutouts.
I want to watch THOSE shows. I want to watch shows like AMC’s The Killing which pulls no punches as it draws you in and breaks your heart. Or shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that took a campy comedic premise and turned it into something amazing and unexpected.
Years from now, you’ll remember that Dexter was a show about a serial killer killing serial killers and that The Walking Dead was about zombies, but you’ll remember the details of Tony Sopranos dreams. You’ll remember Stringer Bell’s hubris and Omar Little’s code. You’ll remember every step of Walter White’s descent. You’ll remember the minutiae of those characters because they lived for you in a way that the one dimensional Dexter Morgan or Rick Grimes never will.
It can’t be a bad thing to want all of your TV to be that good, can it?
So yeah, I trash mediocre shows from time to time, but only in the service of the idea that there’s better out there and availing yourself of it will not only please your palate but evolve it. If our tastes continue to develop then our media will follow suit. I admit that it would be a dangerous world were all shows good. I doubt I’d get much done. But good or bad, I don’t want to settle for less.
I don’t know about you, but I want my FYMTV.
So now that we’ve established that The Walking Dead is crap, let’s move on to another fan favorite. Dexter, since its 2006 inception, has been breaking Showtime records and entertaining millions of underdeveloped minds with its anticlimactic progression and willfully stagnant main character.
Let’s explore some of the elements that make this show not worth your time.
First off, the show is plagued by bad acting. Though the worst acting I’ve ever seen on television was displayed by Erik King, who played James Doakes in seasons 1 & 2, since his timely on-screen demise other “actors” like Desmond Harrington (Quinn), Lauren Vélez (LaGuerta), Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan), and pretty much everyone else in the show continue to plumb the depths of non-acting and have established themselves as accomplished hacks in their own right. Watching them stumble through their scenes is hard enough without taking into consideration things like character development, which is entirely absent. It’s like the show’s writers thought character development was something you only had to do BEFORE the show starts. 7 seasons in and no noticeable change in anyone.
Michael C. Hall, who actually has it in him to be a decent actor (though not a consistent one by any means), doesn’t really have the chance to do anything outstanding since any emotion Dexter is “able” to express is painstakingly described in dull monologues rather than displayed.
Which brings me to Dexter himself. From the very first season, which consisted mostly of monologues by Dexter describing how dead he is inside, we are constantly bombarded with instances during which this claim is resoundingly refuted.
Pretty much every quirk Dexter displays (aside from his murders) could be attributed to a mentally competent, non-psychopathic, socially awkward teenage boy. Dexter’s personality defect really boils down to simple immaturity… with a side of homicidal tendencies.
Still, we are meant to buy into Dexter’s dishonest self-description even though almost all evidence stands to the contrary. In fact, the only time that Dexter’s supposed universal apathy really seems apparent is when he’s confronted with the pleas of his victims. Every other circumstance seems to elicit an actual emotion, and more often than not it’s something that a normal human could empathize with. So there goes the myth of Dexter’s detachment and social alienation.
In light of that, Dexter’s inability to change is inexplicable. If he were a real person, Dexter’s refusal to change despite devastating life changing occurrences would be frustrating and confounding. Fortunately, we don’t need to wrestle with this paradox; it’s wholly attributable to bad writing. Dexter’s wife Rita, who we know he has developed real feelings for, dies; and yet, instead of the show making an interesting and desperately needed paradigm shift where Dexter has to deal with that event and his guilt over it, the next season begins with Dexter back on the job like nothing ever happened. Not because Dexter is dead inside – we know he’s not – but because of the writers’ inability or unwillingness to follow up on a decent plot twist. Way to go guys.
Additionally, as the seasons go by, one of the most interesting parts of the mediocre show, Dexter’s kidnapping/murders of other serial killers, happen less and less frequently, and usually become just another excuse for the main character to monologue and soul search at the viewer’s expense. Dexter’s angsty pseudo-apathy was disingenuous in season one; now, approaching season 8, it’s positively farcical.
The show consistently fails to have an impact one way or the other. After having watched the entire series to date (don’t ask why, just be glad I did so I can tell you why not to), I can only single out a few episodes that I would consider “well done.” The show is a fluff series that avoids true introspection at any cost while still trying to keep the audience engaged and stimulated… not an approach that traditionally yields quality results.
The moral ambiguity inherent to vigilantism, and particularly Dexter’s unique brand of serial murder, is never more than perfunctorily explored. The side stories of the rest of the cast which frequently pop up so that the show can pretend to be multi-faceted are largely uninteresting and underdeveloped. The “Big Bad” foe of Dexter that has come to characterize each season of the show is usually overwrought and underwhelming. The whole thing is a mediocre mess.
So, season 8 is coming in a few weeks, and mercifully it’s the last season. Let’s see how the writers decide to limp their way across the finish line. I’m just glad it’s over; this show has been my Dark Passenger for far too long.
*Can they be called spoilers if the show is already rotten? If so, they’re ahead*
The Walking Dead is a profoundly mediocre show. It’s greatest strength is that it manages to keep otherwise rational people watching it, long after it has proven itself not worth their time. Commenter Nial said it best in his comment on my Public Service Announcement post: “The Walking Dead TV show is like super sizing your combo meal at the drive thru. I know it doesn’t have much substance and it’s not good for me but I can’t help myself. Afterwards I feel unfulfilled and dirty.”
Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic book and an executive producer on the show, is one of my favorite comic book writers of the decade. The Walking Dead comic along with one of his other monthly serials, Invincible, are two of my favorite comics of all time and consistently the best of my monthly reads.
As the creator of The Walking Dead’s source material, Kirkman is unsurprisingly one of the biggest advocates of the show. It is his brain child after all. Though it saddens me to think it is so, I can’t help but harbor the sincere hope that his constant praise of the show is nothing more than lip service. It wouldn’t do for a show’s creator and executive producer to badmouth the changes made to the story. Changes which have, by the way, effectively neutered one of the best zombie stories ever told. As The Walking Dead comic continues to impress and stick to its awesome guns, I have to believe that deep down Robert Kirkman sheds a tear for each nonsensical detour in the show’s storytelling and bides his time until his next project.
But let’s not nerd out too much and fall into the trap of being blind purists. The show is crappy for many reasons not tied to its deviations from the comic. And don’t get me wrong; The Walking Dead is not even close to being the worst show out there. I could point to almost the entire roster of any other basic cable network and find 95% of the listings to be worse. But that’s not what we do here; leave the lowest hanging fruit to some other site.
The Walking Dead isn’t terrible; it’s just mediocre. And making a show poorly when it has the obvious potential to be amazing is worse than making a flat out crap show to shovel to the cow-public.
Here are some things about The Walking Dead that piss me off:
- The Walking Dead is mired by stiff performances, uninspired writing, and an utter lack of direction. It’s just not building towards anything like a good show should (see Breaking Bad for reference). While some might say “the journey is the destination,” to that I say “only if the journey keeps me engaged.” It doesn’t. At all.
- Pacing (noun/verb) – 1: a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo. 2: walking at a steady and consistent speed, esp. back and forth and as an expression of one’s anxiety or annoyance. The show runners confuse definition 1 with definition 2.
- I love good Zombie gore as much as the next man, but just as Michael Bay uses explosions to substitute for plot, The Walking Dead uses zombie gore to distract us from the fact that the story isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t work.
- The Walking Dead comic book is characterized by dynamic characters who are constantly changing (and more than occasionally dying) as they and the world around them very quickly becomes unrecognizable. The show is characterized by static characters whose greatest change is their miraculously decreasing ability to act. Here are some of the characters and their “developments.”
- Rick: whether praying or talking into a handheld radio, Rick monologues his way through 2 full seasons. He grows some stubble and a pseudo mullet and creases his eyebrows slightly more as episodes pass.
- Carl: changes from uninteresting background character to ruthless and uninteresting background character.
- Lori: dies. I think that counts as character development.
- Andrea: whines her way to an uninteresting and unnecessary death after several seasons of pouting.
- T Dog: this character is black and is named T Dog and someone thought that was a good idea. He also mercifully dies.
- Shane: is thankfully killed off, sparing us a further season of watching him try to act.
- Michonne: is silent and abrasive by turns, but consistently unremarkable. If the most interesting thing about a character is their weapon, that character is a failure.
- I don’t remember any of the other characters in the show…
- The show pulls almost all of its punches. The comic never does.
AMC, the network which produces The Walking Dead, is one of my favorite television networks. From Breaking Bad to the Killing to Mad Men, AMC has been leading the charge for quality dramatic storytelling for the last few years. All of which makes it that much harder to believe that they would take a slam-dunk show concept like The Walking Dead and drag it facedown through gravel for 4 seasons.
Obviously, The Walking Dead wasn’t a misstep for AMC as a network; the show holds the honor of being the most watched TV drama in basic cable history. As anyone’s Facebook feed or water cooler chit chat experiences can confirm, the series is obviously beloved by many an errant soul. From a business standpoint and by any other quantitative metric I can think of, it’s a huge success. If I were anyone else, I might even start to question myself. Maybe the show IS that good; maybe I’m too hung up on the comic to give it the chance it deserves; maybe I can’t recognize the true genius behind the story.
But no, the show really is sub par. By any critical standards it simply doesn’t measure up.
Do yourselves a favor and read the comic instead. See Rick Grimes the way he was meant to be.
I won’t say that TV is getting better.
Thanks to the spew of reality TV programming that dominates much of the airwaves these days, TV is more likely, on average, getting worse. However, the number of very good shows, while not quite balancing out all the crap, IS growing at an unprecedented rate. A discerning viewer today has FAR more options than they did a decade ago, and that trend is likely to continue as new networks and outlets begin vying for the audiences that have flocked to quality TV.
Unfortunately, viewership of mediocre, traditional-style shows like Law & Order, The Big bang Theory, and CSI: Poughkeepsie (or whatever), is also still high. And, also unfortunately, in many cases the viewing of new, good TV doesn’t stop viewers from continuing to watch sub-par TV as well.
Through my own personal mixture of narcissism and benevolence, it always seems like a pitiable travesty when I watch otherwise reasonable people subject themselves to middling televisions shows. One reason for this is exposure; most people don’t watch all that much television. And when they do, they do it on an actual television set where they have limited channels, options, and inclination to explore. They see the latest episode of Bones on and say “why not.” I always think to myself: “Someone should do something to help those poor people!”
I understand that most people don’t take their fiction as seriously as I do, but I still ask: why does an end-of –day diversion have to be mundane and formulaic when it could be stimulating and enriching? Many of us watch TV as an escape from our daily routines; why not make that escape memorable.
To that end, and to give a head start to those of us that want to pull ourselves up out of the mire of daytime drama, I’ve listed below some of the best shows made in recent years in no particular order. If you haven’t watched these shows, there’s no reason to be watching anything inferior to them. In addition, while these shows may be the 5 star top of the heap, there are tons of 4 and 3 star shows that should still take precedence over NCIS, Burn Notice, or whatever other nonsense you’re watching because your finger got tired of changing channels.
Work your way down to the crap TV, not up to the excellent.
3) The Wire
4) Breaking Bad
6) Battlestar Galactica (new series)
7) Avatar: The Last Airbender
10) The Office (British version)
12) Generation Kill