Archive for TV

WHAT’S A GUY TO WATCH?

Posted in The Popular with tags , , on November 25, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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I LOVE television. It just doesn’t love me back.

Over the past few years, it’s become clear that TV programmers don’t really care about guys like me, guys in their 40s who get to choose what they watch, rather than pretend to enjoy whatever their wives are watching. The only eyeballs network execs seem to worry about today belong to teenagers and middle-aged women.

vicAnd tonight, I’m losing yet another one of the few shows I love: “The Shield” is ending its amazing seven-season run on FX, and I’ll be watching it live (the last time I actually watched a live TV show was the Sopranos’ finale in June 2007). I can’t wait to see what happens to Vic Mackey and the pathetic remains of the Strike Team (and Lloyd the Teen Serial Killer-To-Be better not touch Dutch).

So now three of my favorite shows of the decade have ended: “The Wire,” “The Sopranos” and “The Shield.” And what’s on the horizon to fill the void? “Rosie Live”!! Yep, Rosie O’Donnell hosts a variety show Wednesday, one night after “The Shield” finale, and NBC is considering turning the special into a series. Where’s a dirty cop when you need him?

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

And Rosie’s just the tip of the iceberg (albeit a pretty big tip.) Take CBS. The network hasn’t aired one show that appeals to me in a long time. I don’t give a shit about crime scene investigators or naval criminal investigators or ghost whisperers or cold cases or numb3rs or criminal minds or mentalists.

ABC and NBC and Fox and that CW one aren’t much better. I don’t care about “Law and Order,” so a third of NBC’s lineup is irrelevant to me. “Grey’s Anatomy” makes me ill (ironically), “Chuck” and “Reaper” cancel each other out, and I can’t even imagine spending a minute with gossip girls or desperate housewives.

Some shows do try to appeal to a 43-year-old guy, but they don’t deliver. I watched the first season of “Heroes” on HD DVD (another guy thing) and thought it was a convoluted mess without any focus or point. And that was the good season. I enjoyed the first season of “Prison Break” but didn’t care enough about these people to follow them once they prison broke. I couldn’t even make it to the end of the pilot of “House.” I still watch “24,” but only to keep my eye-rolling muscles in shape. I’ll admit to enjoying “Smallville” and “Supernatural” but they’re geared for people half — or even a third — my age. “How I Met Your Mother” is nowhere near as cool as it thinks it is. “The Big Bang Theory” is mildly amusing, even though that breakout nerd seems to think he’s Lilith from “Cheers.” And I have no use for “Life on Mars” — I liked the original British series and can’t imagine it’s any better with Harvey Keitel.

I stopped watching reality shows about 200 reality shows ago. I know way too much about “American Idol” without ever having seen the show. I don’t care how much money is in that suitcase. And watching celebrities dance is my idea of hell.

So what does that leave me with, other than a lot of space on my DVR? Well, “The Office” and “30 Rock,” the two funniest shows on TV right now; “Rescue Me,” which got a bit too repetitive last season but still entertains; and “Lost,” an exasperating show I gave up on a couple years ago, only to come back just in time to watch it hit its creative highpoint (seasons 3 and 4). And that’s pretty much it. (And “Lost” and “Rescue Me” don’t even return until next year.) I’m not even holding out much hope for Joss Whedon’s upcoming show “Dollhouse,” which seems doomed to the same Friday-night fate as his “Firefly.”

What it all boils down to is that the shows I love aren’t like anything else on TV. “Buffy,” “Arrested Development,” “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” “The Shield” — they were all unique. And TV programmers aren’t big on unique. Not when they can get another hit just by sticking the letters C, S and I into a title.

So whether or not Vic Mackey dies tonight, I’ll be sad. Because another original is gone, another show for guys like me is over, and millions of people are perfectly happy watching Rosie O’Donnell introduce tap dancers.

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TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HARTLEY

Posted in Life, The Popular with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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IT’S not like I can pinpoint the exact moment of this paradigm shift, but at some recent point in my life, I went from assuming that everyone I meet is older than me to assuming that everyone’s younger.

Sure, my conclusions could simply be written off as a matter of probability and median age, but they also have to do with attitudes. When I was in my 20s, a lot of the people I met — friends, co-workers — seemed like they had their shit together. Because my shit was scattered all around like a monkey’s, I just figured these people must have lived longer than I had, that they obviously had more time to become responsible adults.

Now that I’m 43, I meet a lot of people who are younger than me — and, alarmingly, they seem to be way more together. I guess I can accept my age and my relative aimlessness — I am a charter member of the slacker generation, after all. What I can’t accept is that I’m older than Bob Newhart.

At least the Bob Newhart I knew and loved, the one I watched every day as a kid, the balding shrink who seemed so adult, the voice of reason amid sitcom chaos.

I was revisiting “The Bob Newhart Show” on DVD a year or two ago and I think his wife Emily made a reference to him turning 40. Forty! How the hell could I be older than Bob Hartley!? Then it happened again, as I watched a sixth(!)-season episode of “I Love Lucy.” There was a reference to Ricky being in his 30s. Huh? I’m even older than Ricky Ricardo?! A guy in black and white?

It’s deeply unsettling — I’m older than the TV characters I looked up to and learned from as a little boy, the people I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m older than Mike Brady, my generation’s surrogate dad, a man who had words of wisdom to impart in any situation. I’m older than Rob Petrie, whose TV-writing job — and wife — looked so awesome. I’m older than Major Nelson, and he was an astronaut! I’m older than Mary Richards when she left WJM. Fuck, I’m probably older than Lou Grant.

I can live with the fact that I’m older than just about all the characters that populate current TV shows — fortysomethings have been a rare sight on TV since “Friends” took over (and even those characters would be considered old if that show debuted today). The casts of ’80s shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere” look positively geriatric compared with the casts of today’s hourlong dramas. (I was amazed by the abundance of gray hair in the opening credits of a “St. Elsewhere” episode I watched recently. Try to find one gray hair on “Grey’s Anatomy.”)

But it’s hard to accept that I’ve gotten older than the grown-ups I grew up watching, the wise characters who made adulthood look so appealing to a young boy. I’ve passed them by yet I still haven’t gotten my shit together — no TV-writing job, no family of my own, no nightclub where I can play my bongos. Where’s the tough-but-loving lecture from Mike Brady when you need it?

FINALE EXAM

Posted in The Popular with tags , , , on July 31, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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THEY’RE considered TV’s greatest sitcom and its greatest drama, but when it comes to their finales, only one got it right.

With some extra time on my idle hands, I just finished watching the final seasons of “Seinfeld” and “The Sopranos” for the first time since they aired. I was hoping the final hour of “Seinfeld” would be funnier than it played 10 years ago, now that all of the pressure was off it, and that I’d pick up clues in “The Sopranos” to help me make sense of that abrupt cut to black. No luck on both counts.

“Seinfeld”‘s finale plays even worse than I remembered. Regarding the plot, I’d forgotten about NBC’s resurgent interest in Jerry and George’s sitcom proposal, or their narrow escape from death aboard a private jet headed to Europe — and for good reason: the twists are tired and lead nowhere. Well, actually, the diverted plane gets Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer to Massachusetts, where they’re arrested for failing to stop the carjacking of a fat guy (he’s fat, so that’s why it’s funny!) We didn’t need the law to tell us these four were not Good Samaritans. And we certainly didn’t need a lethargically paced courtroom parade of past characters like the Soup Nazi to prove it.

In the DVD bonus features, Jerry Seinfeld suggests that the finale was received poorly because Larry David (who returned to pen the episode) tried to do “big” when the show was best at doing “small.” Maybe, but size wouldn’t matter if the episode had just been funny.

Your best bet when revisiting “Seinfeld” these days is to just skip the cleverly titled finale, “The Finale,” as well as the infamous penultimate episode, “The Puerto Rican Day,” which proved the regular roster of writers could be just as unfunny without David. Kajillionaire Seinfeld crowed at the time that he wanted to end the show while it was on top. He waited two weeks too long.

A year after Tony Soprano suddenly vanished from our televisions, I’m still as intrigued by the final episode as I was the day I first saw it. This time, it seemed a bit slower than I remembered, but David Chase was smart enough not to “go big.” Instead, he simply shows how Tony’s life as a mob boss has altered everyone around him, from FBI Agent Harris to widowed sister Janice to his own kids. Meadow’s friend Hunter shows up for the first time in years, but there’s a point to her appearance — as opposed to The Bubble Boy returning in “Seinfeld”‘s finale to get one last desperate, nostalgic laugh.

And I could watch that final scene of Tony, Carmela and A.J. in the diner over and over again (and have). And what about Meadow just outside the door — has parallel parking ever been more suspenseful? Has Journey ever sounded better? Have onion rings ever seemed more ominous? I still interpret the sudden blackness as Tony getting whacked; let’s face it, he was doomed from the start. And the genius of that abrupt cut is that Chase found a way to kill Tony Soprano — whom we’d grown fond of against our better judgment — without taking him away from us. A year later, I still think the show couldn’t have ended any better.

THE ALTERNATIVE (UNIVERSE) PRESS

Posted in The News, The Popular with tags , , , , , , on July 22, 2008 by Adam Sapiro

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SIXTY more of my former co-workers at The Hartford Courant lost their jobs this month as the newspaper business continues to self-destruct. Thousands of newspaper writers, editors and columnists across the country have lost their jobs this year. A friend of mine who quit the business several years ago to go into teaching just told me his school can’t even afford to print the student paper anymore (now there’s a lesson for the kids…)

But I’m here to tell you that there is a place where journalism is still alive and well, where reporters are plentiful and leaders are held accountable for their actions — unfortunately it’s on “Battlestar Galactica.”

The Sci Fi Channel show takes place in a parallel universe mostly identical to ours, except for the cornerless paper, the gods-damn frackin’ swear words and those pesky killer Cylons. And one other thing — all the reporters.

Now, I love the show and I know it’s science fiction, but I can’t figure out why every time President Roslin holds a press conference, dozens of reporters show up, clamoring to ask the next question. Who are these people?

This is a society that has dwindled down to 40,000 or so survivors (the number, shown in the opening credits, typically decreases from week to week) living aboard a fleet of ships, looking for a new home planet (possibly Earth.) Seriously, does this small group of people really have 30 or 40 news outlets? How come I never see anyone reading a cornerless newspaper or watching TV (do they even have TV?) If you do the math, there’s a reporter for every thousand survivors. Yet, far as I can tell, they have one doctor.

Whatever. The show is allegorical, using sci-fi to address modern-day American issues such as terrorism and war and torture and other big stuff we’d rather not think about unless cool spaceships are blowing up. But as “Battlestar Galactica” goes on, the unstoppable evil killing machines out to destroy humanity seem to reflect our real world better than the huge press corps trying to get to the bottom of things.