I’m a big fan of TV as a cultural medium. A well made TV series can often be much more detailed and consuming than any movie. Seinfeld’s plot arcs are famous, but so – I reckon – should be the BBC’s excellent TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (a TV show which has rendered all films of that novel, prior and subsequent, rubbish). Here are some of the shows we’ve been watching recently.
The first time I watched this show, I couldn’t get into it. We watched the pilot, and perhaps I was in a bad mood or something, but it just didn’t take. This year, we tried again. And I’m so glad we did. Arrested Development is one of the best comedies I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. The cast is perfect and the scripts are wonderful. The Bluth family, backbiting and conspiring against each other, is a jewel of TV comedy setups. That Fox cancelled Arrested Development is yet another tragedy in that network’s history. That the writers found numerous ways of mentioning this in season 3 only confirms their wit. Gemma and I will forever have GOB’s chicken dance as a happy, surreal touchstone of great comedy.
Perhaps controversial in content, I grew to love this portrait of advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Yes, it has product placement, is broadly capitalist in its outlook, and sometimes seems to go out of its way to celebrate ‘the good old days’ of chauvinistic extravagance. But Mad Men isn’t uncritical. The pompous, fatuous alcoholism of its title characters is loathsome, and the program makes this clear. What’s more, Mad Men is shot better than any TV show I’ve ever seen. Both because of its perfect direction and immaculate production values, Mad Men is a must see.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
This program was described by someone on Popbitch as being a bit like Friends, only where all the characters hate one another and plot against each other constantly. The backbiting (yes, I like that) and unscrupulous behaviour of the characters always leads to their inevitable downfall, often at the hands of an array of recurring enemies.
Dexter is a TV show which received widespread praise among critics and friends alike. However, it’s not actually a very good show at all. The writing team aimed at a serious plot arc, but the episodes themselves are bogged down in character development of the dullest, most pedestrian kind. The acting is often quite terrible, and this goes for the lead as well as almost all of the supporting characters. The main problem is the lead character: he’s a sociopath with whom we’re supposed to somehow bond. I found Ted Bundy in the eponymous movie somehow less hateful than the lead character Dexter. At least Bundy was completely insane. I know that the writers are offering us a challenge: accepting a serial killer as a hero. But, because of the writing and the acting, it never quite works. Which makes it bad.
From the creator of The Wire and Generation Kill, Treme is a story of music and rebirth in post-Katrina New Orleans. Tracing various characters as they attempt to rebuild their lives in the near-ruined city, Treme has as its focus the city’s jazz scene, second line bands and Mardi Gras Chief parades. The writing is excellent, the cast formidable (along with some familiar faces from the Wire, John Goodman and others lend real gravitas to Treme), and the story is uplifting and heartbreaking. But it is the music that makes Treme a practically perfect TV show. From John Boutté’s theme song to the Rebirth Band’s second line tunes (and this is just in the first few minutes of episode 1), Treme is infused with New Orleans music from beginning to end. Celebratory, mournful and tragic in turn, Treme is probably the best TV show I’ve seen since The Wire. It might even be better. Season 2 is on the way. If you watch one TV show this year, make it Treme.