Heather Havrilesky applauds the rise of TV characters who are pushing the typical tropes forward:
On the vast majority of family shows, "Dad" isn't a person so much as a shapeless halfwit, fumbling confusedly with modern appliances, sputtering hopelessly in the face of tiny marital challenges, and just generally underwhelming friends, family and foes at home and at work. Strangely, though, this subhuman of limited charms, very little wisdom, and almost no capacity for grasping complex emotions is, nine times out of ten, remarkably smug about himself and his abilities. …
Thankfully, Louis CK came along and endowed the Hapless Dad with the self-loathing that he rightfully deserves.
… is perhaps best illustrated by this clip of the network providing a spoiler for its own coverage of American swimmer Missy Franklin's dramatic race:
Millennials are in open revolt over NBC's tight control over its coverage, especially the long delays between the events occuring in the UK and their airing on American TVs:
At the centre of controversy was NBC's attempt to leverage maximum revenue from the Games, for which they paid almost a billion dollars, by foregoing live coverage of high-profile events. Instead, it intends to footage on time-delay during evening prime time, when brands will pay a premium to advertise. The tactic may very well be the most lucrative for NBC, but it's the least satisfactory for viewers, and seems to blithely ignore the advent of the internet era. It meant, for example, that Saturday's titanic swimming clash between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte wasn't broadcast in the USA until several hours after it took place. Adding insult to injury, NBC had already announced the result on its own evening news bulletin.
What's different in these Games isn't the time-shifting itself; it's that time-shifted coverage is no longer the only coverage available to us. "Real time" is now a default option in a way that it wasn't back in 1996 — or even, given the rise of Internet connections, in 2008 or 2010. That London 2012 is the first real "Social Media Olympics" is a cliché because it's true:
Time’s James Poniewozik, summarizing his views on "The Newsroom" for non-subscribers, flatly declared, "I was not a fan." Yet the ad makes it sound like he was, burbling, "The pacing is electric…captures the excitement." Salon’s Willa Paskin is quoted in the ad calling "The Newsroom" "captivating, riveting, rousing." Here’s what she actually wrote: "The results are a captivating, riveting, rousing, condescending, smug, infuriating mixture, a potent potion that advertises itself as intelligence-enhancing but is actually just crazy-making."
He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic "everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid" attitude of the contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.
An especially sharp dig:
He hates everything frivolous — "frivolous" is womanly things like gossip and fashion and television not created by Aaron Sorkin but explicitly not, say, sports …
Derek Thompson thinks the end of cable TV may finally be near now that Direct TV and local-TV-on-the-Internet provider Aereo are challenging the industry's bundling practices:
The debate between DirecTV (a provider) and Viacom (a "content" creator) is about finding the right price that providers should pay for content that most people don't watch. That's where bundles are useful. They disguise the price of things we don't use. But with pay TV growth slowing, we're at the edge of a revolution. "DirecTV thinks video streaming is eating away at the ratings of channels like MTV and Comedy Central," Jeff Bercovici writes at Forbes, and the company has "demanded that Viacom give consumers the right to select channels a la carte." The Aereo story is different. It's not about cable. But it is about distributing broadcast networks online. Once sports fans can get the Olympics and NBA and other shows without a cable package, whenever they want it, it could serve alongside Netflix, Hulu and other services to replace the cable bundle.
[T]he episodic structure of TV exists because of commercial considerations, not storytelling ones. Episodes end on cliffhangers to bring you back the next week. Subplots are resolved in an hour to give you a sense of completion as you wait for the next installment. "Acts" end on dramatic notes to keep you from channel-flipping through the commercials.
I'm not going to defend the whole show – I too have been surprised at how easily flustered the female leads can seem at times in "The Newsroom" – but stopping there is literally only part of the story. This week McHale was thrown off balance by McAvoy's parade of women, sure, but that merely served to setup the kicker, where it becomes clear what an inconsiderate ass McAvoy has been, and how decent McHale was. We're left thinking a lot more highly of McHale than the "great man." Maggie's panic attack scene, as I saw it, was about how Jim treated her no differently than the best men he's ever known, who can have the exact same kind of attack. There's also, of course, the new female CEO character who by all appearances is quite the confident and commanding presence.
I confess to being a sucker for the idealism of "The Newsroom", and the mouthpiece for that idealism is a character I'm beginning to love and others have maligned: MacKenzie McHale.
Our best friends are the ones we see every so often for years, and TV characters should be the same way. I feel like I grew up with Michael Scott, because I spent 22 minutes a week with him every Thursday night for seven years. A friend of mine who recently cranked through all eight seasons of The Office in two weeks (really) probably thinks of Carrell's character like someone he hung out with at an intensive two-week corporate seminar and never saw again. Binge-watching reduces the potential for such deep, Draper-like relationships. While the Grantland piece argues that binges are the only way to forge “deep emotional connections,” in fact, the opposite is true.
I've moved toward more binging actually – because of on-demand TV, Netflix, Apple TV etc. That way, you can allow others to be the wine-tasters, as it were, and if a season or two vindicates a show and makes it a must-watch, we tackle it. In full. But that's more for the Battlestar Gallactica/Game of Thrones/The Wire category of material. Others require more care.
If I watched all of the Real Housewives of New Jersey in one sitting, for example, I think I would sink into the oblivion that happens to all those who watch their souls being torn slowly, shred by shred, into nothingness. That show's emptiness, hollowness, vacuousness, its transformation of children into products for a self-sustaining celebrity industry, its revelling in human manipulation in the midst of wanton greed, its venomous vulgarity and moral cesspit: it's truly the most appalling, cynical and morally disgusting display of doucherie on the box, which is saying something. And, yes, at its core it is a form of pornography of female spite for gay male misogynists. In this Millennium, some gay men don't need to invent the dialogue of vicious, hateful networks of women (that would require some creative effort); they dangle celebrity in front of the faces of the desperately needy and then tape their every pettiness to squeals of Bravo delight.
I know there are far trashier reality shows. I watch The Soup religiously. Toddlers and Tiaras may be morally even worse. But watching bitter, angry people hurt one another needlessly hour after hour after hour, with not even a scintilla of wit or intelligence to redeem it, is so foul and disgusting, well, I feel a little better for venting.
Last week, following the second episode of Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom", the Internet lit up with talk that the show "transforms its female characters into hysterics and fools." After the third episode aired this Sunday, things only got worse, as Glynnis MacNicol explains:
Sorkin does not have a terrific recent track record with his female characters, and the fact that he opened this series with a monologue from Will bemoaning a past where America was blessed with "great men, men who were revered" did not exactly bode well for the female-driven storylines to come. So far, however, his female characters (namely MacKenzie McHale and Maggie Jordan) have struck me as such pale derivatives of Sorkin's past female characters that I was willing to give it a wait and see. Well, I've waited, and I've seen.
According to the sort of people for whom CNN’s ratings woes reflect a moral failing of the American people as opposed to a series of boneheaded decisions by CNN executives, CNN is posting its worst ratings in 20 years because people only want to watch biased news that they agree with, and they no longer care about Original Reporting and Unbiased Fact-Based Journalism. In reality, CNN is failing because CNN sucks. It doesn’t fill its daylight hours with hard-hitting reporting from far-flung locales, it fills it with Wolf Blitzer sputtering softballs at politicians followed by shouting partisans (from both sides!) having idiotic arguments. For hours.
Children may be stereotyped as rotting their brains with too much TV, but actually the time spent in front of the tube generally rose steadily with age. … Additionally, the less educated you are, the more TV you watched on the average day last year. Americans with college degrees spent 1.76 hours watching television on the average weekday, whereas high school dropouts spent an average of 3.78 hours per weekday.
What always struck me about Sorkin's writing was the pace of delivery. When most of us interact, we hear something, process it, develop a response, and say it. A Sorkin protagonist's response is fully formed on the tip of the actor's tongue, waiting for the conversational foil to serve the set-up. The characters seem impossibly intelligent because while the rest of us mortals are still processing the call, the protagonist is already delivering the response.
Another focuses on "The Newsroom":
I did not have high hopes after reading the reviews last week. But after watching the first episode, I have to say that the show is not nearly as bad as the reviews would suggest, and I am wondering why journalists have been so critical of the show.
I find Todd VanDerWerff's comments severely lacking. "The Sopranos" and "Arrested Development" are hardly the only two good models for television. The elephant in Mr. VanDerWerff's piece is "The Wire". That series followed no frame or conventional TV show structure and is more comparable to a novel than anything seen before.
Mr. VanDerWerff claims that non-comedic TV is "serialized drama – often on cable – that probes the darkest limits of the human experience and has a bad-boy protagonist". This would be a pathetic description of what "The Wire" depicts in Baltimore. It's drama and certainly probes the darkness, but it has no protagonist. It is not about one person, but many. It reveals the tapestry created by the many threads of life woven together in a community. It also goes far behind the white sensibilities that Mr. VanDerWerff claims permeate all good TV shows these days. It is a cliche to say that the decisions of one life affect others and we have responsibilities to each other, but watching "The Wire" I was struck by the fact that the show moves beyond the cliches and shows us the real faces and lives.
Paula Marantz Cohen, an English professor at Drexel University, describes why she taught an undergraduate course on "The Wire":
His shows are vehicles for entertainment — at his best, Sorkin is on the short list of the most purely entertaining storytellers this medium has ever known — but they are also vehicles for Sorkin's ideals about how the world should be, how often it falls short of those ideals, and how noble it is to keep trying to make them into a reality.
"The Newsroom" is the inverse of "Veep": it’s so naïve it’s cynical. Sorkin’s fantasy is of a cabal of proud, disdainful brainiacs, a "media élite" who swallow accusations of arrogance and shoot them back as lava. But if the storytelling were more confident, it could take a breath and deliver drama, not just talking points. Instead, the deck stays stacked. Whenever McAvoy delivers a speech or slices up a right-winger, the ensemble beams at him, their eyes glowing as if they were cultists.
Todd VanDerWerff questions our artistic standards for the small screen:
We have a very particular idea about what makes "good" TV in this age of episodic online reviews. "Good" TV is either a single-camera sitcom filled with pop-culture references or moments of pathos (ideally both), or a serialized drama—often on cable—that probes the darkest limits of the human experience and has a bad-boy protagonist. In essence, we’ve created a world where the only two shows that can be copied to make good TV are Arrested Development and The Sopranos.
Andrew Palmer has watched a decade of The Bachelor(ette) and confesses in earnestness that the show has "taught me as much about myself and the world as all other TV shows and Edmund Spenser combined":
No TV show is sadder than The Bachelor(ette). I think we can say that after these ten years. It’s not just the commodification of love, though there’s that. It goes beyond all those shots of men and women alone on balconies, leaning on railings, gazing into the distance, wondering about where they fit in the world.
A professor who specializes in media history writes:
You linked to an article that is so incorrect on the history of the broadcast television season that I can't let it go. It sounds perfectly reasonable that the auto industry ran early TV – but it's completely inaccurate. The original television season was wholly adapted from the traditional radio broadcast season, which had been in existence for two decades by 1948-9 when television first exploded.
A reader responds to another who bemoans the loss of ESPN after canceling his cable subscription:
There are two very good options for watching streaming ESPN content. One is the Watch ESPN app, which is restricted to a handful of Internet service providers. I've never used it and am unsure of content restrictions. The other is the ESPN Live via XBox Live. It is not full content (no Sportscenter or Monday Night Football) but I have watched every ESPN network broadcast game played by my favorite college football team via this app. Streaming live or viewed on replay. One could augment that with an MLBTV subscription with an XBOX app coming soon. I'm sure NBATV will be soon to follow. NFL is the difficult one. I chose to go with NFL GameRewind. There's no convenient porting to my television (ie an XBOX, Roku, or Apple TV app) and it's watching everything after the fact, but it serves my purpose.
By the way, according to our unscientific survey of Dish readers, 29% of you have "cut the cable" and 66% of you are sports fans. Another writes:
"Eventually, I would suppose that ESPN would wise up to the fact that they are sitting one of the most valuable assets in the cable package and look for ways to offer their product to streaming viewers on a stand-alone subscription basis." That's exactly what won't happen.