Television Highs and Lows

Watching television comes with obvious opportunity costs. You’re (usually) not burning calories, getting to know real live human begins better, or (usually) learning much.

Despite those downsides, I agree with a lot of critics that the quality of television content has never been higher. Especially with Netflix and other similar portals, there are a lot of good shows—past and present—to choose among.

Here’s the Television Writers Guild of America list of the best 101 written television shows of all time. And from that list, here are the top ten shows currently airing new episodes:

7) Mad Men

11) The Simpsons (one more season left)

13) Breaking Bad

16) Arrested Development (resurrected by Netflix)

17) The Daily Show

25) Saturday Night Live

34) Modern Family

40) Game of Thrones

43) Downton Abbey

48) Homeland

And, let’s not forget, a particularly excellent one just wrapped—21) 30 Rock.

The digital video recorder has transformed my viewing experience by making commercials obsolete. Thursday night I tried watching the start of the NBA finals, but the major network showed about fifteen to twenty minutes of commercials right before the tip. It was brutal. So I channel surfed until the game started. I often record sports events and then begin watching them an hour or so later without commercials, without timeouts, without incessant video replays, and even without inconsequential action (like huddles, lining up putts, even walking the ball up the court). When timed perfectly, I finish the tape just as the event is ending in real time. Mad skills.

The rewind feature of the modern DVR is also sups cool. I was floored by Julia Dale‘s rendition of the National Anthem before game 1 of the NBA finals last Thursday night. “Come here and watch this,” I yelled to peeps in the kitchen. Then rewound it for a second viewing. My second favorite performance of the Anthem after Marvin Gaye’s which I was lucky enough to experience live.

Of course there are ways television could be improved. If people stopped watching “reality” shows and the cable “news” circus, they’d go away. More aggravating to me, is some shows gratuitous use of the “f” word and penchant for glorifying drinking.

I’ve been a fan of Julia Louis-Dreyfus since she first started shoving Jerry in the chest on Seinfeld, so recently I gave her Home Box Office series Veep a whirl, in which she plays the Vice President of the U.S. Let’s just say the cute, spunky, chest shoving Elaine of Seinfeld is long gone. In her place is an insecure, foulmouthed, unlikable character. I don’t think of swearing in terms of moral failure. Ever since teaching high school, I’ve been unfazed by profanity. But I don’t like it when it’s forced and exaggerated. I counted 38 “f-bombs” in two consecutive 25 minute episodes. I find it hard to believe that Joe Biden and his staff use the f-word in semi-public nearly once per minute (Rahm Emmanuel maybe).

When a wise guy on Soprano’s or a Jonathan Franzen character lets it rip it adds to the story’s believability, but when the first female vice president or her staffers swear every minute (f-bombs plus more run of the mill profanities), things fall apart. HBO suits must think their success is the result of their characters saying things that characters on the major networks cannot. But it’s not. It’s based upon interesting story lines and strong character development that gritty language sometimes contributes to. Note to HBO, the swearing is an authentic and artistic means to an end, not an end itself.

Then there’s Zooey Deschanel’s show, New Girl, which takes moral irresponsibility to new levels. Like Veep it’s a clever, even funny show, with amusing characters who play their parts well. It’s target audience is probably my 18 and 21 year old daughters. The characters are 30, but in a Seinfeld-like manner, are stuck in a perpetual sex and drinking college-like vortex. In the hands of the shows writers and producers, drinking heavily is both fun and funny. I challenge you to identify one entire 22 minute episode of New Girls that that doesn’t glorify excessive drinking and/or random premarital sex. It’s a shame that responsibility and moderation do not attract as many eyeballs.

You and I would probably be better off with Amish romance novels.

4 thoughts on “Television Highs and Lows

  1. I virtually never watch TV anymore so I couldn’t relate to the “meat” of this post but I, too, was at the 1983 NBA All-Star game and had the opportunity to experience Marvin Gaye’s incredibly breath-taking rendition of the National Anthem. He had the ol’ Forum absolutely rocking that afternoon! I’ve heard the National Anthem sung hundreds of times since (most recently last Sunday at the Tampa Bay Rays vs. Baltimore Orioles game in Tampa, Florida by an 18-year-old girl who did a great job) but no one has even come close to the passion invoked by Marvin’s rendition. Thanks for allowing me to relive the memory.

    • Thank you for taking me to that game thirty years ago! Everyone says how hard the Anthem is to sing, but he made it seem totally effortless and incredibly fun. Of course, he didn’t sing it like anyone else ever has. He went Sinatra and did it his own, very slow and amazingly soulful, way. p.s. Pretty good golf tourney on the tube this weekend.

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