Friday, November 6, 2009

The Death of Television

For years, TV watchers and critics alike have been complaining that the success of reality shows like Survivor, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars and The Bachelor[ette] are ruining network television as we know it. We can blame these shows all we want, but, judging by the television season thus far, it is looking more and more like the networks and creative forces behind the shows are killing them faster than any reality show. I know I'm hardly television's most qualified critic because I don't watch an extraordinary amount of shows and some of the ones I continue to watch are dubious at best. However, I feel like I need to say something for the sake of these sinking shows I love so dearly.

Let's start with Desperate Housewives, a show I used to be so obsessive about I would tell people not to call my cell phone during the show unless there was some kind of medical emergency that couldn't wait until 10:01; now I'm so meh on it I can do homework, IM someone and eat all while watching it. For a show that started off so brilliantly with it's parody on suburban values and mores ingeniously mixed with a compelling, season-long mystery, it's a shame that the show quickly descended into a shadow of its former self. Don't get me wrong, I was still hooked on the show and loved some of the major arcs (Dixie Carter as Orson's mother, the season where Dana Delaney's Katharine was introduced) over the past few seasons, but the magic of that glorious first season has always been missing. This season, however, has been the absolute breaking point for me. The season premiere was hilarious and hinted at better things to come this season, but honestly, looking back, I'm guessing this reaction was due more to the fact that I missed the characters over the summer rather than the show was actually doing anything interesting. Needless to say, the show has progressed to shit. My main problem with Desperate Housewives is that the show doesn't have any balls anymore. I'm not suggesting that the show was incredibly ballsy before, but it at least talked about interesting subjects that few other network shows would touch (the child molester who Lynette inadvertently unleashes on the world, the dynamic between Bree and Andrew during season one and two, etc.). Now, Desperate Housewives has become passive in its refusal to even mention other darker alternatives to the character's problems. Take Lynette's unwanted pregnancy this season for instance. In the old days, she would have considered getting an abortion and, if the show was feeling particularly risky, she would have went ahead and gotten it. Instead, the word is never even mentioned and Lynette is forced to grin and bear it like a good woman and accept the pregnancy like she's a 50's housewife. It's gotten so bad that I hardly recognize these women anymore. The only one who has gotten better with time is Gabrielle and that's mainly because Eva Longoria Parker continually improves her comedic timing each season. The entire show has been sanitized of anything fun or groundbreaking every year to the point where it has become the type of show that it set out to parody originally. For years, creator Marc Cherry has promised a revamped Desperate Housewives that will return to the glory of the first season and for years the audience has been waiting for this to happen.

Gossip Girl is another show that has failed to live up to its high standards this season. I realize the show has had some tough shoes to fill after some incomparably golden episodes last season (the gorgeously shot The Dark Night, the one where Blair totally owns Serena in front of Yale's dean of admissions, the hilarious and spirited take on The Age of Innocence which managed the impossible task of momentarily making it look like Chace Crawford is a good actor) but it's like they're not even trying anymore. Like Desperate Housewives, the show has been heavily sanitized and interesting subplots either lead nowhere or to absolutely clichéd, One Tree Hill-esque endings. When Leighton fucking Meester (my #1 performance of last season) can't even manage to engage me except for the occasional bitchy one-liner, you know you're in trouble. Hopefully this week's highly publicized threesome will get thing back on track for my favorite guilty pleasure on TV (considering, of course, they pick the right people to be in this threesome).

Can you think of a show like Ugly Betty that has wavered in quality so many times during it's three season run its nearly impossible to keep up half the time? Last season ended so promisingly but right from the start, this season has been a big pile of shit. For a show that has depended for the most part on its main character being hated by every other character on the show, this season has really piled on the hatred to an almost unbearable level. If Marc makes one more snide comment about how he deserved the editors position over Betty, I swear to God I'm going to beat his face in. Shut the fuck up and get over it, you whiny bitch. The show has gotten so bad so fast I am actually dreading this week's episode in fear that it's going to be nearly as stifling and uninspiring as last week's.

I could try watching some of the new shows this season in hopes that something will fill the void left by these bland ones and that would be great if there was actually anything interesting to pick from. I'll admit that I haven't watched the supposedly great Modern Family yet, but if Glee (a fantastic debut, hit and miss ever since) and Community (I love the show but there are plenty of player haters out there) are the best new shows this season, TV is in serious trouble. It doesn't help that most of the new shows sounded either like clones of stuff that was already around (seriously, how many ER clones do we need on every channel?) or completely stupid from its description (Bitch please, The Good Wife. Like I'm supposed to feel sorry for a woman who was married to a politician and has to start life a high powered attorney! Get a real problem, twat). I suppose I could quit bitching and just stop watching these shows but (a) do I ever just stop bitching about something? and (b) I have a hard time giving up on shows--it takes something catastrophically bad for me to stop watching a show I've loved for so long. None of these shows have hit that level yet, but desperately need something to shake things up again. If they don't, network TV will fall one step closer to its demise.

P.S. I know what you're thinking, "Well, what about last year's Emmy winners: 30 Rock and Mad Men? Those are surely still great." 30 Rock has been good this season so far, but there hasn't been an outstanding moment yet to compare with last year's mad season. As for Mad Men, well I kinda haven't been keeping up with that show. I started watching it every week but soon I grew tired of the way the episodes weren't really connecting with each other (they truly felt like distinct 40 minute shorts with the same characters each week). I missed one week, then another and finally I got so far behind I didn't even care anymore. Perhaps I'll catch up with a marathon one day, but at this moment I couldn't be bothered.


Anonymous said...

I agree there's a startling lack of quality in today's TV landscape, but I don't think it's all hopeless.

For me, DH died a long time ago. I never thought Gossip Girl or Ugly Betty were anything special.

There's still dynamic entertainment to be found on TV-- just more so on cable perhaps.

HBO has 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' (hilarious this season), 'True Blood' (increasingly campy, but always entertaining), 'In Treatment' (renewed for a third season! a prodding and vibrant drama)-- I hear 'Big Love' is good too, and some really like 'Hung.'

Showtime has 'Dexter' (which has yet to match its first season genius, but it's still a great show), plus I've heard great things about 'Nurse Jackie.' Some people like 'United States of Tara.'

AMC has two hugely strong shows: 'Mad Men' (which is still fantastic, if not aimless) and 'Breaking Bad' (intense and involving).

FX has 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' (which is having its strongest season I think) and 'Damages' (which never runs out of intrigue). 'Sons of Anarchy' is supposed to be quite good too.

Broadcast TV has less to offer-- I watch 'House' (starting to weaken), 'Glee' (I actually prefer some episodes to the pilot), 'Modern Family' (indeed, the best new show-- a sort of 'Arrested Development' lite), 'The Office' (entertaining enough), and '30 Rock' (ditto).

And then there's the quality reality shows. There are several. 'Top Chef' doesn't get much better than it is now, in my opinion.

So I don't think it's time to declare television's demise. The model has just changed so that quality is born and thrives much more readily on cable.

Cal said...

I agree with you about Desperate Housewives. I still find it entertaining but they're recycling a lot from previous episodes.

You're right about the lack of abortion talk, but I don't think the child molester thing was exactly brave. It would have been brave if he wasn't one and the women were forced to confront their own insecurities and fearmongering. The fact that he actually was is a total cop-out and the episode is probably my least favourite.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Damn you ripped DH a new one. It hasn't been as good...but I keep going back every week. Sigh.

And I've been hating 30 Rock..well not hating but not liking it. Sure I was never a huge fan, but the discordance is getting worse in a non funny way.

Glenn said...

TV is as good as it's ever been, it's just that the popular, mainstream, free-to-air stuff is mostly crap and all the good stuff is shunted off to cable, late night or axed altogether.

I gave up on Desperate Housewives after that dreadful second season (and seriously, Bree's son is one of the most vile characters I've ever seen on TV and the actor is a horrible, disgusting, idiotic prick), and I'm sure the pregnancy thing is because they've run out of stories. Shows always do that.

In fact I generally go so far as to say that children DESTROY every show they get introduced to. It's generally a rule.