Sunday, January 23, 2005

Kill My Television

Mr. Tom Shales has an interesting review of the new show Numb3rs on CBS. It caught my eye mostly for this line:

More and more, these shows are about laboratories and machines and chemicals and autopsies, not about characters and relationships and human conflict.

If you're not aware of the show, its a typical cop show with a twist: the brother of a cop is wild-crazy with numbers. Using his super cool abilities with a chalkboard and calculator, they find patterns that allow them to catch all the bad guys. Going on the review, though, it sounds like it's all about the gimmick. Other shows like Monk have given me the same reaction, and the new ABC show Blind Justice about a cop who loses his sight looks to be much the same.

The Shales review caught my eye in part because it ties in nicely to an article by Sam Howie in the most recent issue of Writer's Chronicle that I've been meaning to write on anyway. Howie writes on the idea of Southern Grotesque, stories that are not only set in the south but make use of unusual characters to create a moving end result. The best example used in his essay is the story "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor. The story's main character, Hulga, has a false leg. Howie's main point is that in the hands of a lesser writer, this character would be nothing but a false leg. When you read the story, the reaction should be "wow, this is a really moving story" and not "wow, what a wacky story about a crazy lady with a wooden leg". O'Connor, in her masterful, macabre manner, develops the character and uses the false leg in a style that ties in nicely to the themes of the story. Hulga is not just a character missing a limb; Hulga is seen as a real flesh and blood person with a history and deep psychology.

But I was talking about cop shows.

One of the big questions now is why CSI continues to do so well, and yet it's various spin-offs (Miami and New York) don't pull in numbers equal to the original. Some have blamed the cast. Sure, David Caruso's acting style is William Shatner minus the wry humor, but Caruso can't take all the blame. Gary Sinise is a fine actor, and CSI: New York is one of the more boring police shows on the air right now.

Personally, I blame the writers. William Petersen's character on the original CSI(Grissom), for example, is an odd fellow. He's anal retentive, an expert with bugs and quotes Shakespeare and Shelley for fun. But he's a developed persona with problems, both personal and professional, and an occassional social life. Caruso's character, Caine, (good lord, even the name is cheesy) on the otherhand is a man who appears to do little but pine for the wife of his dead brother and swagger around crime scenes. Unfortunately as more and more of these formulaic-driven shows spin-off and multiply they get worse and worse. And don't think I'm just picking on cop shows. If there's one more sitcom with a fat guy and a thin wife, I think I'll elvis my t.v.

I know, I know. As the saying goes, have a little entertainment with your art. But if they want me to keep coming back, I'll need a little art with my entertainment.



LadyLitBlitzin said...

LOL -- the "fat man skinny wife" genre! You hit a nerve... lucky for you I'm going to refrain from my "fat guy skinny wife sitcom" rant. Hahaha. Truth is, I'm sure many people have already heard it!

TV shows generally do suck. I have to say I'm thoroughly hooked on "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," though. "Desperate Housewives" has some really wicked humor going on. I had mistakenly thought it was just a run-of-the-mill soap opera when I first heard of it, and I'm glad I'm watching it now. It's a lot smarter than I supposed, with that wicked streak it has going on.

And "Lost" is pretty wacked out -- there's some seriously weird stuff going on, and lots of alliterations to fate, the unbelievable, etc...

Other than that, I can't really stomach many TV shows. The reality TV show thing has been really dreadful.

Hebdomeros said...

Lost is better than I thought it would be. I started watching with the repeats in December, and so far I enjoy it. Although I don't like it as much as I used to, I still watch Alias. Desperate Housewives I make an effort to see, too. Over the top funny, for the most part. I usually stick around and watch Boston Legal right after for the Shatner Factor.

The only other show I make an effort to watch is Scrubs. Also the only sitcome I watch anymore.

LadyLitBlitzin said...

Oh yeah, I forgot about Scrubs. I watch that show too, it's hilarious! It is good to remember there are at least a few quality shows, since most of it is just plain bad.