Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TV Scorecard

Since almost every network has now decided to schedule all its best programs on Sunday night, I’ve had to become ruthless in my choice of what shows I decide to watch. If I don’t like it after two episodes, you’re out! After all, I’d gotten to the point where I was recording so many shows on my DVR, it had steam coming out of it! Plus, I recently signed up for a free month on Netflix. I’m so backed up on my TV viewing, I need a bottle of Kaopectate!
So let’s get to work, shall we?
Weeks of anticipation have been building (for some people) for the premiere of Game of Thrones. I myself had never watched it previously, so I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. I was quickly reminded of why there are entire genres of entertainment I don’t watch.
In short, Game of Thrones has every fantasy cliché imaginable: dragons coexisting with humans, made-up languages and, of course, an English cast. (Americans will buy anything if you say it with an English accent.) Somehow, Peter Dinklage manages to steal every scene he’s in. It’s as if there’s a little twinkle in his eye that says he knows how ridiculous this show is (or maybe it’s just my imagination, having seen his comedic performance in the movie The Baxter). Nevertheless, after two episodes, I still didn’t know what the hell was going on (I guess you have to have watched it from the beginning) and even the promise of male frontal nudity (cf. South Park) was not enough to keep my attention. Game Dethroned.
Similarly, I had heard a lot about Veep and I’ve always loved Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld (and even in her recent movie, Enough Said), so I had high hopes for this one, too, even though the commercials made it sound like the characters were just saying things for shock value. (Those characters would never say those things in real life, at least not in public.) Unfortunately, when I watch Veep, I feel like I’m attending a long status meeting at work. The characters are constantly talking at each other but not really relating to each other and, consequently, I don’t feel anything. Furthermore, none of the characters is remotely likeable, and I really don’t want to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing a jerk.
At first I thought I didn’t like Veep because Washington and politics are essentially boring. But so is Silicon Valley, so why does Silicon Valley work while Veep doesn’t? The answer is because Silicon Valley is funny. I don’t think I laughed once during either episode of Veep.
Sure, all the characters are socially inept to the point that they seem autistic, but that’s probably how they are in real life, too. They also all speak in that annoying “upspeak” common to millennials but, again, that’s probably true to life as well.
Another early casualty of Sunday night was Mr. Selfridge (no Downton Abbey, that!). I just don’t like Jeremy Piven. Maybe it’s that whole Speed the Plow/sushi scandal. He’s like a black hole in the middle of Mr. Selfridge. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t want to see an American actor in an English show. Unless it’s Peter Dinklage.
One consequence of all the quality programming available Sunday night is that I’ve had to re-examine what I watch on other nights as well. I’m embarrassed to say that I used to watch a lot of shows on Bravo but, lately, it’s been banished from my viewing schedule. One guilty pleasure that might hang on, however, is Million Dollar Listing New York. Like every New Yorker, I’m obsessed with real estate, so this show, while ostensibly a reality show, functions on several levels. Of course what really makes this show (or any reality TV show) work is the casting. Why hasn’t SNL done a parody of this show? Luis, with his towering pompadour that makes him look like an ice cream cone, his obsequious smile and his inappropriate sexual humor; Fredrik, with his cartoon-like exclamation of “Zing!” every time he makes a sale and his Scandinavian aloofness; Ryan, with his smug self-assurance made tolerable only by his occasional self-deprecation. I can easily see Taran Killam playing all of those roles with relish.
Another show (on TV Land) that’s currently on life support (no pun) is Hot in Cleveland. I like a good three-camera sitcom as much as the next guy (OK, maybe more than the next guy) and it can be good when it’s well written but, more often than not, it’s a waste of talent.
Let’s hope that Mad Men (on AMC) picks up the slack.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Desensitized Nation

As I sat down last night to watch the premiere episode of Game of Thrones (a series characterized by casual sex and violence. Hey, I had to see what all the fuss was about), I paused to wonder, Why has TV become the dominant art form of our time, as opposed to say, movies or theater? Is it because we can watch TV in the privacy of our own homes (or on our laptops or cell phones) as opposed to having to go to a theater and having to deal with, you know, people?
Then I realized: We’ve constructed an entire society designed to deal with people at arms’ length.
Think about it: email, cell phones, the Internet, blogging, online dating, online pornography: all designed to keep people at arms’ length, all designed to turn people into things that can be “managed.”
But it goes further than that.
Look at what’s happening in the world today as we happily gorge ourselves on “must see TV,” as we brag about consuming entire series in an evening: Global warming, genocide, gun violence spinning out of control, the Supreme Court usurping our rights as individuals. All this is taking place right under our noses and what do we talk about? What’s on the evening news and in our newspapers and magazines? Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo.
This desensitization has filtered down into our daily lives and we accept it as normal.
I think about my current job search, for example. I recently had an interview where the interviewer promised to call me back “either way” (meaning whether or not I got hired), and I remember being shocked to hear him say that, because nowadays businesses usually don’t bother to call you back at all. (Needless to say, he never called.)
I had another company ask me for a phone interview and never call me back to set up a date and time. Who does that? (Answer: More people than you’d expect.)
And I don’t even want to talk about the hundreds of resumes I’ve sent out or the dozens of requests for job leads or information I’ve made that never get any response whatsoever.
Now I know it might seem silly to compare people being unprofessional to genocide, but the point is, we’ve come to accept both situations as normal.
People crossing the street against traffic yakking away on their cell phones and then looking at the drivers honking their horns at them as if they’re crazy: normal. Dozens of buff, muscular guys working out in a gym together, staring at themselves in the mirror but barely interacting with each other: normal. A subway car full of people, each seemingly mesmerized by his own cell phone/iPad/laptop: normal.
It seems to me that we’ve become experts at “managing” people on screens (TV, computer, cell phone) but a complete failure at dealing with them in real life.