Television is more interesting than people. If it were not, we would have people standing in the corners of our rooms.
- Alan Coren
Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than each other.
- Ann Landers
So... is television inherently misanthropic as a cultural invention? Is it, as Debord argues in his Society of the Spectacle, the symbol of our increasing isolation - our atomization - in units of one that interact only with the media(ted) spectacle before us, rather than each other? Is our best and longest relationship now with the television and computer screen?
I can't believe it. Not least because TV still provides us with the sort of serial narrative that encourages the confluence of social debate - the sort of interaction that led to Dickens' novels being discussed avidly by all of London as each new segment was published, or to Tocqueville's assertion that theatre was an art form tailor-made for American society, because the intermissions threw spectators together in a democratic discussion of the play's ideas and merits. Thus I have felt for a long time that the internet might actually provide my "Intro to Literature" students with a crash course in argument, close analysis, and the use of textual proof. Send them off to any discussion board that deals with a show like Lost or The Sopranos, and they will find a Darwinian frenzy of analyses being proposed and tested against whether the details of the show itself support the theories.
Of course, Debord might say that this is proof of the triumph of the Spectacle - we think we are connected to others, but instead we are just addressing the Spectacle itself (talking about the show, through the internet), never escaping mediation for a sort of pre-capitalist direct social contact. ("The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images," says Debord, echoing the philosophical models set out by Alan Coren and Ann Landers, of course. Wall-E, as it turns out, is a portrait of a Debordian society.)
But I say "Bah!" to you, Debord, if I am even recalling your densely aphoristic book correctly. Don't be such a grinch. For you it is all authentic social interaction at one end of the spectrum, representation at the other. And, to me, this has the ring of anti-theatricalism (and art-antagonism) about it. Not all seeming is sinister. And let's not invest too much confidence in the existence of some prelapsarian authenticity.
But I am running rather far afield from my purpose, and perhaps being a little unfair to Debord, whom I haven't read in several years, poor fellow.
I cannot tell a lie: I am something of a television junkie. I watch a fairly wide spectrum of shows, although I recommend very few of them to friends. And I have been known to abandon a show abruptly on more (giving up on Desperate Housewives when they implied - wrongly and irresponsibly - that teenaged girls couldn't get a prescription for birth control without parental consent) or less legitimate grounds (ending my devotion to the X Files on the very day I learned of David Duchovny's marriage to Tea Leoni). Ever since D started to work in television, I have also paid particular attention to new programming, trying to watch a wide array of potentially gripping new shows, and bearing with the inevitable heartbreak of strong programming cut down before its time.
So what am I most looking forward to in the months to come? (Note that none of these come from broadcast networks. Shame, networks, shame.)
- Rubicon (AMC, August 2010)
A Washingtonian drama (gotta love the hometown intrigue) about a young analyst for an unnamed and amorphous government agency who discovers identical clues in the crossword puzzles of every newspaper, all pointing towards ... four-leaf clovers. He's a code breaker, so naturally he thinks that this signifies our system of government - but if the leaves symbolize the judiciary, the executive, and Congress, then what is the fourth branch? (And here I thought clovers always cryptically signified the Holy Trinity. Clearly I am Dan Browned out, and need to update my conspiracy theorizing.) And then, of course, the mysterious deaths start. The pre-pilot for this August drama is available on Hulu, and I found it more promising than polished - it feels like it wants to be an HBO drama, but doesn't have the balls for HBO's subtlety of narrative. But I will be tuning in to see where it goes.
- Boardwalk Empire (HBO, September 2010)
I'm normally no slavish devotee of Martin Scorsese, but I defy anyone to be indifferent to this Prohibition-era mobster drama that the director is launching on HBO. It's Steve Buscemi, it's a key writer from The Sopranos, it's speakeasies and rum-running in Atlantic City, for crying out loud. And best of all in this best of all possible, possible worlds, it's Michael Kenneth Williams, who was Omar on The Wire. Resistance is futile.
- The Borgias (Showtime, 2011)
I know that the foundation upon which this pilot was pitched was the success of The Tudors, but I have to admit that I never cared for that show. My reasons are twofold. First, it seemed to try unnecessarily hard to make the reign of Henry VIII trashy and melodramatic. It is naturally both of those things, so why not be more historically nuanced and detailed in creating your world? Don't strain at drama - build it. Second, I can't stand Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Irish stunner though he is. He is all regal petulance without any of the king's famous charm and intellectual heft, and I have always found him quite limited as an actor. But I am very much looking forward to The Borgias, and here's why: 1) I'm not sure it is possible to melodramatize the history beyond its evident histrionics (so I hope the writers and directors won't strain themselves to try), and 2) in Jonathan Rhys Meyer's place I (blessedly) have Jeremy Irons. Not to mention Neil Jordan is helming the project....
- Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011)
I have just this to say to you: Sean Bean. Fantasy epic. HBO production values. And Sean Bean. For me, the true title of The Fellowship of the Ring was The Heroic Struggle and Lamentable Downfall of Boromir, with Hobbitty Interludes and Wizards You Shall Not Pass.
- Lights Out (FX, late 2010)
A boxing drama from the Executive Producer of In Treatment. If that doesn't baffle you (or if it delights you) with its paradox, this might be a show for you.
- Pillars of the Earth (Starz, July 2010)
All right, so this looks a bit cheesier in its characterization and production values than what we might dub the "HBO standard" for epic television, but I am finding it hard to defy the siren song of the spectacular cast - Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew MacFayden, and Donald Sutherland - all of whom do cheesy shouting to the heavens so very, very well. And who am I to cast the first stone? I watch Legend of the Seeker. (Don't tell anyone.)
- Terriers (FX, summer/fall 2010)
The new show by the creator of The Shield takes as its subject a pair of unlicensed PIs. And, in contrast to HBO's Bored to Death, these unlicensed PIs won't look exactly, uncomfortably like my partner D. (Really. It's unsettling.)
- The Walking Dead (AMC, October 2010)
Zombies. On the network that brought us the addictively churning, brain-gnawing conformity of Mad Men. Need I say more?
And, in brief, lest I lose control utterly of the length of this post:
Things I missed and need to catch up on
- Breaking Bad
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
Returning and earning my devotion
- 30 Rock
- Friday Night Lights
- The Good Wife
- Dancing with the Stars
- The Office
- So You Think You Can Dance
- Mad Men
- True Blood