Thursday, August 1, 2013
TV-Matters: The smaller screen is winning
Posted by Chris Santucci
Welcome to the GOLDEN AGE!
I've wanted to blog for a while, but I've had nothing to say -- at least when pertaining to anything film related. I've been too disenchanted with the movies I've seen and those still looming on the horizon. With my personal life bridled by stress, turmoils, frustrations, I've settled to sitting on the couch and watching something on the TV. I'm more compelled to blog something I've watched in my living room rather than at the Raleigh Grande.
There was a period when I criticized anything that transmitted through my pricey Time Warner coaxial feed. I used to argue that "TV was an assembly line, where quantity superseded quantity. TV makers just churned out a product. It was a retreat zone for dying artists and fading stars. Cinema, on the hand, was where artists could stare at their canvas and scrutinize, rip apart, and fine-tune their masterpieces." Now it seems that the roles are reversed.
I used to browse hundreds of TV channels and find NOTHING. There were reality shows, whose very label was ironic. Networks were plagued with dull, inane police procedurals, unfunny sitcoms, and game shows hellbent on drama and exploitation rather than any sense of fun. (OK, it still is!) One glance at "CSI Miami" imbued laughter from yours truly.
But cable and Netflix have recently established a new era in small screen entertainment. For some, this decade earmarks the true "golden age" of television. Despite the networks inability to venture into new, original territories, cable networks like USA, AMC, FX, HBO, Showtime, and even Netflix are giving us a variety of programming that hasn't been seen on the big screen since the early 1980s.
I'm in the middle of reading Lynda Obst's illuminating book on the state of film "Sleepless in Hollywood". In my current chapter, Obst affirms how television has become a new haven for writers. They're allowed take risks and invest in ideas, plots and characters that were not sellable to multiplexes.
Obst, a former movie producer-turned-TV-executive, would attend the annual Golden Globe Awards, where the TV folks did not fraternize with the more elite movie lords. But her last experience was different. TV and movie people intertwined. In fact, sometimes, you couldn't tell one from the other. A-list movie stars like Michael Douglas and Matt Damn were representing the HBO TV movie, "Behind the Candelabra", a film that was rejected by every major movie studio. The film found a place on television and became HBO's biggest ratings winner in years. David Fincher (Fight Club) was being nominated for directing a pilot show for a streaming service! His lead actor was Kevin Spacey, who has two Oscars!
It's because these movie champions are finding a new avenue that is both liberating and even lucrative.
And then...there's AMC, who seemingly came out of nowhere to produce shows about flawed characters -- folks who do bad things and, perhaps. bode no chance of redemption. Programs like "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" present despicable characters make no apologies. The reason these shows work is because they present a rare level of dimension, in which their leads are branded with a grayish hue. When characters are knocked unconscious, they suffer concussions. When they're shot, they slowly bleed to death. Their appeal is centered around their approachability. They're flesh and blood who lack any conceivable supernatural, superhuman tendencies.
When I exit films like Man of Steel, I feel disappointed not only in the film but by the waves of folks who laud it whether its because they were amused by the bombastic effects or...whatever the hell else was appealing about it. I feel demoralized whenever I hear praise for movies that are uninspired and devoid of any substance; movies that most will forget and refuse to revisit, but somehow feel a modicum of enjoyment. But then I speak with people who share the same level of love and investment in shows like "Breaking Bad" and feel a renewed faith in humanity.
Movies may take a while to escape from being geared as mindless fodder -- dispelling drama and human dimension. It's now pure escapism in which our senses are numbed rather than enhanced. But my faith in viewing habits has been renewed every time I discuss the latest episode of "Game of Thrones" -- a show which is 95% centered around characters engaged in conversation and human interest. Battles ensue, yes, but the real selling point is how wars take psychological and emotional turns, while the CGI dragons sit in the backdrop.
What's most interesting is how TV-viewers are dismayed whenever their high dramas veer dangerously close to the B-movie territory. Case in point: season two of "Homeland", which focused more on implausible twists and action-oriented events, which caused the human drama-loving audiences to vent their frustrations.
TV is constantly me reminding that there are audiences who possess an eclectic appetite for material that's fresh and rewarding. Even shows that take deviate away from the status-quo genres are winning, such as Louis C.K.'s FX dramedy "Louie", which serves as much as a confessional devise as much as its aiming to shake our bellies. In the old era where TV was the red-headed step-child to cinema, a show like "Louie" may have never been green lit. Now, shows like this -- which take chances -- are thriving.
In a fitting bit of irony, my couch and LED TV have become an escape from the movies. Being a frugal couch potato has never been so rewarding for a cinephile. How many of you are more excited about this Friday's theatrical release of 2 Guns or the final season of "Breaking Bad"? Better question: What will you be talking about on Monday morning?