TV6: In a Word

the Hyperion Chronicles
“Is it wrong to like Mary-Kate but not Ashley?”

#167 TV 6: In a Word

Hi-Ho, to my wonderful Hyperion Nation. It is time once again for another TV column. You’d think I’d be running out of material, but if I write 8 of these I get a free Blizzard at Dairy Queen, and let’s be honest: you’d put your own mother in a sub-standard nursing home for one of those!

Today I continue my service to you of reviewing new shows. And, to class up this series on TV (and possibly qualify for N.E.A. grant money), I have some philosophical musings on morality of Television. Actually, let’s start with that first.

Question: Is TV immoral?
In a word: no. People are immoral. Or, if you want to get more technical, their behavior can be immoral. The TV just sits there. You actually have to turn it on. But what about then? Are the programs immoral?

This is more complicated. Certainly there are things on TV that most people call immoral: crimes against humanity like murder, rape, and Full House (oh, yes, I went there), although all that happens in real life. And, I think it’s inarguable that TV affects us. We sit there for hours on end sometimes watching this thing; we wouldn’t do that if it didn’t affect us.

But saying TV affects us doesn’t make it bad. We’re all interdependent with our environment. That’s why you’re in a bad mood when you come home from work, or you’re full when you come home from a restaurant. I think the question you really have here is: Does TV have an agenda to bring down our society?

What TV shows want is for you to watch. The reason they want you to watch is to that you’ll patronize the advertisers, and the TV networks can make more money by charging higher rates. That’s the big secret: money. And that means that TV networks will put on what they think people will like to watch.

What does this mean? It means that for every television program you think is deplorable, there is a target audience watching it. This is why you can see a show like Touched By an Angel right next to The Sopranos. There are people that like watching each of those programs (although in this case, they’re probably not the same people).

More to the point, if I could get self righteous for a moment (“Tobias; my soapbox.”): the issue here is whether these shows—however they got on TV—are making society worse. In a word: maybe. We all know kids have the common sense of cottage cheese, and especially at younger ages aren’t able to tell what’s “art” and what’s “real.” If you have kids, it’s up to you to monitor what they watch. I realize that I have no kids (that I know of), but I refuse to listen to the cop-out, “It’s so hard to monitor what they watch.” Tough! Quit your bitching and be a parent. When I grew up my parents laid down the law on what we couldn’t see. I had to sneak up at night to watch these things. You may say that defeats the purpose, but at least I knew I was wrong when I did it. Many of today’s kids don’t even get that much.

Excepting kids for a moment, what about you? Here’s where the maybe part comes in. If you think TV is corrupting you, maybe it is. But you can’t be that strong a person if you let TV get to you. It’s just entertainment. It’s not telling you how to live your life. It’s not real, and even if the people are real and the stories seem real, at most they are just reflecting real life, and most likely they are distorting it.

You still must decide what’s right for you. For me, it’s all about one thing. In a word: compelling. When I watch a show, I want to be compelled by the human drama of the characters (or the comedy, if it’s that kind of show). I can put up with some violence (in context) and other over-the-top items; if the show is compelling and I’m on the edge of my seat wanting to know, “What happens next?”

This is why I can handle the graphic surgeries of Nip/Tuck; these characters are profoundly interesting to me as they struggle without a moral center. When you watch TV, ask yourself: is what I’m watching compelling? Is it enjoyable? That’s all you can ask for TV, that you enjoy watching it, and you’re not awake throwing up all night. If you can’t say the characters are compelling, why are you wasting your time?

Okay, I’m off the soapbox, and on to today’s reviews:

The Next Joe Millionaire FOX
I’ll admit, I’m not much for Reality Shows, but I no longer think they are evil, as I once did. I live and let live. Last year, I even broke down and watched one, Joe Millionaire, just so I could see what the fuss was about. I actually found it funny, at times. I didn’t feel sorry for the girls who were duped, because anyone who goes on a Reality show gets what’s coming to them. I also found the excitement quickly wore off, as the episodes got more and more tedious and it went on. It was quite boring by the end; definitely not compelling.

I couldn’t imagine how they could pull off another one, then I heard: European women. I talked my dad into checking out the first episode (he also never watches Reality programming). We laughed in spite of ourselves. The best moment by far was when these 14 European girls were told their suitor was a “real American Cowboy” and they reacted with horror. One minute later they found out he’s worth eighty million dollars (he’s not; but that’s the whole joke), and they were square dancing while humming Bonanza. That was funny.

I may keep watching, I may not, but I will say for someone who has no time for these kinds of shows, it wasn’t that bad. Mondays.

If you’ve been reading my mini-reviews of all the new programs, you’ll note that I have been generally pleased with the quality, think Joan of Arcadia is the most thought-provoking new show, and Karen Sisco is the most well put-together. SKIN blows both of them away. This is the first “Must-See” show since Alias and 24 burst on the scene two years ago. Whatever you’ve heard about SKIN is probably wrong or at least incomplete; so let me give you the run down:

Larry Goldman (played by the incomparable Ron Silver, of West Wing fame) is the King of Adult Entertainment in L.A. His nemesis is Michael Roame (played by Kevin Anderson, one of those guys you probably don’t recognize his name but as soon as you see him you’ll go “Oh yeah, him!”), the District Attorney obsessed with bringing Goldman down.

Roame has a son, Adam, who meets Goldman’s daughter Jewel, at a party. Without knowing who the other is, they fall instantly in love, like only extraordinarily stupid and misguided teenagers can do. (And yes, I’ve been one of them, so don’t hate. You KNOW what I’m talking about).

Of course, both sides can’t stand this relationship taking place, but that doesn’t stop the teens, who know that no one “understands” them and vow to be together at all costs.

This story may seem familiar, and that’s because it is clearly meant to be a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. (Even the names; Adam ROAME and JEWEL Goldman, are a giveaway.) There are touches of the Bard all over. We see Mercutio’s character in the opening scene, and later, Tybalt: Prince of Cats (as a money-laundering drug dealer). There is the famous balcony scene, the complicit maid, and even homages to both Fellini’s 1969 masterpiece and the 1996 Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio film.

Any time you start with good material (i.e., Shakespeare), you’re ahead of the game. But, you still have to do something with it. That’s where SKIN shines. They smartly focus more on the power struggle between the two Titans rather than the kids (because let’s face it, as much as we all root for Romeo and Juliet, they’re infatuated teenagers.). We get to see both men as they face off with each other, as well as both fathers facing this slap in their face from their kids. When Jewel tells her father she’s in love, he responds:

“You’ve been going out a week. That’s not love. That’s ridiculous. Love is family. Love is raising you for 16 years.”

C’mon, dads out there: you know what he’s talking about, right?

But the fathers and their kids aren’t everything. Both wives are fantastic, as well as the other characters. I cannot remember ever seeing a show introduce so many plotlines and characters so credibly in one hour. I was blown away. I don’t know if they can keep it up, but I’m itching to find out.

But what about the “sleaze” factor? Yes, the show is about a Porno-King, and it’s on FOX, but don’t be fooled. While there is the requisite strip-club scene, you can find that on C.S.I. FOX has hyped it up to get you to watch, but the real piece of knowledge is that this is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, and he cares more about drama than filth. You want more proof? I talked my mother—who’s easily as conservative as any of you—into watching, and she was mesmerized, hooked, and guilt-free. Why? Because it was in a word: compelling, and in another word: fantastic.

And luckily for you, FOX is encoring it Friday night (9:00 for most people on the coasts, 8 and 10 for the peeps in the middle). If you don’t care about TV one way or another, why have you read this far? But if you care about quality drama…If you like getting excited about Rachel and Joey and Donna and Josh and Gil and the sluts and Sydney and Vaughn and Kim and the Cougar…If you like something highbrow (and it don’t get better than Shakespeare), but still melodramatic…If you’re a “Shipper,” then this is for you. Do yourself a favor and watch or tape the first episode, and then write and thank me.

October 22, 2003

Thanks to Mom
Thanks to River Midget Tobias, for providing the Soap Box

You have until October 31 to get in your nominations for the Hoodies!

Motto Explanation
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson are identical twins who originally appeared on Full House, and then went on to make two identical comedies and 4000 identical direct-to-video movies. Clearly they are trying to take over the world, and as such, of great concern to the Institute