In praise of TV

If you’re a New Yorker subscriber, you know how relentlessly the weekly magazine arrives. Unread copies piling up around the house could replace the movie image of pages of the calendar flipping by to show elapsed time. But then comes a long plane ride and six or eight unread copies go into my carry on to be consumed like chocolates from a box.

There is something delightful about reading a review in an April issue of the New Yorker in late September. Whether it’s Adam Gopnik’s clear-eyed assessment of Camus or Emily Nussbaum cheering on the TV series Awake, which I really liked, too (and no, they didn’t kill that dog, but let it die an inevitable death as the central conflict resolved at the end of one dramatic season). This brought me to the reflection that poets rarely admit to watching TV, certainly never to enjoying it. I remember Bob Hass mentioning rereading all Shakespeare’s plays in the golden light of August. I was waiting for the sun to go down so I could watch TV for an hour or two.

Of course, I read a lot. But there is something deliciously restful about sitting in a chair and flicking though what TIVO has saved; when it’s good, it can be very, very good. We all know that when it’s bad it’s horrid. I thought “Awake” was as wonderful an amalgam of a ploice procedural, a psychological thriller, and pure soap as you could ask for: complex, moving, clever, consistently entertaining. I like “The Good Wife” for the moral complexity of the world it presents. And “Slings and Arrows,” the three-season Canadian TV show about a repertory troupe in which Shakespeare struggles against pop culture and political infighting, was some of the best entertainment I’ve ever seen. Persevere beyond the first episode!

Good TV is accessible, undemanding, and ongoing. You can invest in characters. Layers of complexity can evolve over time. Those great movie ensembles of the thirties in which the same stock characters appeared in film after film, find an echo in the cast of weekly TV shows. I loved the squad interaction in The Closer, which persists even after Kyra Sedgewick is gone, though the core plot line is sappier and less interesting. Just as Orwell praised good bad books, I’m giving one cheer, here at 31,000 feet for all the smart writing and good acting that fills the evening hours with the flick of a dial. As the old radio show Escape used to say: “Carefully crafted to free you from the four walls of today and escape to a world of adventure.” Thanks!

3 thoughts on “In praise of TV

  1. I loved the Sopranos and 6ft.Under. The Sopranos I watched over and over again, I was truly hooked and hypnotized-the last time I watched the series first episode to the last, I had all the dialogue down and I was just taking note of the splendid art direction. Really, Charles was starting to question my sanity. But that would not be the first time, and I pray not the last. Do you like Girls? It’s pretty, pretty, good.

  2. I don’t get HBO anymore, but did watch the pilot for Girls–or part of it. Didn’t grab me. But while I was not as enraptured with The Sopranos I did find them pretty darn entertaining. And just think about how many bits from Seinfeld have made it into the lexicon!

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