Sunday, October 21, 2007


Here's a thing. I'm beginning to suspect there are a million amazing shows on TV. I like watching The Wire. I like watching Deadwood. I like putting shit in italics. When I watch those shows they blow me away. They blow me out of the water and into bits. I feel all the TV pleasure a person can hope to obtain, but I also feel mature. I feel like I'm learning something, about people or the world or some crap like that.

There's also the Sopranos, which, who knows about these things, but if I were participating in one of those online betting markets, I would guess, based on my internal future guessing heuristics, will be remembered as the defining cultural marker of the early twenty first century.

There have been a fair number of articles written about this. How HBO discovered some sort of market for quality and catalyzed a golden age of television. I buy it. Those shows are good. They are as good as the best novels. (And better than the best films?)

But what I'm noticing lately is that these shows seem to be everywhere. A dime a dozen.

Note these lines from Nancy Franklin's New Yorker piece on Friday Night Lights:

I took a wait-and-not-see approach to “Friday Night Lights” last year, until an unlikely friend recommended it—a young filmmaker who had grown up in Manhattan in a literary and theatrical milieu and had no interest in sports. We were in the Museum of Natural History when we had this conversation, and when she told me that she and her husband were “addicted” to the show, even the animals in the dioramas were so stunned that they froze in their tracks. The following week, I watched an episode, and went from ignorance to bliss.

It’s hard to say what’s great about “Friday Night Lights” without feeling that you’re emphasizing the wrong thing, because although the show’s particulars are distinctive and special, it seems not to be made up of parts at all—to just be an organic whole. In short, it feels like life. The show isn’t merely set in the world of West Texas football; it is that world. Watching it, you have a feeling of total immersion—in the (fictional) town of Dillon, in the lives of the football players and their parents, and in all the elements that determine people’s fates in that dry, desolate, and depressed part of the country. This sensation is triggered in part by filmmaking technique and in part by the writing and the acting; but much of it is simply alchemical and wonderfully indefinable.

Sounds pretty good, eh?

What interests me is the discovery of the show, as Franklin describes it, nearly perfectly describes my experience of the discovery of all the other shows I mentioned . I hear about it, I'm skeptical, I watch it, I don't get it, then I get it, then I'm addicted, I'm smitten, amazed, full of respect. I bet this is exactly what would happen if I were to start watching Friday Night Lights. I bet this is exactly what would happen if I were to start watching Dexter. I bet this is exactly what would happen if I started watching Mad Men.

We've noticed the quality of dramatic television shows, but have we noticed that there is a glut of them?

There was a time that quality was scarce to nonexistent. Now? It's everywhere. I turned on fucking Bionic Woman and it was riveting. It wasn't good. It was silly. But for the ten minutes I didn't know the details and two people were in trouble and they were communicating with each other in a sort of deeply practical--almost technocratic--way, it was riveting. It did something to me. And that makes me wonder whether there has been some tipping point in the evolution of the relationship between dramaturgy in television writing and technique in production whereby the former is just accelerated and magnified and enhanced by the latter.

What the fuck is going on? What does it mean?