Admittedly, I am someone who may have watched too much tv – but, in the grand scheme of things, I really don’t watch that much, since I’m still fairly fussy about what I watch. I don’t watch “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” I don’t have cable, so I missed the entire run of “Sex and the City” (and even if I did have cable, I doubt I’d have watched the series). I’m barely on top of “Survivor,” and I’ve bypassed “The West Wing” for quite some time now and don’t even miss it.
sidenote – I managed to watch most of last week “The West Wing”, because the commercials made the episode tempting to watch and I wanted to see how the ex-VP was doing; turned out “The West Wing” introduced this item of interaction between C.J. and ex-VP Hoynes that was _never_ discussed during the first three seasons when I had almost religiously watched “The West Wing.” I mean, if you’re going to throw a wrench into continuity, shouldn’t it be done with some better credibility? Pretty please? (I’m being sarcastic; pardon my tone). The point is, I stopped watching because it’s not the same show for me. The characters and their lives are no longer familiar.
But, television at its best is like a good book or book series – the characters are compelling, they’ve a verisimilitude. Life’s stupidities get thrown at them and they either sink or swim; they learn from it or don’t. I’ve been watching Masterpiece Theatre’s “Forsyte Saga II” on PBS and it’s essentially British soapy stuff (okay, it’s based on the books written by a Nobel Prize writer, so it’s literary, not soapy), but it’s a good watch. Soames Forsyte (played by Damian Lewis) is still an emotional suppressed lawyer, who never quite got over losing his 1st wife, Irene (played by Gena McKee), to his cousin, Jolyon (played by Rupert Graves) during series I. In series II, it’s 1920, and their kids are making new trouble: Soames’ daughter, Fleur (by his second wife, Annette), and Jolyon and Irene’s son, Jon, are in love with each other, but don’t realize why their families won’t (and can’t) let them be together. Every character isn’t perfect – Jolyon, the guy who once ditched his first wife for a governess, turns into a hypocrite for forbidding his son from love; Soames is still a controlling maniac – who comes to realize that he can’t own his daughter anymore than he couldn’t own his wives – and that he probably was guilty of raping his first wife; and Irene realizes that she has to face life with courage, and not let Soames destroy her. The character of Jon felt weak, but was a kid and I felt like I couldn’t expect much from him and gave him credit for having his good intentions. Fleur was overpowering – she’s a spoiled brat, but then one feels pity for her. The sins of the Forsytes get repeated – but in a sadly, slightly different way.
Not to say the British tv is better crafted (and maybe it is, I don’t know; the accents may be classier and maybe that just makes it seem better), but “The Forsyte Saga” made me feel like tv can be engrossing stuff, a little way to get away from real life. I try not to belittle tv, since it’s something with so much potential and power – but has as much possibility to be – well – just junk.
So, I’m not too impressed by hearing people who go into the tv business saying it’s not what they care for anyway. Why go into the business then? Virginia Heffernan of the NY Times interviews David Chase, the maker of “The Sopranos,” and Chase reveals: “‘The function of an hour drama is to reassure the American people that it’s O.K. to go out and buy stuff. It’s all about flattering the audience, making them feel as if all the authority figures have our best interests at heart. Doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists: sure, they have their little foibles, some of them are grouchy, but by God, they care.'” It may not be what “The Sopranos” is about, but that’s how Chase views tv. Chase enjoyed working on “The Sopranos,” but states, “‘People like the show, and I’ve got a great group of actors, a great group of directors. But I don’t want to do any more TV. I’m tired of television. I’m tired of the form. I’ve always wanted to go into movies.'” So, really, tv was just his sideline, his way of getting his name out there? Anyway, the interview was plain bizarre; was Chase being facetious or serious?
Then there’s the article in the NY Times about Stephen King’s upcoming “Kingdom Hospital” on ABC.
Stephen King says, “‘I am not a series TV person,’ he said. ‘In series TV, it’s beginning, then middle, middle, middle. Like the kid says in “Stand by Me,” about television, “They keep on ‘Wagon Training.'” I just don’t watch series television. “E.R.” I have never watched. “Friends” I have never watched. I don’t say that with pride because that’s really my culture. “Seinfeld”? I’ve never seen an episode. It’s always the same people doing the same things.'”
I suppose there’s some relief in seeing King acknowledge how tv is a part of American culture, but, he’s also acknowledging something about tv – the boredom. And, maybe Chase is right – tv, especially network tv, is just where people hawk stuff. But, are these people – who say that they don’t watch tv – being snobs, or are they really that bored by watching the alleged “same things” and are that sick of the promotion aspect? And, if they don’t watch, how can they be so sure that it is the “same thing” over and over? And, really, isn’t the “same thing” what gives some tv viewers comfort? TV babysit kids because it is the “same thing” – no disruptive and scarring change to mar anyone, which can really be said about real life.
So it goes. Go watch the Academy awards; maybe there will be surprises. Maybe there will be “same thing.” Either way, it’s good tv.