Sunday, November 13, 2005

We are watching FOX....

Some notes on the invention called television, and the shows that they show on this invention:

:: So I see that Arrested Development has been all but officially axed. Judging by the continually anemic ratings, this isn't much of a surprise. I never really watched it, mainly because it always came on when I was doing something else -- reading The Daughter to bed, mostly -- but the few times I did catch it, I didn't find it uproariously funny, although I did note that in the episodes I saw, most of the show would serve as a twenty-minute set-up for a joke that would unfold in the last two minutes, and that this "grand finale" joke would, in fact, be quite funny indeed. Maybe I'll check AD out when it hits DVD.

Here's a MeFi thread about AD, by the way. Somewhere therein a commenter makes the observation that maybe American TV should adopt smaller-scale story arcs, rather than open-ended series. I think we're already starting to see this, to some degree, with shows like 24, which even though it is now entering its fifth year it has nevertheless spent each year on a single plotline. The old formula of creating a show and then just going right on writing self-contained episodes of that show for however long the ratings hold out may be going by the boards.

:: Seventh Heaven is also ending. I have to be honest here: for about two and a half seasons, we really enjoyed this show. But after a while, we started getting irritated not with the continually upbeat and moralistic tone, but with the rather ham-handed social commentaries (wherein an episode would literally come to a stop so some character could basically deliver a monologue about some issue of the day, like teen sex or suicide or drugs or whatever) and with the show's continual reliance on a phenomenon called the "Idiot Plot". This is a plot where characters are kept precisely as stupid as they need to be in order to maintain the turning of the wheels, and where the major conundrum that's driving the plot would be resolved if someone, anyone, would just open their mouth and ask the obvious question or make the obvious observation. Whole episodes would play out like this:

RUTHIE: Simon, I'm doing something but I'm not gonna tell Mom and Dad. And you can't either.



DAD: Does it seem to you like Ruthie's doing something?

MOM: Yeah.

DAD: Should we ask her about it?

MOM: First we should ask all her brothers and sisters about it.

DAD: Yup. Hey, Mary! What's Ruthie doing?

MARY: Errr...I dunno.

DAD: But she is doing something.

MARY: Errr...I dunno, dad. Gotta run. [Exeunt.]

DAD: OK. Oh, hi, Ruthie. Is everything OK?


DAD: Nothing you want to talk about?



MOM: Hey, Ruthie. Anything you want to talk about?

RUTHIE: No. [Exeunt.]


[Enter Matthew]

DAD: Let's ask Matthew. Hey Matthew! What's Ruthie doing?

MATTHEW: Ruthie? I dunno. I have my own apartment and I'm a med-school resident. What makes you think I have time to know what Ruthie's doing today?

DAD: You're her brother.

MATTHEW: Oh. Well, no, I don't.

DAD: OK. Well, this one's quite the head-scratcher. [Exeunt.]

[Enter Simon.]

MATTHEW: So what's Ruthie doing?

SIMON: I don't know what you're talking about!

MATTHEW: Is she in trouble? Maybe we should organize a family intervention.

SIMON: that. Good idea.

[Enter Rickie]

MATTHEW and SIMON: Who are you?

RICKIE: I'm Rickie, Ruthie's friend. Didn't she tell you about me?



RICKIE: Oh. Well, I'm here to do my math homework with her.

MATTHEW: OK. Simon, let's go get some pizza even though it's four o'clock in the afternoon and we've just told Mom we'd be here for dinner tonight.

[Exeunt Matthew and Simon; enter Ruthie.]

RICKIE: Have you told anyone?

RUTHIE: Just Simon, because I had to tell someone or else nobody in the family would know. But relax, there are still forty-one minutes left in tonight's episode, so the secret of your father's vapor-lock is safe.

RICKIE: Oh, good. You know, vapor-lock is no laughing matter. Lots of people think that you can't get vapor lock in today's engines, but that's just not true. Let me tell you the leading causes of vapor lock.

And so it would go, filling out the entire hour, with the occasional digression into whatever the twin boys are up to and some kvetching about what a bad seed Mary has become (one time, Mary's behavior became so delinquent that the parents sent her to live with Grandpa in, of all places, Buffalo -- and her unbelievably delinquent behavior had included things like going to the movies when she was supposed to be looking for a part time job).

And then there were episodes where I genuinely couldn't figure out for the life of me just what the "big problem" was. Oh well. At least Jessica Biel was easy on the eyes when I was paying attention to this show. And here's a snarky FAQ about the show.

:: My God, does That 70s Show need to go away or what. This show has become almost painful to watch (and yes, I've pretty much abandoned it). Part of it is the dreaded syndrome that tends to afflict any show revolving around youngsters of any age that last for more than, say, four seasons: the "Why do these seventeen-year-old characters look like they're really twenty-six?" thing. Since the show is still called That 70s Show, we should assume that it's still, you know, the 1970s -- but the show's inaugural season was set in 1976, so they've spent six years detailing all of three years of these characters' lives.

But there's another disconnect, in that the show's focus on the 1970s setting has become more and more tangential to the point where pretty much the only thing "1970s" about it is the clothing and the music. You'd think that a sitcom set in that period would make the occasional reference to things like gas shortages, Three Mile Island, President Carter, and stuff like that; but while that kind of thing did pop up in the first couple of seasons (when Red Forman lost his job when his plant closed, and when he pointedly asked Gerald Ford how he could pardon Nixon), it's been nonexistent in the last few. The problems the characters seem to be dealing with are never actually 1970s-type problems anymore; it's just a 2000-era sitcom dressed up in 1970s clothing.

That 70s Show was never a great show, by any stretch of imagination, but in its first two or three years it had a creative and quirky charm that was all its own -- the POV closeups during the characters' marijuana sessions, for instance. And I'll always value the show for the characters of Red Forman, Leo the Photo-Hut Manager, and, of course, Fes.

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