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May 24, 2010 10:26 PM   Subscribe

TV serials, says Richard Beck, self-consciously set out from the very beginning to get us to take them seriously. From Hill Street Blues to The West Wing to The Sopranos and The Wire, how the television series convinced us that it was art — and now, why Lost's achievement of success via casual genre mixing and narrative derangement might signal that there's no future creative ground left within the old limits of serial drama.
posted by hat (120 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not sure I understand the strange rhetorical choices going on in these 2 sentences:

"Its narrative innovations have since given us St. Elsewhere, Twin Peaks, Miami Vice, L.A. Law, The X-Files, NYPD Blue, E.R., Homicide: Life on the Street, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Alias, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, and 24. We also have The Sopranos, The Wire, and Lost. "

Why were the latter 3 singled out?
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:42 PM on May 24, 2010


Come on TV people, it's not that fucking hard. Have an idea where you are going, tell a story in each episode that progresses you towards it, and don't throw some handwaving bullshit about it all being god's fault and therefore inexplicable in at the end. Job done. How are you failing at this repeatedly?
posted by Artw at 10:55 PM on May 24, 2010 [25 favorites]


From the article:

"After all, the great dramas of the last decade are great precisely because they found certain limits of the form, because they figured out what it was possible to do with the available tools. That leaves future shows with few places to go, even when they are excellent (Breaking Bad) or promising (Treme)."

Wait, what? How does Lost ending mean there's no place for Breaking Bad to go? The writer states this and doesn't really back it up. I watched Breaking Bad last night. It quietly aired an episode on a night when everyone was tuned in to the huge fanfare of the Lost finale. The episode was two guys sitting in one location for an hour, was incredibly written, incredibly directed, and incredibly directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Brothers Bloom). It was brilliant.

Doesn't the author remember sitcoms declared dead after Cheers ended? But then came Seinfeld. And after Seinfeld, sitcoms were dead again. And then came The Office (UK and then the US remake). Every time a juggernaut show ends someone comes along to declare the genre dead or limits reached. And then someone else comes along and does something that completely amazes me: The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and so on.

I guess to put it in Lost terms for the author: "Don't tell me what TV can't do!"
posted by sharkfu at 10:59 PM on May 24, 2010 [19 favorites]


"Simpson's did it"?
posted by Chuckles at 11:16 PM on May 24, 2010


Wait, what? How does Lost ending mean there's no place for Breaking Bad to go?

Because it supports the guy's thesis. Whatever it is. Something to do with ... ummm, love?

The final line:

Jim and Pam know that what holds them together isn’t money, or labor, or history. They just had a baby: what holds them together is love.

What a pointless article. Starts out okay with some good historical perspective (Dickens writing 32 page installments of the Pickwick Papers " ... because that’s how many pages the Fourdrinier cylindrical paper-making machine could impress at once.") ... but then it just gets lost in trying to make some grand statement about something or other, but mostly it just gets lost in LOST.
posted by philip-random at 11:19 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because TV screens are so tiny, the medium tends to restrain the development of recognizable visual styles.

Televisions are huge. If anything is keeping TV shows from developing distinctive visual styles it's that most shows don't have the same director from episode to episode.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 11:25 PM on May 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Of course humor is almost always about making fun of things, but the previous wave of network sitcoms—Friends, Cheers, The Cosby Show—did not aspire to the kinds of perfect cynicism that these new comedies are after

I guess he forgot about Married With Children and Roseanne. Really the whole part where he tries to address 30 Rock and the Office (and reality shows) is pretty pointless.

(He takes a potshot at Mad Men too... The last season stumbled a bit (way too often my eyes would glaze over while Hamm paused before delivering yet another dull profundity) but it's still good; I don't think Lost exists on a higher plane by any means.)

This article made a lot more sense to me after the part where the author boasted of interviewing David Simon when the Wire was running—in the author's junior year of college.
posted by fleacircus at 11:54 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is exactly one well-thought-out sentence in this article:

You watch Lost with the weird, mostly happy feeling that it is watching you back.

The rest is, indeed, horseshit.
posted by mannequito at 11:59 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seems like somewhat empty contrarianism to me. All the other critics talk about how the television serial is the Great Creative Form of our Time, so this guy has to say "it's all over," but it seems mostly speculative.

For a different perspective, last week's issue of New York Magazine had a pretty interesting collection of articles about what was great in television this year.
posted by lunasol at 12:18 AM on May 25, 2010


This link actually came up on a media studies blog I follow pretty regularly (that I would have FPP'd a long time ago, but haven't because it's run by a prof of mine). It was pretty useless but kind of an intriguing read then too, in that yes this dude has some useless profundity and a grand statement that has no real force at all, BUT it did make me think about why I love what TV has become in the last 10 years or so, spawning the essay that i'm currently writing. So grateful for it in that regard.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:43 AM on May 25, 2010


Television as a Creative Medium died when ALF was taken off the air :-(
posted by cmonkey at 12:48 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


How are you failing at this repeatedly?

Where's the awesome tv show you've done?
posted by empath at 1:40 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


They keep reporting television has died, then later reporting it died again. This doesn't sound like ordinary death to me, what we are dealing with is what them science types call undeath. Get the shotguns, standard zombie protocol is in effect. Take out your television first, move on to your neighbors. Warn them while you take out their television, and move on to the next. Once we clear out these televisions we'll be free of these articles about television, and we can set our sights on the authors. Time to show the undead what dying is. Lock and load!
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:47 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where's the awesome tv show you've done?

What are you, Steve Jobs?
posted by jacalata at 1:54 AM on May 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


The first time I saw this scene, I literally got goosebumps all over my body. Its effect is magical. A few seasons later, we learn that this literal and metaphorical illumination was actually meaningless; the character who turned on the light explains that he was just going for a bathroom break.

Not to get into another argument about Lost, but this is just an early example of a theme that would continue on the show -- things can be profoundly meaningful when you experience them, even though from another point of view, it was coincidence or happenstance.
posted by empath at 1:57 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think Lost does point to the end of something (and I think the failure of Heroes does, too). The "big-budget serial fiction of indefinite duration." I think the failures of both shows, whatever they were, (and x-files, too) is mostly because the shows writers had to write not knowing when the show would end.

I think networks, when they sign a show like that sign them for 5 years, or 2 years, or 18 episodes or however long they need to be and end them when they end. If they're not popular, cancel them early, but the worst thing they can do is artificially extend them.

I think every creative person in hollywood had to look at lost and think, oh man, i could have done that better. I hope they do, and the networks let them try.
posted by empath at 2:05 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


AH the death of culture. I love how this one keeps coming up.
"We've done all of this exhausted the format! There's nowhere else to go! What will happen now that the Shakespeare has written his sonnets! There's no future creative ground left within the old limits of serial drama poetry!"
posted by litleozy at 2:06 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


but the worst thing they can do is artificially extend them.

See: Buffy seasons 6 & 7. The show would have been perfect without them.

(And Lost and BSG both seem to be a bad case of, "Surprise! You thought we were a sci-fi show, but really we're Touched By An Angel!" Or perhaps I'm just grumpy.)
posted by rodgerd at 2:33 AM on May 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Catch Touched by an Angel, or Perhaps I'm Just Grumpy Wednesday nights on E!.
posted by doublehappy at 2:39 AM on May 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


OK, Richard Beck officially gets crossed off my list of "cool people named Beck" for this tripe.

The only names left on the list now are "Jeff" and " ."
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:56 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


SPOILER: They were never really lost at all.
posted by kittyprecious at 4:12 AM on May 25, 2010


They were lost an island, but what they really found, was Jesus.

SPOILER ALERT: I didn't watch lost past season 2, but I felt like saying that.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:42 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of how ET was proof that there was no future creative ground for video games.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:46 AM on May 25, 2010


Here's a hint. If you're going to write about Aliens; spaceships; parallel universes or time travel, then fucking do it right. Sci-Fi is not some wacky cargo cult you can dip into because you once saw this episode of the Twilight Zone that "blew your mind."

I don't care how many geeks you managed to con into watching Lost / BSG / Flashforward. We're disappointed and the reason we're disappointed is because you have no respect for the canon.

Here's Hugo Nominee Catherynne Valente saying it so much better than I possibly could.
posted by seanyboy at 4:50 AM on May 25, 2010 [26 favorites]


Wait, Lost ends with a wizard in a glowcave? I knew I was smart to bail in season 2!
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:10 AM on May 25, 2010


seanyboy: "Sci-Fi is not some wacky cargo cult you can dip into because you once saw this episode of the Twilight Zone that "blew your mind.""

All hail this comment. Shitty TV writers are rejoicing at our new-found acceptance of hand-wavey new age spiritual-mystic bullshit thinly disguised by Sci Fi tropes. It's way too easy to churn out mysteries and cliffhangers when they don't have to write the big reveal that real Sci Fi requires, especially if they can convince the audience that they're clever enough to work it out themselves.
posted by vanar sena at 5:10 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


My favorite part is "... dismantled (or at least ignores) ..."
posted by wobh at 5:30 AM on May 25, 2010


You're listening to something that seems rather a lot like Tchaikovsky but in the last few bars it dissolves into a bunch of asthmatic diminished 7ths, noodling piccolos, a few triangle strikes and the faint sounds of the composer, off fapping in a corner.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:31 AM on May 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Please show the court on this TV where Carnivàle touched you.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:33 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


TV is dead! Long live TV!
posted by clvrmnky at 5:41 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please show the court on this TV where Carnivàle touched you.

Was it... My heart?

/did not watch that show.

Funny how spooky carnival stuff has gone from being most assosiated with Ray Bradbury to shit metal bands.
posted by Artw at 5:49 AM on May 25, 2010


what anime can teach us about endings -worth a read even if you don't give a shit about anime.
posted by Artw at 5:54 AM on May 25, 2010


And Lost and BSG both seem to be a bad case of, "Surprise! You thought we were a sci-fi show, but really we're Touched By An Angel!"

In fairness, both had supernatural/mystical elements pretty early on, and Galactica drew deep from that well even in the shockingly good first season.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:01 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


James Gandolfini’s gravitational pull is what makes The Sopranos coherent

Hey, now. I know he put on some weight over the course of the show but that's a low blow.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:11 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Was it... My heart?

Something like that. Carnivàle is the poster child for the need for tight plotting (for episodes), careful consideration (for arcs), and network buy-in for any episodic storytelling. If you miss out on any of the three, your show will wither and die. In Carnivàle's case, the big missing element was network buy-in and a six season arc was cut off after two.

The result was a sort of not-enough-gas-whoops-too-much herky-jerky feel to the plot. Big mysteries would be rolled out obliquely only to be solved quickly for sake of time or to appease a network type, which obviously took a toll on plotting and consideration.

To use another example, Heroes certainly had network buy in (how much money went to saving that damn cheerleader, saving the world in the first season?) but it lagged on tight plotting and careful consideration. It lacked the former due to the size of the cast - there were just too many characters running around. There did not seem to be much consideration in the powerlevels granted to some of the characters - Sylar, Peter, and Hiro wildly outclassed every one else. Eventually, everything became unhinged and the show was canceled.

Supernatural is about to embark on a 6th season after the show's creator long said there would only be 5. They certainly have network buy in, but after the last few episodes of Season 5, I'm not sure they're doing well on plotting and consideration. The show's mythology was sort of pooped on by the need to wrap things up and we had a lot of 'spinning the wheels' episodes leading up to the finale. Plus, there's the whole "You just prevented Armageddon - where do you go from here?" element.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:14 AM on May 25, 2010


what anime can teach us about endings -worth a read even if you don't give a shit about anime.

I saw that article earlier and it's rather misleading - anime is full of terrible, nonsensical ending that involve god and glowy lights - Cowboy Bebop is the exception rather than the rule.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:29 AM on May 25, 2010


Yeah, I suspected an amount of Anime Superiority nonsense. Still an interesting piece though.
posted by Artw at 6:32 AM on May 25, 2010


Pity about the tail season of Babylon 5 otherwise I'd point at it as the perfect example of how to do a big arc with lots of mystery building on TV. JMS had most of it planned out from the start, of course.
posted by Artw at 6:34 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


In fairness, both had pretty early on, and Galactica drew deep from that well even in the shockingly good first season.

And Twilight Zone had tons of them. I don't think supernatural/mystical elements are the problem per se so much as how they are used - which increasingly seems to be a way of hinting that something big and mysterious is going on then copping out completly when it comes to revealing what it is.
posted by Artw at 6:37 AM on May 25, 2010


All I ask is internal consistency. Why is that too much to ask from my serial dramas?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:49 AM on May 25, 2010


Something like that. Carnivàle is the poster child for the need for tight plotting (for episodes), careful consideration (for arcs), and network buy-in for any episodic storytelling. If you miss out on any of the three, your show will wither and die. In Carnivàle's case, the big missing element was network buy-in and a six season arc was cut off after two.

The result was a sort of not-enough-gas-whoops-too-much herky-jerky feel to the plot. Big mysteries would be rolled out obliquely only to be solved quickly for sake of time or to appease a network type, which obviously took a toll on plotting and consideration.


I always thought what killed Carnivale was the budget-it took a lot of money to get all the characters that dirty, and while the networked loved the show, the ratings didn’t support it. Though it was the slowest moving plot that I have ever watched on TV- it made Mad Men look action packed.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:02 AM on May 25, 2010


Doesn't the author remember sitcoms declared dead after Cheers ended? But then came Seinfeld. And after Seinfeld, sitcoms were dead again. And then came The Office (UK and then the US remake).

I declared sitcoms dead after Arrested Development, and I stand by that. Yes, I've seen Scrubs or The Office (both versions) or 30 Rock or whatever the sitcom du jour is, and haven't found any of them very funny. The Big Bang Theory gets an occasional chuckle from me, but that's about it.

I'm cautiously optimistic for the Futurama re-launch, though. And actually I agree with your point as far as television drama.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:07 AM on May 25, 2010


TV is dead. TV remains dead. And we have killed it. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?
posted by Houyhnhnm at 7:15 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Supernatural is about to embark on a 6th season after the show's creator long said there would only be 5. They certainly have network buy in, but after the last few episodes of Season 5, I'm not sure they're doing well on plotting and consideration. The show's mythology was sort of pooped on by the need to wrap things up and we had a lot of 'spinning the wheels' episodes leading up to the finale. Plus, there's the whole "You just prevented Armageddon - where do you go from here?" element.

Supernatural has never been all that good with plotting or consideration-they’re great and introducing awesome ideas/characters, but they’re never good at following through (and all too eager to kill them off).

Well, at least the showrunner is sticking by the five year plan and is leaving after this season?

Oh Supernatural, I wish I knew how to quit you. I really do.

If The Wire didn’t kill television, nothing will. And really, all The Wire did was make everyone who has ever watched The Wire insufferable to other TV fans, because all they can do is talk about how The Wire was the best thing that was on television, ever. I mean, they're right, but it doesn't mean that serial TV won't still be made.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:16 AM on May 25, 2010


Dinosaur Train will never betray me.
posted by Artw at 7:29 AM on May 25, 2010


Here's Hugo Nominee Catherynne Valente saying it so much better than I possibly could.

There's an article worth discussing. Thanks for the link, seanyboy.
posted by philip-random at 7:30 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yay! Commentator uses death of the specific instance to forecast death of the broader category! Yay!
posted by jefficator at 7:30 AM on May 25, 2010


Mad Men is our current would-be aspirant to television greatness, but that show looks to me like a Frankenstein’s monster, cobbled together from bits of The Sopranos and Sex and the City, dressed up and staggering around in a Banana Republic suit. We will someday be embarrassed by the amount of attention paid to that show during its run; perhaps we already are.

Tell us how you really feel.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:33 AM on May 25, 2010


Why is that too much to ask from my serial dramas?

Because they're written ad hoc by a team of people who generally have little idea of how long the story needs to last, and may at various times get put under a lot of pressure to produce stupid 'very special episodes,' climactic season finales, or add/remove characters for reasons totally unrelated to the plot. And then those episodes are directed by totally different people from episode to episode. Add that to simple laziness -- the public eats terrible, inconsistent shows up, so why bother doing any better? -- and it's a recipe for mediocre, inconsistent storytelling.

The key to a really good, tight show would be to write it all at once -- not just outline it, but write it -- and then go off in the woods and film the whole thing all at once: one director, one crew, etc. If it's going to be three seasons, film all three. (And on the way back you'd probably need to shoot enough members of the cast to keep some TV executive from commissioning more episodes...) We know that works, because that's how feature films are done, and say what you want about modern movies, they generally don't have quite the gaping plot holes that episodic TV does. (If LOST had been a movie, can you imagine what the opening-weekend reviews would have been?)

But I doubt it's economical to shoot episodic TV like that, and the public doesn't really demand it. The way serial TV works, dribbling out episodes one at a time, lets writers suck people in with the promise of a story, sell their eyeballs to advertisers for a few years, and then never have to really deliver anything.

I think it's probably getting harder to do though, with the rise of DVD box-set sales. I know a lot of people (myself included) who were waiting to hear how LOST ended before deciding whether to get the box sets and watch it when it comes out. So a lot of people are approaching serialized TV basically like a very long movie, and refusing to get invested until it's done. If this continues as a trend, I think you'll see more miniseries and 3-series arc shows and fewer open-ended shows.

Of course, I suspect it's still the week-by-week advertising revenue that supports most big-budget shows, rather than DVD sales, so maybe it won't have that much of an effect on how they're produced. We'll see.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:34 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Her article is a blueprint for what is now a thirty-years-long love affair between television and the intellectual class.

Oh my God, what is this guy smoking? Can I have some too?

Even Seinfeld, criticized for nihilism during its run—it was the “show about nothing,” after all—now comes off as charmingly obsessed with the little difficulties of social life.

Nihilism doesn't mean what you think it means. Also, many things can be said of "Seinfeld," but almost none of them would include the word "charming."

Everyone knows that reality TV shows are not actually competitions about cooking, or singing, or losing weight. They are competitions about becoming famous.

No. They're competitions about becoming infamous. There's still a difference. There are famed people who would not be caught dead on a reality show. The once-famed who appear on reality shows in order to try to reclaim fame only end up claiming another type of fame, which is ridicule/gawking/infamy. Flavor Flav was once famous. Now he's infamous. There's still a difference. Kate Gosselin is not famous.

“He meant Lexus, but he ain’t know it”: it’s a show that makes it worth your while to learn what other people are saying.

It's a show that makes it worth your while to learn what hipster Hollywood TV script writers imagine that other people are saying.

Even slower readers are unlikely to need eighty-six hours to get through Anna Karenina or Ulysses

You flatter yourself, dude.
posted by blucevalo at 7:41 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Though it was the slowest moving plot that I have ever watched on TV- it made Mad Men look action packed.

It really picked up in the second season, though. Its problem was a big ensemble cast with lots of individual stories that had to be carefully established before they could start the big good vs. evil battle really rolling. Most people didn't have the patience.

They started coming back after word got out that things were getting awesome, but not quickly enough -- HBO wanted to see something a lot closer to the record-setting ratings of the pilot. HBO has a reputation for good shows, but they're just as ratings-focused as anyone. This is the network that cancelled Deadwood to make room for Dane Cook.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:43 AM on May 25, 2010


Oh Supernatural, I wish I knew how to quit you. I really do.

I feel that. I started watching because my wife did and ended up really digging the cosmology they built. There were enough 'rules' to the supernatural that you didn't feel cheated by them tossing in some macguffin or ex machina to fix things in the last 3 minutes. While some macguffins, like the the Colt or Knife existed, they seemed to get the sort of Big Deal buildup they needed to not feel like cheap outs.

...and along comes Season 5 where we had macguffins (rings!) and ex machinas (Gabriel! Crowley! Chuck!) galore.

The worst part was 'Hammer of the Gods'. Jeez. I remember an episode of the old Batman TV show where all the villains teamed up to take over Gotham. So lame! Each villain could have been an episode of their own! 'Hammer of the Gods' was the same way - instead of multiplying the fun by the number of dispossessed gods involved, it was instead a giant suck that not only killed an episode, but killed future episodes as it took Odin, Baron Samedi, Baldur, and so on out of play. And then they offed Gabriel, who had just become interesting a few episodes before.

You're right about the show's willingness to kill off characters. I just wish they had some memory for who they killed. Micheal's reply to Lucifer's offer that they just not fight should not have been 'No, I gots to cuz I'm the Gud Sun' - it should have been 'I don't want to fight you either, but you did just kill our little brother, so we gotta do this.' And they didn't even fight! They just got thrown down a well.

Gah. I hate to say it, but Vampire Diaries has better plotting. The characters are about as deep as the cardboard cutout of Edward Cullen my wife owns, but at least they know how to hang a cliff.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:48 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the name of the Twin Peaks, the Arrested Development, and the Wire. Forever and ever. Amen
posted by Babblesort at 7:50 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I declared sitcoms dead after Arrested Development, and I stand by that.

I'll declare sitcoms dead when there's no more assholes left in the world that need to be laughed at, repeatedly.
posted by philip-random at 7:51 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


may at various times get put under a lot of pressure to produce stupid 'very special episodes,' climactic season finales, or add/remove characters for reasons totally unrelated to the plot.

To wit, see what NBC did to Homicide: Life on the Streets in season 7. Grrr.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:51 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course humor is almost always about making fun of things, but the previous wave of network sitcoms—Friends, Cheers, The Cosby Show

DO NOT. Ahem. Do not remind me how much of my life I wasted watching Cheers. I mean really. There were shows I enjoyed less, but none of them strike me as an actual waste of time, if that makes any sense.

Also: I don't get the Supernatural love. I really don't. I tried.

If The Wire didn’t kill television, nothing will. And really, all The Wire did was make everyone who has ever watched The Wire insufferable to other TV fans, because all they can do is talk about how The Wire was the best thing that was on television, ever.

Band of Brothers was kind of like that, although I think the vicarious shell shock made people less reluctant to proselytize.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also: my in-thread version of spoiler protection is reading the foregoing posts with one eye closed.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:53 AM on May 25, 2010


And yet, Treme is pretty darned good and they just toss you into the mix along with the characters.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:54 AM on May 25, 2010


There just isn’t much new ground available. Mad Men is our current would-be aspirant to television greatness, but that show looks to me like a Frankenstein’s monster, cobbled together from bits of The Sopranos and Sex and the City, dressed up and staggering around in a Banana Republic suit. We will someday be embarrassed by the amount of attention paid to that show during its run; perhaps we already are.

Hi. You're wrong.

Mad Men is brilliant because it takes what the the Sopranos did brilliantly and leaves out everything else. I'm not surprised he thinks this, based on other things written in that article. But it needs to be called out for its wrongness.

Mad Men is exceptionally brilliant filmmaking. He is correct that it is a descendant of The Sopranos, but only because Mad Men's creator was also the Soprano's best writer after David Chase. The iconic Mad Men image, the shot of the the back of Don's head (which is also the first shot we see of Don) was used in the Sopranos to the same effect (when Tony is wheeled out of the hospital after he has had the dream that ends in a 10-second fade to white (that contrasts with the ten second fade to black at the end of hte series).

I wonder if the author of this piece ever considered how odd it was that a show about the early 1960s focuses so heavily on a Freudian psychotherapist in the first season. But when you consider that nearly all of Don's mistresses look like his mother--but his wife doesn't-- that shouldn't be surprising. (And in his first conversation with Midge in the first episode, he says "I don't want to go to school today.") The show is about all of the characters, and the country they live in, growing up and losing their innocence.

In fact, I would venture to say that TV drama succeeds when it is tragic. Tony was destined to die at the end of the series, and I don't understand how any viewer could be surprised by that or upset by it. The show was focused on a brutal, violent, psychopathic, rage-filled narcissist. There is no redeeming the character who allows Christopher to die, beats his mistresses, kills his cousin, etc. The fact that the audience was upset but Tony's well-deserved execution suggests that TV drama up to that point conditioned viewers to think that the main character must always be the hero. Great literature is often tragic.

TV drama excels when it shows us all of the gory details of the tragic fall. (Mad Men's opening titles is a man falling). But we, the audience, should not be spared the fall in the interests of extending the series, boosting ratings, etc.

Miami Vice should have ended in tragedy for Crockett--e.g. prison for crossing the line one too many times to reinforce the show's core idea that while criminals and cops are very similar, we depending on the cop to serve the law.

Mulder should have ended up like Captain Ahab--yes, he finds out the truth, but it should cost him everything Scully, his sister, the FBI, and most importantly his bearing witness to the future.

Don Draper should see his son slip away from him and grow to repeat the mistakes that Don made (notice how little of the series has been spent on him, and how much time on his daughter). The show is about the past and our history, and those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

This is nothing new. The purpose of tragedy purge us of our excessive emotions. This is the catharsis. We are not cleansed, we do not get closure, we only get relief brought on by perspective. We are shown people who have suffered more than we have (or who cause others to suffer more than we could imagine), we see them suffer at the hands of their demons, and through it we can purge our own.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:02 AM on May 25, 2010 [17 favorites]


pah... Just further convinces me The Prisoner (the original) was light-years ahead of it's time.
posted by edgeways at 8:15 AM on May 25, 2010


And The Prisoner really holds up well on repeated viewing, too.

Especially if you play this very simple, one rule drinking game: if Patrick McGoohan looks directly at the camera with his forehead furrowed, and "one eye is bigger than the other," you take a drink. By the end of each episode, you'll be O_o too.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:20 AM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]



Everyone knows that reality TV shows are not actually competitions about cooking, or singing, or losing weight. They are competitions about becoming famous.

No. They're competitions about becoming infamous.


Reality shows are about the audience. The audience can neither become famous or infamous. These shows, absolutely every single one of them, is about letting the audience sit in judgment of the people on the show. The more acutely the judgment can be felt, the more successful the show. We criticize the business acumen of people forced to generate thousands of dollars in a few days time on the Apprentice, we critique the duplicity of castaways on Survivor, we mock the families on Supernanny or Wife Swap.

But the ne plus ultra in my opinion of reality shows serving the vulgus is that most popular of the weight loss reality shows, "Biggest Loser." The network wants you to think that this title refers to who is losing the most weight. But the show is not called the "Greatest Loser" which would be more accurate if "lose" referred to an amount of something. The real meaning is that everyone on the show is a loser regardless of their weight and ironically the one who loses the most weight is the biggest loser of them all, because even after losing the weight, they are still the loser they always were. We like this because we our culture generally likes to look down on fat people as not only unhealthy but lazy and dimwitted.

And what do we see on the Biggest Loser? People trying and failing and physical challenges that most slim people couldn't accomplish, and more importantly at tests of will. Can they deny themselves this food, can they force themselves to exercise more, etc. And all the while the superfit trainers are yelling the taunts and veiled insults that the audience is shouting at home.

Never mind that the audience for these shows reflect the worst failures of our cultural and educational institutions. Never mind that people criticizing the lemonade stand that loses on the apprentice because it only brought in $2000 instead of $3000 are themselves either unemployed or underemployed, and have never run a business of their own. Never mind that people watching survivor have probably never been outside in the heat for more than an hour before running for the air conditioning. Never mind that most people watching a TV show about losing weight don't think about how they could improve their health if they simply exercised while they were watching the weight loss show.

As long as the show ends with the viewer feeling superior and self-satisfied, that viewer will tune in again next week. And that's what reality shows are about--appealing to and reinforcing the worst in us.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:22 AM on May 25, 2010 [17 favorites]


There is something about n+1 I just find annoying. Maybe it's the constant "we": we study nineteenth century novels as whole texts, we apologize for not keeping up, we’ve been watching television in which characters turn to their coworkers, not their families, for empathy, love, and support.

Really? That is what "we" do?
posted by betweenthebars at 8:29 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


They started coming back after word got out that things were getting awesome, but not quickly enough -- HBO wanted to see something a lot closer to the record-setting ratings of the pilot. HBO has a reputation for good shows, but they're just as ratings-focused as anyone. This is the network that cancelled Deadwood to make room for Dane Cook.

Deadwood and Carnivale were also really expensive shows-I was only half-kidding when I said that it cost a lot of money to get everyone that dirty. Period shows aren’t easy to film: the sets cost a lot more, and I remember there being a lot of talk about how much incidental CGI cost on Carnivale to make everything look that dead and ragged. It’s not so much that HBO is first and foremost about ratings-HBO is first and foremost a business-if something can be made for a fraction of the cost with a slightly-larger-fraction of the ratings, it’s still a good business decision for them.

But yes, in a just world, both shows should have been allowed to finish.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:35 AM on May 25, 2010


I have not, and do not intend to see it but, I like how he describes Lost. The way he puts it, Lost more like a language than a story. What it means doesn't matter, but what you can make it mean, does.
posted by wobh at 9:00 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm afraid the lesson of Lost will be the same as Twin Peaks and the X-Files: never make a mythology-based arc show because it will only end up disappointing the audience.

I'm sorry, what? No. Not everything with a mythos is about the mythos. Suggesting Twin Peaks was disappointing is arsed. Twin Peaks was terrific, arguably more so once the central mystery was solved and the writers had to jump through extraordinary hoops to keep the audience engaged. (Well, maybe not James Hurley and that woman. But the rest of it was great.)

Here's what I think the author of that little article missed. Two of those three shows (I never saw X-Files) were in large part an improvised narrative. I know DL and CC said they had an ending for LOST prepared from the beginning, but come on, who respects DL and CC as plotweavers enough to think they had a good ending in the sense of providing a natural closure? LOST, like Twin Peaks, was about daring the writers to up the ante season after season and seeing them pull it off.

There was a parody video way back when about the writers of LOST trying to come up with plot twists that don't answer questions. Looking back at it now the extraordinary thing is that the actual show was crazier than the parody. But they managed to be crazy while still convincing us to tune in again next week. Their plot twists were varied and came from about seven different directions and every time I got fed up they hit upon a new source of tension and mystery.

Even up to the finale. Here I thought that, you know, Jacob had a plan, Smokey was getting some predestined end coming. But he DIDN'T. There was such a lack of plan that it ended with him and Jack beating each other up. No "predestined" there (besides the fact that Jack's the good guy, but come on, suspend disbelief), just some guys railing on each other. Vastly preferable to the writers trying to pretend like there was some destiny to it all.

I have this low-grade contempt for certain science fiction readers and science fiction writers. Maybe it's because my youth was all about Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert; Isaac didn't write worlds so much as he wrote logic puzzles, and Frank was one of the originators of this pseudomystical style that LOST and Twin Peaks lift from. A lot of science fiction seems to just throw up mechanics and create these jerkoffy universes. The heart of all the sci-fi I like is pretty much the same as all the literature I like: Good characters. Good scenarios. The science fiction just lets a writer bend rules that let them put characters in scenarios that might not exist in the physical world.

Physics in sci-fi only matter in terms of gaining my trust. Beyond that I don't care how accurate the mechanics are. If I wanted mechanics I'd play D&D.

And dude, TV shows like LOST and Twin Peaks never had my trust like that. Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica won't have my trust if I watch it. The best TV is only now approaching the state of great literature; LOST was not great literature. It was great junky television, just like Twin Peaks. Junky television has different standards.

It's not the science fiction in these shows that makes them wonky. I'm astonished at the people in the other thread who were complaining about LOST's being unreliable because of the mythos. I mean, have you seen other TV? It's all just as bad! It's ridiculous! It's junky TV even without a smoke monster!

David Simon rants here about the fact that there were more murders in the three Law & Order franchises than there were in all of Manhattan the year those shows aired. Simon writes television that attempts to be transcendent. Lindelof and Cuse don't.

And so this is why I'm irritated at Ms Hugo Writer's little rant. I'm irritated because anybody with a passing appreciation for literature didn't think LOST was a "good" show by the standards we hold literature to. I don't know how in fuck these people deluded themselves into thinking that they were watching some seminal piece of television writing, but come on, we're talking about LOST. It was a masterpiece of junky TV, but it never even made claims that it was anything other than junky.

I'd thought all the people obsessing over the mythology, including myself at times, were having some lighthearted fun. Goofing off with an obsession around something dorky. The fact that some of them thought the show was headed anywhere other than a cleverly-crafted-but-cheesy ending kind of baffles me.

The irony is that the world of science fiction writers, which was once a lighthearted alternative to the prickish world of more canon-obsessed "literature", has quickly become as unfun and snotty and demanding as the crowd they were once an alternate to.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:07 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is that too much to ask from my serial dramas?

Because they're written ad hoc by a team of people who generally have little idea of how long the story needs to last, and may at various times get put under a lot of pressure to produce stupid 'very special episodes,' climactic season finales, or add/remove characters for reasons totally unrelated to the plot. And then those episodes are directed by totally different people from episode to episode. Add that to simple laziness -- the public eats terrible, inconsistent shows up, so why bother doing any better? -- and it's a recipe for mediocre, inconsistent storytelling.


This, right here. Especially the bit about "don't know how long it will last". If there is one thing I really admire BBC programming for, it's the limited season (or even limited series) which has a beginning, middle, and end. The open-end series killed Twin Peaks, certainly, and I'm sure everyone has a list in their mind of shows which should have ended, but didn't.

Not related, but related... Doesn't anyone else in the world watch Weeds? It's a serial black comedy with GREATLY compressed storytelling techniques, pretty much unlike anything else I've ever watched. One of the best things on TV, IMO.

But yeah, I'm with everyone else who says that the article starts off great and then gets sidetracked in its own supposedly brilliant analysis of why television drama is now dead.
posted by hippybear at 9:18 AM on May 25, 2010


DO NOT. Ahem. Do not remind me how much of my life I wasted watching Cheers. I mean really. There were shows I enjoyed less, but none of them strike me as an actual waste of time, if that makes any sense.

Whoa, really? I suppose I'm unable to judge it accurately, given how formative it was as a major cultural piece of my childhood, but man... I don't know that I've ever heard anyone refer to a show that's conspicuously and explicitly about non-motile barflies as a "waste of time".
posted by Greg Nog at 9:28 AM on May 25, 2010


And so this is why I'm irritated at Ms Hugo Writer's little rant. I'm irritated because anybody with a passing appreciation for literature didn't think LOST was a "good" show by the standards we hold literature to.

I don't really think LOST is "junky" but I'll agree with the rest of your comment - I don't think it's useful to judge television shows by the same standard by which we judge literature or film.

A small part of a book is the narrative progression's affect - the bigger part is looking at the work as a cohesive whole. I think for television that hierarchy needs to be reversed.

If shows come along that is a cohesively perfect whole, that's fantastic. But as others have pointed out, with the way television shows are necessarily produced (different creative teams, control of execs, importance of ratings for funding, etc.) that doesn't seem a realistic standard to expect.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2010


How are you failing at this repeatedly?

Where's the awesome tv show you've done?



It was turned down by the network because it wasn't dumbed-down enough.
posted by L'OM at 9:47 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Twin Peaks was terrific, arguably more so once the central mystery was solved and the writers had to jump through extraordinary hoops to keep the audience engaged.

I disagree. Once the Sarah Palmer murder mystery was resolved Twin Peaks never got its magic back. It was still better than most TV but then, so is staring at a brick wall. That said, Twin Peaks did END brilliantly. Fucking chaos and tragedy and enough cliffhangers for a dozen lame soap operas. David Lynch's (and Mark Frost's) final FUCK YOU to the sponsors, and the network.

I loved it.

Much as I loved the final episode of the PRISONER. How do you resolve the unresolvable? You don't. You go the other way, into madness. Missile launches, masks and three guys hitchhiking along the Queen's highway. As the Brits would say, bril.
posted by philip-random at 9:55 AM on May 25, 2010


The Prisoner was mysterious, but it never really had mysteries that needed to be solved. It was all about the weekly escape attempt and No. 6s struggle of wills with, well, everything around him. The setting was deliberately vague and abstract, and the show fairly honest about that, and as such the crazy ass ending was an honest ending.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where's the awesome tv show you've done?

I work mainly in the superior medium of comics.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


David Simon rants here about the fact that there were more murders in the three Law & Order franchises than there were in all of Manhattan the year those shows aired.

I can't speak for the latter years of Law + Order, or the spin-offs. But in those early years (say, the first six or seven), I thought it succeeded specifically because it didn't pretend to realism. Yeah, the streets were gritty (and the characters too) but the crimes themselves (and the procedures) were almost always the reasons for the stories. We weren't bothered about detective dude's alcoholic wife, or wayward kid, except insofar as such details served the specific crime being investigated, then prosecuted.

To me, this is where it sounds like LOST (I've never actually watched it) loses its credibility. That is, it arrogantly wants to be many things. Cool adventure, deep mystery, reality driven character drama etc. But what happens when these competing logics collide, as they must? Absurdity. Which is fine if you play to it (ie: comedy, satire etc) but annoying when you refuse to lift your filter of deep seriousness. Or you do, but only with the vaguest of subtle winks.

Screw you, man. Own the chaos you've mustered.
posted by philip-random at 10:06 AM on May 25, 2010


Mad Men's opening titles is a man falling

Mad Men has the best opening credits ever made. The music is catchy. The visuals say exactly what the show is: a stylish tragedy set in the advertising industry that will involve lots of alcohol. The final slow zoom-out is fucking genius. You think you're looking at the guy still falling for a second (or maybe after he's hit the sidewalk), but no he's lounging with a smoke, and the music resolves in sync. Best of all it's incredibly short.

LOST also has a good one which is to say not really having one at all. I can't stop myself from saying LOOOOOOOOST (rhyming with 'most') as the letters float ominously at me. And the DVD title screens are spiff. I'd form more opinions about DVD title screens except they're almost universally shitty and annoying.

The Wire's credits just go on too long. Devil, down in the hole, check. It's not awful it just goes on forever, and I get tired of the rock thrown into the security camera, the police sirens flashing over blood on the pavement, the hand slowly tugging down the zipper.

I could talk for hours about opening credits. Of course, all but 30 minutes of it would be muttering about BSG's fucking drum chaka chaka thing at the end where they show you shit from the episode you're about to see. Assholes.

These shows, absolutely every single one of them, is about letting the audience sit in judgment of the people on the show.

Yes that's it, though it's not all a freakshow or setting up the audience to sneer. So splitting connotative hairs I'd say "judging character" instead of "sitting in judgement". I don't quite get the sweeping dismissals of reality shows. It's like someone telling you they hate cartoons, but what they really mean is that they hate South Park and Family Guy.
posted by fleacircus at 10:28 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Wire's credits just go on too long. Devil, down in the hole, check. It's not awful it just goes on forever, and I get tired of the rock thrown into the security camera, the police sirens flashing over blood on the pavement, the hand slowly tugging down the zipper.

CHRIST, THANK YOU

muttering about BSG's fucking drum chaka chaka thing at the end where they show you shit from the episode you're about to see. Assholes.

I really tried to get into this at first with a vague notion of "Hey it's kind of like how Renaissance plays had a dumb show, ha ha, okay, I can get into that, let's watch this". I lasted maybe three episodes before I finally admitted, "Okay, fine, I am a product of my cultural moment, I hate this, you assholes," and took to simply squeezing my eyes shut and/or petting the cat during that part of the credits.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:34 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised the author (and no one in this thread) mentioned The Shield. As far as serial dramas go, it doesn't get much better.

The story arc begins on episode one and ends at the seventh season's (series) finale. It's all wrapped up so neatly, and all your questions are answered as hard as they might be to swallow. And there are some of the most morally complex characters I've ever seen on TV.

I was bummed to not see it mentioned
posted by Ekim Neems at 10:37 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Solon and Thanks: If shows come along that is a cohesively perfect whole, that's fantastic. But as others have pointed out, with the way television shows are necessarily produced (different creative teams, control of execs, importance of ratings for funding, etc.) that doesn't seem a realistic standard to expect.

I don't think we should settle for anything less. A show like Six Feet Under proves that it is possible to sustain a narrative over the course of five seasons while maintaining a high level of quality. The series is a unified whole and it never stopped outdoing itself. The writers, producers, and directors all kept a fierce eye on continuity and that, along with Alan Ball's steady involvement and ardent devotion, kept the show from veering off the rails as, for example, Twin Peaks did when David Lynch and Mark Frost both left to direct films during the second season. I find it amazing when Nikolai appears in the fifth season for a momentary fantasy sequence after having been gone and forgotten since season two, and when the pin in Nate's foot is pulled back in season two from the pilot, and when Nate unknowingly takes the ecstasy that David left in the aspirin bottle the previous season. This attention to detail and continuity made Six Feet Under real. People come and go in our lives, and the consequences of our actions today are not always felt in next week's episode. The Fishers are real, and that is why so many people cried and cried and cried as Clare drove away in that final episode.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 10:37 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


> The Wire's credits just go on too long. Devil, down in the hole, check. It's not awful it just goes on forever, and I get tired of the rock thrown into the security camera, the police sirens flashing over blood on the pavement, the hand slowly tugging down the zipper.

They're probably long for the same reason all of HBO's series' opening credits are long: it helps fill out the the hour.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:37 AM on May 25, 2010


Physics in sci-fi only matter in terms of gaining my trust. Beyond that I don't care how accurate the mechanics are. If I wanted mechanics I'd play D&D.

Totally. Though, in order to keep the trust you've gained, you need to keep those mechanics constant. If you make a change to them, you need to carry forward with all the implications of that change. Otherwise, the change isn't the big deal it was originally presented as. The SciFi, as stated in that linked rant, is a character. You can't just change a character around to suit your needs and expect viewers to be cool with it.

Take, for example, the whole Star Trek "Can't Go Above Warp 5!" thing that was a Big Deal then dropped.

(And Carnivale opening credits > Mad Men opening credits)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:59 AM on May 25, 2010


How can Lost be the end of seralized drama when it's so ripe for spinoffs? Like the one about Jack Shephard as Jesus, "Christ: What an Asshole"
posted by speicus at 11:08 AM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


waiting to hear how LOST ended before deciding whether to get the box sets and watch it when it comes out

Geeze, do you read the last page of a book before starting it too?
posted by floam at 11:14 AM on May 25, 2010



Geeze, do you read the last page of a book before starting it too?


And Harry and Hermione and Ron and blah blah all lived happily ever after and ZZzzzzzz.

Sometimes you want to know when to close the book before the last page.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:26 AM on May 25, 2010


waiting to hear how LOST ended before deciding whether to get the box sets and watch it when it comes out

Geeze, do you read the last page of a book before starting it too?


I think it's more that people wanted to make sure that there was some sort of cohesive ending before they got too invested. Less reading the last page of a novel than making sure that the novel doesn't end halfway through a sentence.

I was scarred as a child by the fact that the first episode I saw of My So-Called Life was the season finale, so I sympathize.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:27 AM on May 25, 2010


The worst part was 'Hammer of the Gods'. Jeez. I remember an episode of the old Batman TV show where all the villains teamed up to take over Gotham. So lame! Each villain could have been an episode of their own! 'Hammer of the Gods' was the same way - instead of multiplying the fun by the number of dispossessed gods involved, it was instead a giant suck that not only killed an episode, but killed future episodes as it took Odin, Baron Samedi, Baldur, and so on out of play. And then they offed Gabriel, who had just become interesting a few episodes before.

Hear, hear. I've only seen a few episodes of Supernatural and was on the fence about it, but I caught that one and it settled it for me. Lame.
posted by homunculus at 11:28 AM on May 25, 2010


The Wire's credits just go on too long. Devil, down in the hole, check. It's not awful it just goes on forever, and I get tired of the rock thrown into the security camera, the police sirens flashing over blood on the pavement, the hand slowly tugging down the zipper.

Unless you're watching 3-4 episodes in one go (and hey, why not -- if you can, do it) where I could see this getting annoying, I like the opening as a way to get me in the proper mood for the show. Except for that one season -- 3? 4? -- where I just fucking hate the rendition and have to grit my teeth through the thing. I think my blood pressure has gone up a tick just thinking about it.

But HBO credits are almost always great and an art form to themselves. The first one I remember seeing that grabbed me by the fucking balls would have to be Six Feet Under. Then Carnivale. Then Rome.

I can't stop myself from saying LOOOOOOOOST (rhyming with 'most') as the letters float ominously at me.

Everybody does something different, but wish I'd seized on that one. Would drive Mrs. B round the bend, almost as much as my "words" to the Buffy theme song.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:35 AM on May 25, 2010


Whoa, really? I suppose I'm unable to judge it accurately, given how formative it was as a major cultural piece of my childhood, but man... I don't know that I've ever heard anyone refer to a show that's conspicuously and explicitly about non-motile barflies as a "waste of time".

I can't really explain this. I mean, I have all kinds of useless knowledge in my head and I don't lament any of it. I like that when I visited the cultural museum in Seoul, the thing that immediately sent me into shock was seeing spirit posts like that one episode in M*A*S*H. But for some reason, I'm just furious with myself for spending any time at all watching Cheers. My life was not even momentarily enriched by getting to know Carla Tortelli and Norm and Diane and the rest. I suppose some people feel the same way about, I dunno, Full House, but I never watched that show.

posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:43 AM on May 25, 2010


waiting to hear how LOST ended before deciding whether to get the box sets and watch it when it comes out

Geeze, do you read the last page of a book before starting it too?


I'd like to make sure the final pages aren't blank. I've lost track of the number of times people have tried to turn me on to cool new shows only to have them bitching within a season that they've been cancelled.
posted by rodgerd at 11:50 AM on May 25, 2010


Hear, hear. I've only seen a few episodes of Supernatural and was on the fence about it, but I caught that one and it settled it for me. Lame.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t killed everyone in it-I liked the idea that there were other gods out there that wouldn’t want the apocalypse, but wouldn’t necessarily be the boys’ allies. But the actual implementation of the idea was horrible.

Which is how most of Supernatural goes, really.

I started watching it at a vulnerable time in my life, when it was new and fresh and Dean had only died and come back to life once. . . and I’ve kept on watching out of inertia, some odd sort of self-loathing, and a malingering love for Castiel.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2010


This attention to detail and continuity made Six Feet Under real. People come and go in our lives, and the consequences of our actions today are not always felt in next week's episode. The Fishers are real, and that is why so many people cried and cried and cried as Clare drove away in that final episode.

I honestly think that the short seasons helped, too. Though I have my problems with the later seasons of SFU, it's tight enough to always feel like episodes are necessary, and if your interest flags, it doesn't always flag for long.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:08 PM on May 25, 2010


True Blood's opening credits are just great. Pitch perfect match of visuals, editing, and music (which, incidentally, I was shocked to find out wasn't some Chris Isaak song I'd never heard before).
posted by theDTs at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2010


True Blood's opening credits are just great. Pitch perfect match of visuals, editing, and music (which, incidentally, I was shocked to find out wasn't some Chris Isaak song I'd never heard before).

I absolutely agree that the credits for True Blood are wonderful, but I don't think it matches the tone of the show. The credits are all about delicious and sad decay, corruption in every meaning of the word. The evil that's presented in the show is a lot more straightforward.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2010


Lost: Fuckin' magnets! How do they work?
posted by shmegegge at 12:42 PM on May 25, 2010


Carnivale opening credits > Mad Men opening credits

They're pretty, but don't have that clever kick I like. Dexter's are better, and would be perfect if they were half as long.

True Blood's are just some random stuff thrown on screen that I skip even with Comcast's aggravating sluggish On Demand response times.

(On Preview, damnit I'm just so fucking wrong about everything.)

Unless you're watching 3-4 episodes in one go (and hey, why not -- if you can, do it)

I forget not everyone watches this way now. Most shows I watch a little of week to week, but sometimes just decide to skip a season and watch it all at some later time when it's going to be complete and commercial free. Especially if it's a serial drama.

The first one I remember seeing that grabbed me by the fucking balls would have to be Six Feet Under. Then Carnivale. Then Rome.

Six Feet Under's credits were so good they verged on upstaging the episodes. I'm surprised though to see praise for Rome. Blurry, nothing going on but some animated graffiti that wasn't too interesting to look at, it's like if you told someone the basic idea the credits would be the minimally imaginative implementation of that idea.
posted by fleacircus at 12:43 PM on May 25, 2010


The change of credits for big Love is kind of interesting.
posted by Artw at 12:44 PM on May 25, 2010


The change of credits for big Love is kind of interesting.

I really liked the original, but there's something really appropriate and refreshing about the new one.

While we're on the subject: the mister and I have been watching Rescue Me lately, and, man, if I never have to hear "C'mon C'mon" again, it'll be too soon.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:54 PM on May 25, 2010


It's not really as grabby or obvious, but it's somehow very fitting.

Was it me or did the last 30 rock include a Six feet Under reference AND a Big Love reference?
posted by Artw at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2010


While we're on the subject: the mister and I have been watching Rescue Me lately, and, man, if I never have to hear "C'mon C'mon" again, it'll be too soon.

Really? They seemed to take on a deeper meaning after several seasons. Similar to The Wire, the credits set the tone for watching the show.

I don't get the complaint about The Wire's credits. They're a mixture of scenes from the series and scenes filmed just for the credit. Take the Season 1 credits, about 45 seconds. The first few times you view it, you think it's just a guy talking on the phone. Later you realize it's a key scene, quietly played and you're reminded how ordinary the violence can get, even in its savagery.

Season 2's opening is just as powerful, as images of women that were the catalyst for the case that spawned the second season drift over the screen, while the day to day operations of a port are shown. As the case deepens and goes wider, the constant reminder of just how it began, how the women were treated almost like cargo containers is a chilling reminder of what's going on, how cheap life can viewed and destroyed for money.

Season 3 continues that motif, spotlighting what's coming up in the season and hinting of the seduction not only of drugs but of power as the series really gets into the political side of things.

The scenes from the Season 4 opener are really compelling, as they show Marlo's gang, the stolen lollipops which illustrated how deadly Marlo was, the scary and brilliant shot of Snoop on the playground, a few seconds before someone is executed and all that contrasted with the shots of the state house as political games are played and where does it all end? The morning bell for school, as smiling, eager kids bustle through the halls. Considering what Season 4 is about, it's heart breaking.

Won't comment on the Season 5 opener, because I loathed the music in that version.

As to the complaint about the scene in the all the opening credits, where the bottle is thrown at the camera, that makes so much sense. You want it to stop, the characters want the madness to stop but it'll never stop, the machine, the institutions, no matter what side of the line they're on, will eat you alive. It belongs in every one of the openers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:40 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


As long as the show ends with the viewer feeling superior and self-satisfied, that viewer will tune in again next week. And that's what reality shows are about--appealing to and reinforcing the worst in us.

Well said.
posted by zarq at 1:42 PM on May 25, 2010


Fascinating. Someone else hates just one of the Wire's season's theme -- I have to check and see if it's actually season 5 I hate (but I don't think it is).

I certainly did consume The Wire in massive gulps. 5 seasons in under a month, I think. But with the missus it's a different matter, so the theme for me is an opportunity to get back into the mindset after a week (or more!) away from that setting.

Besides, I can't forget what a shocker the season 2 theme was. I couldn't believe the change in tone.

I liked the Rome credits, truth be told, at least partly because they harkened back to the Carnivale opening for me. Surprised to find so much love for that show here.

Haven't caught Big Love and Dexter credits. Will do so soon, though I can't help but be immensely skeptical of Dexter. The last time I succumbed to others' hype it was... well, it was Supernatural, actually, but before that, True Blood. Didn't care for either.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:03 PM on May 25, 2010


The Rescue Me opener is great because it personifies the main characters and show.

It starts off somewhat quiet, but with tension and you know it's going to suddenly explode. When it does, it happens to be on a scene of dovespigeons taking flight. Pigeons are annoying and foul up a city, leaving their shit everywhere.

The credits contain exploding, with a frantic pace, like school boys running through the city as odes of masculinity are displayed in rapid fire succession, the song laments the passage of time and questions things that have transpired, even as it barrels forward (C'mon, C'mon), not pausing to reflect on the answers to the questions, as fire engines careen through the city.

The scene of a distraught and grieving male is only briefly shown and only after a shot of Tommy on a fire engine, looking almost like a little boy with confusion as he looks at the city passing by. No wonder the series is called "Rescue Me".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:07 PM on May 25, 2010


Yeah, but it's sure annoying after you've watched about eight episodes in a weekend.

Also, it's now completely stuck in my head. Again.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:26 PM on May 25, 2010


I can't help but be immensely skeptical of Dexter.

The first season of Dexter is brilliant. Completely awesome television. Truly a "novel for television" or whatever the fuck ABC used to call their Michener mini-series adaptations. I lost interest halfway through the second season and haven't watched since. But wow! Season One? Totally enthusiastic for that.
posted by hippybear at 2:46 PM on May 25, 2010


FTA: "In the first season, a number of storylines revolve around a locked hatch, which someone discovers in the jungle some distance inland from the cast’s beachside camp. A character named John Locke becomes obsessed with getting it open, and spends long nights looking helplessly at its tiny, darkened window. Near the season’s end, with everything falling to pieces (kidnappings, explosions, death), Locke runs to the hatch and pounds on it, screaming in existential anguish. And a light comes on. The first time I saw this scene, I literally got goosebumps all over my body. Its effect is magical. A few seasons later, we learn that this literal and metaphorical illumination was actually meaningless; the character who turned on the light explains that he was just going for a bathroom break."

LTTP here, but this is bullshit. The light turning on was not Desmond "going for a bathroom break." It was Desmond, stranded alone thousands of miles from his greatest love, burdened with the crushing responsibility of the button, having an existential breakdown of his own, on the verge of suicide... when he heard Locke pounding on the door. This lifesaving serendipity convinced Desmond that his life did have meaning and purpose -- that they were all connected -- and was what propelled him to sacrifice himself to stop the countdown and, ultimately, to venture into the Source. These sacrifices in turn restored the faith of a broken and doubting Locke, who himself kindled the faith of Jack, whose final sacrifice was the key to saving their world and their own souls.

Why do I get the feeling that a lot of criticism about Lost comes from people who weren't really paying much attention to it? Anybody who could see that pivotal, vital scene, one of the climaxes of the season finale, and describe it as "a bathroom break" in a published article obviously wasn't taking the show very seriously.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:13 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aha. (reviewing) No, the season 5 opener is certainly different, but I really felt it fit the feel of that season. I suppose season 4 did, too, but I just really, really hate that version.

The first season of Dexter is brilliant. Completely awesome television.

Ok, excellent to know. I can deal with that. I have no problem going into a series knowing that it's only good for X number of seasons, because no expectation is defeated. Will eventually check that out, thanks.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:31 PM on May 25, 2010


Actually, the second season of Dexter is about the most intense thing ever -- I think the first has a slightly better story, but there's just no topping the cliffhangers in season two. This isn't Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Deadwood or whatever your standard for High Art TV may be, but as straight-up pulp storytelling, I can't think of a series that beats it. ...Then the third season happens, but it recovers nicely in season four. Dexter gets the ratings to stay on probably well past its prime (it's almost certainly past its prime now), but critically I think it's been overshadowed by so many other shows that it may get less respect than it deserves. It is by no means flawless (its biggest failing is a yen for pointless subplots that exist only, and I do mean this, ONLY to give the supporting players stuff to do), but it's usually good, and is sometimes great.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:11 PM on May 25, 2010


It's a show that makes it worth your while to learn what hipster Hollywood TV script writers imagine that other people are saying.

Not to be one of those Annoying Wire Fans (tm), but one thing about their writers is that they were largely not hipster Hollywood TV types. Most of their top writers were journalists, retired police, and crime novelists.

Since we're talking about great serial drama, I just have to mention the amazing and very overlooked Slings and Arrows. Same director and 3 writers for the entire 18 episodes, uniformly great acting and stories, perfectly crafted from first to last with a pitch-perfect, brilliant ending. And it does a great job of marrying stage, TV, and literature into one wonderful piece of storytelling.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:21 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy hell I love Slings & Arrows. And I remember being shocked (and so pleased) that it has a following in the States.

Ok, will keep an open mind about post-1st-season Dexter. And hey, maybe it's not a Deadwood or a Breaking Bad, but I can't get the missus into those shows, so if she likes it, it's a definite plus!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:23 PM on May 25, 2010


"Pity about the tail season of Babylon 5 otherwise I'd point at it as the perfect example of how to do a big arc with lots of mystery building on TV."
That last season the had to scramble to pull all the threads together because they didn't get the 2 seasons they were expecting. Instead, they got a truncated single season and had to make the best of it.

I'm not a huge fan of episodic sci-fi, but Babylon was actually better than most, IMO.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:49 PM on May 25, 2010


Actually, the second season of Dexter is about the most intense thing ever -- I think the first has a slightly better story, but there's just no topping the cliffhangers in season two.

I may have to go back and try season two again, then.

One thing to note about Dexter -- each season is its own in a lot of ways, or that's what I believe after seeing season one. It comes to an actual close, and feels like the end of a satisfying novel. I assume the following seasons are like that too.
posted by hippybear at 9:57 PM on May 25, 2010


I absolutely adore Slings & Arrows and think its opening and closing credits sequence were absolutely wonderful. The fact that the burlesque Shakespeare and theatre people songs ("burlesque" here in its original parody sense) were written by some of the folks who brought us The Drowsy Chaperone just added to their swellness -- written and sung by people who get it. Singing about how Hamlet should just get over himself is great no matter what.

I also loved how the singers in the credits were the two background characters who served as a selectively deaf Greek chorus. Even if their contribution in a particular episode might be only an eyeroll and a "He says we're not needed tonight, Ducky", they're still there at the end almost every single episode, always calling for the understudy in song.

God that series was brilliant, and the theme songs only amplified the brilliance. The art of the Credits Sequence was nearly lost when American network television decided to maximize its promo and ad time at the expense of weekly exposition or atmosphere building, but it is so wonderful to see some people still get to exercise their creativity and ensure episodes where the impact of the ending is not immediately lessened by a annoying voiceover or a fast-as-hell credit crawl smooshed underneath a giant, sensationalistic promo for the News at 10.

(I can't go on tonight! Damn right!)
posted by Spatch at 10:34 PM on May 25, 2010


I made it about halfway through Dexter season 2. I hated it, mainly because it went off the rails from the books, which I had devoured after watching season 1. Hangman > Pyro.

Lucky for me, the books then went off the rails with Dexter In The Dark, so I've just cast the whole franchise aside.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:47 AM on May 26, 2010


Top 10 TV Shows That Overstayed Their Welcome
posted by Artw at 5:53 AM on May 26, 2010


(Worth it for the following, on The X-Files: I think this list has taught us well that whenever someone's cash cow is in trouble, they'll do anything (wooden legs, fake milk, stuffing it while it's dead but still putting it out to pasture) to keep it alive. This is one of the worst examples of someone doing this. )
posted by Artw at 5:58 AM on May 26, 2010


I was inadvertantly exposed to an episode of Touched by and Angel for the first time the other day. It sucked.
posted by spinturtle at 6:38 AM on May 26, 2010


The Simpsons is still going? How long before Alan Alda directs an episode?
posted by doublehappy at 7:06 AM on May 26, 2010


What was it really like to be a writer on Firefly?
posted by Artw at 8:00 AM on May 26, 2010


The Venture Bros. began life as a goof on Jonny Quest, and somehow evolved into a complex drama with characters who grow and change. Seemingly tossed off gags turn out to be key plot points 2 seasons later. Certainly uneven at times, but I can't think of another show quite like it.
posted by Scoo at 5:47 PM on May 27, 2010


Man I love the Venture Brothers.

They are pretty clearly winging it though. Again, less of an issue as they're not making any pretense that they're not winging it.
posted by Artw at 9:28 AM on May 28, 2010


I saw that article earlier and it's rather misleading - anime is full of terrible, nonsensical ending that involve god and glowy lights - Cowboy Bebop is the exception rather than the rule.

Eh? Anime is full of terrible nonsensical endings because...well there's a few reasons, but the biggest reason is that there is a crap-ton of anime. There is a large pile of crap to wade through before you can find good stuff. There are other reasons but the thing is, Cowboy Bebop isn't an exception. It's great and probably near the top of the heap but if you think it's some kind of a standalone than I would submit you haven't watched or are familiar with enough anime.

Reality shows are about the audience. The audience can neither become famous or infamous. These shows, absolutely every single one of them, is about letting the audience sit in judgment of the people on the show.

Agreed. I feel this is the reason why the UK Office was brilliant. It was explicitly about the reflection of the audience and the conflicts created by pandering to an audience. I also find it interesting that this was lost in the US version. The US version is funny, but all the introspection of the original is scraped out.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:02 PM on May 28, 2010


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