Saturday, April 16, 2016

Black and White Television in HD

Have you heard about that cool new show where the lead character isn't a sociopath indulging all of man's darkest compulsions? How about that hot new sitcom where the characters' social skills don't resemble the Elephant Man on a speed date? If you hear of such shows, please bring them to my attention.

Before "Seinfeld" and "The Sopranos", TV was saccharine in the extreme. Every episode of every sitcom ended with sensitive piano music, followed by someone learning a corny lesson. What flaws TV characters did possess were mostly goofy, and most storylines stayed in ultra benign territory. TV was so sanitized that when a storyline involved something nominally "serious," they advertised it as a "very special" episode. This week on a very special "Blossom", Joey discovers that muscle cars get poor gas mileage. Closeup of Joey saying; "From here to the gas station in is 9.4 seconds? Whoa!"

Now television is a race to the bottom of the ethics barrel. We have moved to the other extreme, where nearly every show is populated with neurotic, amoral losers. Today it wouldn't be "Who shot J.R.?" It'd be "Who sodomized J.R.'s corpse with the murder weapon?" It is fashionable to insist you don't like "black and white" characters. That's fine, except that now all characters are black. The storylines are also uniformly black. Television is as monochrome as ever.

A quick check of the 2015 Emmy Nominees:

Outstanding Drama Series

“Better Call Saul” - Shyster lawyer spin-off of "Breaking Bad", that show about America's favorite murdering, meth-cooking chemistry teacher (the one who became a criminal mastermind in very short order despite no criminal experience)

“Homeland” - "Political" "thriller" where everyone is such a haunted mess they shower by waterboarding themselves

“House of Cards” - Political show focused on nothing but how the political (blood) sausage is made

“Mad Men” - Cynical dispomania soap opera that recreates the Bad Old Days as imagined by someone who finds Bernie Sanders too capitalist. Justifies red meat sex scenes by pretending they are comments on old school infidelity

“Orange is the New Black” - Women's prison drama with episode titles like Tit Punch

“Game of Thrones” - The show most connected to reality on this list is the one with dragons. Still manages to work in rape

Five years from now, these will be the nominees:

"Cunt is the New Bitch"
"Scar Trek"
"The Real Housewives of Auschwitz"
"Coat Hanger, M.D."
"The Guy who Skins 12 People Alive Each Day and Uses Their Flesh for a Slip'N Slide but it's Cool 'Cause He's Gay-friendly"

Contemporary dramas may bulge with cartoon seediness, but at least some are entertaining. Not so with today's comedies. Ivy Leaguers have long dominated TV comedy writing, but they didn't always display a Revenge of the Nerds mentality. Big Nerd has seen to it that even when characters aren't jailbirds or kingpins they have the conversational skills of Robinson Crusoe. The awkward elite are presenting Social Anxiety Disorder as the whole of human discourse. You might say they're bullying us into adopting their worldview.

You know what would be refreshing? A sitcom full of people who don't see a Radiohead song in every aspect of work and dating. Diversity in entertainment is always in the news now; how about some shows written by and about people who can actually speak? Who am I kidding: America isn't ready for a sitcom with complete sentences. Compared to that electing the first black president was a baby step.

One might argue that television is bound to feature exaggerated, uncommon circumstances. The same argument could be made in defense of the exaggerated wholesomeness of yesterday's much scorned tube-tainment.

I expect the next Netflix show to take place in someone's colon. And when the producer is questioned, he'll put on his best Serious Face and declare: "Hey man, everyone has colons, I'm just holding up a mirror."

No comments: