Monday, March 17, 2014

The Demise of Interesting TV - Just My Opinion

I have really been enjoying this new chapter of my television-watching life.   I no longer subscribe to cable TV or satellite dish TV.  I have an HD antenna for network television, and I have a Roku device for everything else.  My subscription to Netflix opens up the possibility of reacquainting myself with much-loved TV shows gone to the great network cemetery.  This weekend, I watched four episodes from the first season of The West Wing.  It felt like paradise to watch something so well acted and written.  I concluded that it felt that way because shows like this are an endangered species.  And I thought - "What types of TV shows drove me to arrange my schedule around them, and why do I no longer feel compelled to do so?"

I have been mourning the demise of the great sitcom since Seinfeld ended.  Why is is suddenly a crime to write a show that exists for the sole purpose of making me laugh?  I'm not talking slapstick here.  I mean truly clever writing and acting.   I know all about "Modern Family", but somehow I feel as though I would be tuning in just so that I could be politically correct or trendily liberal - not because I thought that the show was hilarious.  I watched it once.  It was funny, but in my book, it cannot touch Seinfeld or Frasier for the ability to make me laugh until I cry.  Oh well... back to Netflix and syndication for those...

Crime/Detective shows.  Enough with them already.   Exactly how many of these do we need on the networks at one time?  I can't keep them straight, and I don't care to.  I really like "Blacklist", but even that is starting to feel like "same old, same old" to me, and it's only in its first season.   I watched exactly three episodes of "Castle" and felt like I was watching a new millennium version of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.  And the writers apparently don't pay attention to history, because every show that has the main characters "finally become romantically involved after ____ seasons of fighting their growing attraction by pretending to dislike each other" has died a painful death in the ratings shortly thereafter.  Total audience adrenaline crash. Really, just dumb. And, with all due respect for the good taste of my friends....... Nathan Fillion.........really?  When I look at him, I see the high school pretty boy who strung 5 girls along before deciding 3 days before the prom which one would look best on his arm.  I'm sure he's a great guy.  But I need more than just a pretty face.  I find him singularly uninteresting. Next.

Reality TV.  Devoting more than 5 sentences to this "genre" is a crime unto itself.  If we need proof of the failure of the American education system, we need look no further than the millions of Americans who tune in every week to shows such as "Honey Boo Boo", "Duck Dynasty", and "Swamp People".  Enough said.

So, what are my favorite TV shows ever in my adult life, and why?

Seinfeld - how did someone literally write a 'show about nothing' for that many seasons that made me laugh so hard and gave me nicknames and catchphrases that I will probably use in conversation until the day I die? That kind of comic genius defies explanation.
Frasier - writing, writing, writing.  Some day I hope to meet someone who is that pretentious and that lovable all at the same time.  That show gave me hope that these people actually exist out there somewhere.
Sex and the City - this show was about so much more than sex or New York City.  It was about the power of the female friendship.  It helped me to identify what was missing in my life at that time.  To this day, I miss that show.
LA Law - the most clever lawyer show ever.  Period.  This show is probably the main reason why I couldn't stick with 'The Good Wife'.  I found myself continually drawing comparisons, and 'The Good Wife' always came up short.  Where is 'LA Law', anyway?  Episodes of this show cannot be found!
E.R. - the idea that some of this stuff might actually be going on in real emergency rooms was so horrifying that I had to watch - like a bad automobile accident, I couldn't turn away.  It produced the only episode of any TV show I've ever watched that left me traumatized for at least 24 hours afterward.  I still shudder when I think of it.
Ally McBeal -  If ever there was the perfect definition of the '90s "Dramady", this show was IT.   I was like a lone soldier watching this show, because it was on at the same time as "Everybody Loves Raymond" -which everybody else I knew was watching.   I didn't love 'Raymond', and I guess I wasn't alone after all, as Ally McBeal held its own for many seasons against him.
Friends - my guilty pleasure - sort of like.... Nathan Fillion ...... I guess .......
The West Wing - I've saved the best for last.  Maybe I loved this show because I love American history.  Maybe it was the amazing writing.  Maybe it was the incredible cast, impossible not to fall in love with.  Maybe it was Rob Lowe.  Rob Lowe - now there's a gorgeous package - with an interesting life story to go with it.  His comeback role, bless his little blue-eyed soul.  I digress.  Even after the show changed writers, it never got stale for me.  I mourned its end.  Thank God for Netflix.

There is not a show running today that comes close to any of these, in my book, with one major exception.  Downton Abbey.  I do arrange my Sunday evening schedule around it, and I am upset when I miss it.  In the same vein as Frasier, it gives me hope that the upper crust in Europe isn't so "crusty " after all.   Historically interesting, emotionally endearing characters, sometimes thought-provoking, unapologetically soap-opera like at times, it is everything that the majority of today's first-run TV shows are not.  Now .... for God's sake, they'd better let Lady Mary juggle her suitors for at least one more season (see my comments on 'Castle' above)!   How will they all react when they find out about Lady Edith's baby?  Will this show last until the Great Depression.....?  Think of that potential...  

I'm digressing again........  

I say again, thank God for Netflix and for outside interests.  I like to occasionally read about the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire.  One thousand years from now, when they read about "the fall of the American Empire", I am sure that there will be a picture of Phil Robertson, Honey Boo Boo, and the entire cast of 'Jersey Shore' on the book cover.  I would bet my autographed picture of Rob Lowe on it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Shout Out to the "Fun" Musical

I recently attended a high school performance of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  This is a high school music program that has churned out many a large-scale, dramatic musical in recent history.  I didn't know how they would present this little piece of fluff, but I'm happy to say that it was fantastic.  The vocals did not disappoint, and the acting was surprisingly sharp.  Comedy can be just as difficult as drama to pull off, and this cast was right on top of it.

I left humming "Forget About the Boy", my favorite from this show, and I got to thinking about fun musicals.  We need more of them.  More new ones.  More of them being performed at the high school level.   New musicals seem to have missed the boat on how to mix fun with a serious message.   South Pacific is my favorite example of a musical from days of yore that was so much fun, but ......  the underlying condemnation of racism was loud and clear.  Even Mame, which was a seemingly never-ending parade of fun, managed to send a message about classism and social responsibility.

I would like to see Kinky Boots.  What I do not want to see..... Bridges of Madison County.   Loved the movie, but the idea of turning such a story into a musical appalls me for some reason.  My poster child for seriously misguided musicals will continue to be Next to Normal.   I'm sure that the acting and singing has been and will continue to be superb.  A musical about a woman with bipolar disorder is just not something that will entertain me.  That's what it's supposed to be about, right?   If I want serious drama, they have stage plays for that.   Spontaneously bursting into song about mental illness,  prostitution in Saigon during the Vietnam War,  plucking gold teeth from dead bodies after a battle, etc, etc, .....    seems crazy to me.

OK, I admit that I love Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, but lets face it....  the writers of these shows must have a very dark outlook on life in general.   I'll continue to enjoy these shows, but I'd like to see more new musicals in the vein of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  That's all.  A little balance is not too much to ask for, right?

I love that high schools and their students are so socially conscious in today's troubled world.   Lord knows, my generation could have used a touch of that awareness.   But, I was taken aback at this particular high school's need to announce, prior to the overture to Thoroughly Modern Millie that "Because this musical makes light of human trafficking, the cast and crew has adopted _____________________ (charity that fights human trafficking, the name escapes me) and asks that, in lieu of flowers, you make a donation to _________________".    Whatever their noble intentions, it felt like they were apologizing for their choice of musicals.   Please don't apologize to me.  I promise you, this musical has never left me with the impression that human trafficking is hilarious.  What it does is to lift my heart, lift my spirits, make me laugh, and leaves me humming more than one of its songs.   Believe me...... that is NOTHING to apologize for.