1.24.2012

Television is the New Non-Film Film

The television series of today (and one, as far as I know, of yesteryear) have some unique attributes that I think are somewhat of a new(ish) development and somewhat of a boon for creativity in film. Yawn. I know, I know: everybody fucking knows this already. In fact, by the time I start crooning over a compelling series, it is at least five years old and everyone else has already seen it. Except for Game of Thrones, but I just got lucky with that. OK. So what I'm thinking of is really to do with the scope of a narrative. With the average human attention span rapidly approaching zero as many of us are zombified by a horrendous and constant influx of media, the feature film has become an outmoded art form. That's right: outmoded. I'm not arguing that good films can't be and aren't made, it's just that they're rare. Because the goal of a three-or-less-than hour film is to enthrall and emotionally manipulate an audience that is at best fickle and at worst lacks actual sentience, the financial gamble of producing said film becomes more and more of an unacceptable gamble. Enter the distractions: fill-in-the-blank formula plots, the epileptic staccato of rapidly switching camera shots and the eardrum-imploding electronica armageddons that pass as soundtracks. Oh: and CGI. Of course, there's independent film, foreign film--sure, there are broadly categorized examples of this modality that dilute my argument...slightly.

Really what I'm getting at is that television series (which really are mostly HBO, and that's kind of different than actual syndicated television) are fucking badass. Maybe this has always been the case, at least selectively, but the shining examples just seem to keep cropping up. For me, this renaissance began with something really old (from 1990-91) called Twin Peaks. Part soap opera parody and part paranormal murder mystery, this brilliant David Lynch creation includes one of the most ineluctably tantalizing characters ever: Audrey Horne (AKA, Sherilynn Fenn). I'm sure this part garnered Fenn a ridiculous number of fanboys, of which group I can not exclude myself. It doesn't help a bit that she was covergirl in Playboy magazine either. But there is, of course, more to the show than that. Despite a few different writers, the ambiance is mostly telltale Lynch and the material explored is of both the human and the supernatural and is unforgettably dark.

Deadwood is another series with serious gusto. Although I haven't seen enough of The Wire to compare the two, Deadwood seems to be at the pinnacle of HBO serials. I doubt I've ever seen a character as complex and problematically compelling as Al Swearengen, at least as depicted in the series. In fact, all of the characters defy any Manichaean sense of morality, a trait shared to a somewhat lesser extent by the excellent Game of Thrones. The language in Deadwood, which is in essence 19th century wild-west crudeness mated to Shakespearean-grade iambic pentameter, is simply gorgeous, however. Both series employ copious and horrific brutality, but it is unquestionably a necessary backdrop to both the lawless South Dakota of Deadwood and the medieval epic political fantasy of Game of Thrones.

Most recently I have been watching Battlestar Galactica. This is, of course, the third incarnation of the story in television form, and as the series is ~9 years old I am probably the last person not to have seen it all already. As an avid Star Trek fan, I am much enticed by space drama, and BG does not disappoint. Also, it features another ridiculously compelling female character in the form of Starbuck. Alas, I join another million-strong group of fanboys (and probably girls) in being ensorcelled so by this character, but I think the writers/directors/producers knew that ahead of time when they made the original male Starbuck of the 1978 series female.

The power of the television series is truly in the narrative scope: rather than being played out in the rather limiting confines of a three hour feature film, the narrative can develop smoothly over dozens of episode-hours, as can the characters. My connection with the characters in a good series is far deeper than almost any film. This latitude allows my allegiances to change and gives me ample time to obsess unhealthily over female characters who are cruelly designed to enamor males like myself with their insane levels of desirability.

Also, when I watch the series there are no ads. And I know I'm a decade behind. Shut up.

2 comments:

  1. I'm with ya DI!
    I'd definitely recommend watching all five seasons of the Wire, and although a bit different, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the funniest show ever, I own the first six seasons!
    What about the Dune made-for-TV series? I'm back into the books with Children of Dune, excellent so far...

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  2. Haven't seen the Dune series but the Always Sunny is pretty entertaining. I think I might have to rally through the rest of Battlestar before anything else though.

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