If you ask me what kind of tv shows I prefer, I’d probably tell you that I like serialized shows with a soapy element that aren’t too procedural - think Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, anything Joss Whedon ever made… I’m basically, in my own mind, the CW’s ideal viewer. But I’ve been trying to decide what shows I’m going to watch this year, since being back in school has made me decide to pare down my tv viewing habit. And what am I left with? Surprisingly to me, mostly sitcoms. Other than Mad Men which sort of fits the serialized soap description above even if it is a high class version of it and Glee which PERFECTLY fits the description above, the shows I’m planning on watching regularly are all sitcoms, if non-traditional ones: How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, and Community (my favorite of the three). I’ll probably talk about all three in more depth at some point, but the reason I’m still watching those shows over other shows that might better fit my stated preferences like oh, anything on the CW, is because they combine my favorite parts of traditional dramas and sitcoms.
What I like about sitcoms is that they’re funny! That might seem like an obvious statement, but lots of sitcoms aren’t actually funny. Actors say things that sound like jokes, but aren’t funny if you think about them. Or are just capable of thinking. Too much sitcom humor is predicated on characters doing stupid things that are going to backfire on them by the end of the episode, and I can’t watch that kind of thing. It makes me jump behind the couch and wait until the embarrassing part ends.
What I like about non-procedural dramas, though, is the serialized element. I like sitting with characters I’ve grown to like and watching their lives - I don’t want to watch the same thing over and over, I want to watch them grow and make friends and fall in love and maybe throw their best friend into a Parisian fountain. I’m never particularly interested in episode-of-the-week plots - what I like is the slow discovery of clues about season long or series long mysteries and watching them be successfully and satisfactorily resolved (see the first season of Veronica Mars for this actually done). What I like about the sitcoms I watch is that even though every episode of a sitcom fundamentally resets in some way, they allow the serialized nature of television to impact the narrative, rather than completely reseting every episode.
I used to be pretty tolerant about entertainment. I’ve always tolerated pretty much every genre - I like superhero movies and romantic comedies and period dramas and bad teen comedies… I thought I liked everything. But in my dotage, I’ve become far less tolerant. There have been three movies I saw in the theater this year that left me bored and checking my watch, waiting for them to be over. The first I want to discuss was the least egregious, Salt.
Why was Salt bad? Because it was boring. I’ve seen that story a zillion times, and nothing interesting or inspired was added. The Bourne Identity did it better, and tv shows have been doing a better job with the star-female-spy/assassin/all around badass genre for years now (Alias, La Femme Nikita, I would argue that even Chuck counts…)The twists weren’t shocking and the stunts were kinda cool, I guess, but nothing special.
I went to see The American this weekend with my family, and was soooooo bored. Nothing happened, and the character study wasn’t interesting enough for me to care. Yes, it was shot beautifully but that’s not enough to compensate for the slow crawl of the narrative and the sinking feeling that I’ve seen the story of an aging assassin or whatever before, and this one didn’t have anything profound to add.
And I don’t care how much money Tim Burton’s Alice and Wonderland made, it was terrible! If you’re going to make a sequel to a story that interesting and creative, don’t make it a generic quest story. I’m sick of Johnny Depp’s weird mannerism popping up in every movie. I don’t care if he doesn’t want to be known as a pretty boy, that’s fine, I just don’t want to watch those weird painted faces and stupid voices. Plus, the 3D demonstrated the potential pitfall - when consumer’s realize we’re being charged 3 extra bucks for each ticket and all we get is washed out and weird looking, maybe we’ll rebel and stop going. A girl can hope.
Hellcats premiered tonight on The CW. It’s a silly Bring It On rip off, and it knows exactly what it is. I enjoyed it, but I like terrible teen dramedies. Will I ever think about the characters or plot when I’m not watching it? No, but that doesn’t mean I won’t like it. There is a place for this kind of show, and I’m pretty much the target audience. If you think you’ll like it, you will and if it doesn’t seem like your kind of thing, it’s definitely not. Plus, Ashley Tisdale! I’m a sucker from anyone from the High School Musical franchise…
Verdict: it’s watchable, but it’ll never be more than that
I sorta feel like “Top Chef” unseating “The Amazing Race” for Best Reality show at this year’s Emmy Awards may have ushered in a new age of appreciation for reality tv. There’s a lot of it out there, and it’s a lot of the most popular stuff out there, and this year the main tv awards show finally recognized that some of what’s out there - not just “The Amazing Race” - is good. I do have a long-standing appreciation for reality tv here, as I grew up watching “The Real World” and early seasons of “Survivor” but I do have to admit that I only watched one season of “The Amazing Race” and found it sufficiently entertaining, but not something I would ever think about when I wasn’t at that moment sitting and watching it.
So what reality tv do I think is worthwhile? Well, I do enjoy many of the competition shows, like “Top Chef” and “Project Runway” (although I’m not liking the new 90 minute version). I sometimes will sit down and watch “Say Yes To The Dress” or “What Not To Wear”, although I sort of feel like once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Really, what I find compelling about reality tv is the same thing I enjoy about regular tv: characters. That’s why I sometimes feel like “On The Road With Austin and Santino”, the new show about two former “Project Runway” contestants traveling and making dresses for women around the country, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. It’s not because the situations are so hilarious inherently - it’s because Austin and Santino make them hilarious. That same factor is what makes some of the reality shows about famous and/or rich people behaving badly interesting. Something like “Pretty Wild”, about rich party girl aspiring models in L.A., may not have a lot of redeeming value, but it’s definitely interesting sociologically. And, it makes me glad that I had better role models as a young girl than Playboy models.
Verdict: just like any genre, it’s a mixed bag. I like that we can acknowledge that and not keep assuming that it’s all uniformally crap of the same variety.