Archive for the ‘television’ tag
An interesting theory, if not totally convincing or novel: Douglas Copeland explains that new age of television has largely replaced novels as a discussion-venue for long-form storytelling.
When a new technology obsolesces an old one, it frees the newly obsolete medium to become an art form. Enter The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, The Wire and . . . all of the new shows that are basically movies that run for 50 hours and serve as a paradise for talented actors. Perhaps this shift to long-format TV has generated the biggest change in creative culture in decades. I’ve noticed that people now discuss TV the way they once discussed novels. What chapter are you on? Wasn’t so-and-so’s character great? Are you watching the new season? You watched it all in one night? Our long-form attention span is shifting to a new medium.
This may be totally opaque to non-Americans — my best summary is that Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are two popular syndicated television show which typically run in the last few hours before prime-time TV but at local broadcaster’s chosen time — but I liked it. Here’s the summary chart, though do definitely click through for WAY more analysis.
This is a really fun little web app: check out the way a television show performed over time in the eyes of its audience. It’s pulling data from IMDb and graphing it simply. Some interesting samples, if you’re too lazy to think of them:
- The Wire, every white intellectual-ish American’s favorite show.
- Lost, whose final episode was widely panned.
- Dexter, which seems to have totally lost its audience the whole last season.
- Two and Half Men, the much-panned sitcom which famously lost Charlie Sheen and replaced him with Ashton Kutcher. Guess when…
- Breaking Bad, the recently concluded quite popular show about a science-teacher turn meth dealer.
- Arrested Development, the short-lived much-loved sitcom whose revival on Netflix got mixed reviews.
Jason Kottke put together a great little summary of a phenomenon I’d never heard of: “slow TV.”
Slow television is the uninterrupted broadcast of an ordinary event from start to finish. Early efforts included burning Yule logs on TV around Christmas and driver’s views of complete British rail journeys (not to mention Andy Warhol and the pitch drop experiment), but Norwegian public television has revived the format in recent years. The first broadcast was of a 7-hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo, which was watched at some point by ~20% of Norway’s population.
Good criticism expands on and explains clearly the work it critiques. It brings a deeper understanding of the subject by virtue of contextualizing it in a world a a consumer of the work under review probably rarely notices, and may not even fully comprehend.
I’d say by that definition James Bowman’s essay on the recently concluded television series Breaking Bad is quite good criticism. I watched the show from start to finish, even when I found it’s painful plot points made me want to stop. And while at the end, I felt satisfied, I didn’t fully comprehend. Bowman’s contextualization is hugely useful in this regard:
All of us are uneasily aware that beneath the good civilizational order in which most readers of these pages and viewers of the show continue to live their lives there is a dark alternative where old rules dominate, the Enlightenment’s recurring bad dream just waiting for the opportunity to reassert itself. Ironically, it is Walt’s Enlightenment credentials as a man of science that are his entrance ticket to this new state of nature.
(via Ross Douthat)
I didn’t post this — which is frequently headlined as PBS running “commercials” — when I first saw it because it’s news (and not firm) and I don’t really think it’s worth my time to put news here. But this isn’t getting covered widely and it has the potential to be the worst thing to ever happen to American TV. I am concerned.
If you’re curious, the logic is thus: because PBS is the best thing on American TV — and there’s not room to debate that — even a modest debasement in the name of commerce is far worse than, say, the History Channel becoming an abomination before history and intelligence.
That said, this does explain the new structure of some Frontline episodes and NOVA scienceNOW. And if you’re an American and don’t know what I’m talking about, shame on you.
Massively funny and surprising AMA on reddit. (If you aren’t aware, Ken Jennings is the winningest contestant from the American quiz show Jeopardy!, he recently lost three games to an IBM-made computer system called Watson.)
Adam Gopnik does a laudatory job cataloging and categorizing the works of those who aim to explain our current relationship to technology. Offering blows against both the unbridled pessimism of Nick Carr (a “better-never” in Gopnik’s words), and the unbridled optimism of Clay Shirky (a “never-better”), he gives the critical distance all great literary reviews should. The third group Gopnik names, the “ever-wasers”, are the most interesting and least discussed. Consider this point:
Everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly.
(via Austin Kleon)
Every year, I can tell Mad Men is back on the air by a small spike in traffic to this post. Daniel Mendelsohn’s take on the show is more thorough, and more mixed, but this paragraph nails why I stopped watching:
Worst of all—in a drama with aspirations to treating social and historical “issues”—the show is melodramatic rather than dramatic. By this I mean that it proceeds, for the most part, like a soap opera, serially (and often unbelievably) generating, and then resolving, successive personal crises (adulteries, abortions, premarital pregnancies, interracial affairs, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.), rather than exploring, by means of believable conflicts between personality and situation, the contemporary social and cultural phenomena it regards with such fascination: sexism, misogyny, social hypocrisy, racism, the counterculture, and so forth.
A charming essay by Ken Jennings:
Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It’s very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman.