Saturday, June 28, 2014

Golden Age on the idiot box

Fifty years ago, Newton Minow made his famous statement where he referred to TV as a "vast wasteland." And for most of those years that was true.  Now thanks to cable and the extended episodic format, TV surpasses even the cinema for its storytelling gravitas. I avoided TV shows for a long time, mostly during the 80s through the 90s. Recently I watched the movie "American Hustle," which accomplished a remarkable feat--it made me nostalgic for the 70s, the decade I've tried hard to blot from my mind. So I decided to compare that flick's interpretation of the 70s with a contemporary TV show that covered the same ground, Starsky & Hutch. Though I had avoided that show when it was broadcast and in syndication, I found I could watch the pilot on Youtube, which I did. It was wretchedly bad and did much to validate my loathing of the 70s.

Fast-forward to ten years ago. A friend waxed on and on about "The Sopranos" but I was reluctant to watch. Finally, I took a peek and became a fan. My son bought me the deluxe boxed set of the entire show, and I spent many nights promising myself just one more episode before I turned off the DVD.

Crime dramas are my favorites. What I didn't like about the regular hour-long cop shows was that everything had to be wrapped up in 45 minutes and the major plot points were as obvious as someone sounding an air horn. But the episodic format allows the show to tease us with misdirection and subplots for weeks at a time. And cable is free of the language and content constraints of broadcast TV though things have loosened up there as well. The dialog of cable shows is gritty and usually razor-sharp, which as a writer makes me perk up with jealousy. Among my current favorites: Justified, for its mix of rural noir and modern themes. Hell On Wheels as a fascinating look at post-Civil War America and that it doesn't hold back discussing race and class issues. True Detective for its layered characters and gritty dialog. Copper for its portrayal of a neglected slice of American history, New York City during the Civil War and the rise of the urban police. Breaking Bad kept me hooked for every season. At the moment, my tip-top favorite is Longmire for several reasons. One, I enjoy Craig Johnson's novels, which the series is adapted from. And like other shows, I appreciate its blend of a rural setting and modern problems. More over, if there is any TV character I'd like to be, it's Sheriff Walt Longmire, played by Robert Taylor. So he's taller and more rugged looking than me, I could pass muster if you gave me his Stetson hat and Western belt buckle. In fact, I'm pricing .45 autos with stag handles so I can be just like him.

No comments: