The Tedium Is The Message

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A couple of weeks ago, I asked my dermatologist and his assistant what television shows they were watching.  They stared at me thoughfully.  Both struggled to name shows they enjoyed.

My doc said he recently ordered Louis Malle films from Netflix, for his wife - a kind of in-home retrospective.  His assistant shrugged, then admitted she orders from Netflix too.  She’s watching Grey Anatomy and one or two Bravo and HGTV reality series, but didn’t seem all that enthusiastic.

Here in Northern California, almost everyone I know hardly watches television.  They’re heavy Netflix users.

The other night, I skipped broadcast net first run shows to watch a few on-demand episodes of Sex and The City.  I’d forgotten how much I loved that show.  

In the docs office we all mourned the end of Six Feet Under and Rome and everyone agreed that nothing has emerged to take the place of these shows.

Maybe, as Marshall Herskovitz ranted in the LA Times recently, it’s a problem of media consolidation. 

Or maybe it’s a failure of the imagination.

Or maybe it’s because the cable providers have just gotten to be too expensive, too much of a hassle to deal with.

Whatever the reason, it seems that a malaise has settled over the television industry like fine desert dust, and the writers’ strike masks a much larger problem

Just before Thanksgiving, I finally gave up on quite a few television shows, mostly broadcast net dramas. It’s not that a lot of shows are terrible.  It’s just that they’re bland.  They’re utilitarian and frothy, and there’s no compelling reason to continue tuning in.

Take Bionic Woman, for example.  This series had the right pedigree - David Eick of Battlestar Galactica.   Ben Silverman declared that it would lightened up, per Rob Owen’s report form TCA.  There was turmoil in the writers’ room before The Sopranos’ Jason Cahill finally settled in as showrunner.  Ratings bottomed out.

Bionic Woman rocked when Katee Sackoff appeared in her compelling turn as the menacing, comflicted Sarah Corvus.

But Katee vanished after the first three episodes and now the writing is predictable.

Recently the series turned campy, introducing Jamie’s new (CIA) love interest.  It’s Moonlighting-meets-nano-technology.  For comic relief there’s a tech geek who supplies a steady stream of the sarcasm, perhaps written to satisfy Ben Silverman’s edict to lighten up. 

In a feel-good episode, the team demonstrates teamwork.  They back Jamie up when she unilaterally decides to rescue her new luv from bad guys, and (secondarily) capture a secret list.

Got ransom?  Sure, says her boss, I’ll arrange for $8 million (in 45 minutes) and (almost) no questions asked.  And, oh, by the way, he bails her little sister out of jail and dispenses fatherly pep talks too.  What a guy!

Icing on the cake:  when Jamie arrives home zonked after her stressful trip to Paris, she finds a candle lit bath artfully arranged by her grateful sis…

I can’t think of a single reason to continue watching this show. And, besides, my pancreas can’t take it any longer.

P.S. Alan Sepinwall says it’s dead.

There’s been a swarm of virtual reality themes this Autumn.   Just in the past few weeks, at least five series - CSI NY, Law & Order SVU, Life, Numbers and The Office - have blundered into gaming and/or virtual world themes.  These efforts are perhaps an attempt to attract younger viewers, and especially young gaming guys, but the cheesy gambit has mostly backfired.

Gamers skewered NBC’s Life after the producers fashioned a story around clues hidden in the Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones video game.  The leap of detective logic required to unearth the buried clues was improbable enough.  But the pace of the episode came to a screeching halt while the entire night shift of major crimes gathered to watch a young, devout Muslim grrrrl blast her way to Level 10 where the clues were stashed.

I wasn’t the only one who found NBC’s awkward entry into the gaming world cringe-worthy.  Joystiq.com called it “embarrassing.”

A recent episode of Numbers  revolved around a World of Warcraft MMOG (massively multiplayer on-line games).  At least the writers got the vernacular (like griefing) right, and gamers say the episode was full of insider references.

Charlie’s girlfriend Amita – ooops! – accidentally (but conveniently) offs an avatar in virtual battle, after being warned a gazillion times by people hovering over her shoulder to let him win.  This precipitates a RL (real-life) meet-up, which precipitates an…attack!  

…so that Charlie can come running in panic and comfort her,

precipitating what’s known in fanfic circles as hurt/comfort, a term coined by fanfic writers to describe a well-worn and familiar plot device.

(If you want to know more, go here:  omg! – h/c plots in the Star Trek TOS.   With screencaps!

and Henry Jenkins discusses h/c in Supernatural.)

At any rate, the interesting mathematical concepts mask Numbers predictable and rudimentary plotting.  There is a sense that the writers’ room is assembly-lining after five seasons.  It really saddens me to say that I rarely watch Numbers any longer, because I loved season one Numbers. 

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