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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Media: TV is not really a vast wasteland

(Borrowed gratefully from OhInternet.com)

There's this idea that television is bad for the brain and bad for kids and full of crap. All of these are only true under bad circumstances--if all you're watching is a string of reality shows about how stupid people are, sure, bad for the brain. If you're planting your kid in front of some passive-consumption show instead of interacting with them, or if you're letting them watch things they can't understand properly and in context and not paying attention to them, that's bad for your kids. And, yes, there's a lot of crap on TV, but there's also a lot of channels that need to fill their lineups cheaply and won't go part-time instead of making crap because there are a lot of people who never once learned how to think about something. 

But there is also a lot of really good writing on television, now or in the past (usually available on Netflix or something)--you just have to be discriminating and go find it. Don't put up with the crap and eventually people will stop making it! Look at AMC: their first show was Mad Men, which is great and wins all sorts of awards; since people watched it and encouraged it, they followed up with Breaking Bad. Then with Walking Dead, another (though very different) show full of story and character development and plot. 

And they aren't the only ones. Find the people who make good show and follow them, and your TV viewing experience will be greatly improved. Being of a scifi sort of bent, I recommend anything at all created by and / or written by Joss Whedon* or JJ Abrams**. If you want story, but also want to be able to watch the episodes in almost any order, watch the light detective shows on CBS***. Watch any sweeping drama on HBO or Showtime****. Find limited-run shows on BBC*****.

The trick is to raise your standards. Sometimes, it's fun to watch dumb shows because they're funny or charming or of-the-moment. That's fine. That's quality of a different sort. What's ruining big swathes of TV right now is that people are allowing the proliferation of cloned shows about horrible people who actually exist because they aren't demanding something better, and that means channels will make more of these shows, while simultaneously exposing people to these terrible, argumentative, ignorant, mean people, and therefore making more of those people, too!

Find a good TV blog you like, and look for recommendations that talk about how good the story is, how solid the writing is, how strong the characters are. Once you find one you like, look at what other shows are around it--before and after on the same channel are often things the programmers think you'll also like. And when you identify these shows, keep watching them so that they'll stay on the air and raise the overall quality of TV writing! 

Then, once you find a few shows that you just can't get out of your head, also follow the actors to their next jobs. It's not always the case, but the tendency is for someone who was in a very good show to find other very good shows to act in, and so it's something you should think about when looking. David Boreanaz went from Buffy and Angel to Bones; a fun, if often fluffy, and generally well-done show. Better, Nathan Fillion went from Buffy (late in the series) to Firefly, and then to Castle, which is better written and more consistent than almost anything else in the light-cop-drama genre.

So let's hear from you: What are your best examples of well-written, well-acted shows full of character, drama, cleverness, interesting plots, and good stories?

*Famous for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a silly name for a generally very strong show with all sorts of moral and character complexity. Firefly is well deserving it's cult status and could have been wonderful. Everything else he touches tends toward golden.
**Made his name on Lost, which is sort of a joke now, but still more than worth the watch, even with the ending that everyone hated; I'm just glad it got and ending, because there was doubt at the time. Fringe is a slow-burn at the beginning, but very good, and very experimental; just go in knowing that the rules will change each season and new meanings will emerge.
***The Mentalist is great, Hawaii Five-0 is huge fun, there's always NCIS on somewhere on TV. Slightly less flexible, but also, really, better quality is Person of Interest, which is becoming nicely complex and interesting. There's also similar shows on ABC, that are a little more character-driven, like Castle.
****Game of Thrones is brilliant, violent, moving and gorgeous. A playground where writers and actors can do their very best and tell increasingly complex stories with amazing visuals. I haven't watched Bordwalk Empire, but it's highly recommended by people I trust. And there's always The Sopranos and OZ and everything else that made their names.
*****Last week, I talked about how great Doctor Who is--it's not limited-run, but it's often one of the main reasons to watch BBC. Anything by Russel T Davies will be soapy but somehow overcoming that, and anything by Steven Moffett will be charming and clever, and often heartrending. I recommend Sherlock (constantly), and I mean to watch Luther and Jekyll as soon as I can.


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