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Sep. 25th, 2006

Where has all the smart TV gone?


I had almost gotten comfortable with the state of television as it is. Using merely on-par shows as a sign of greatness, and allowing those that are lacking infest my mind and give the illusion of greatness. (Prepare yourself for a detailed analogy.)


There are shows like Bones and Justice, who swim in the shallow end of the pool. They maintain a safe status. The Office and House can be found splashing near the buoys that separate the deep end from the shallow. They try to swim on their own, but often touch the ground for balance and always come back to the shallows in the end. Then again, something like Scrubs is over in the kiddie pool (or possibly the shallow end, but with floaties on its arms). It wouldn't necessarily stack up to the big boys if the floatation devices were removed.

Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives rarely bring intellect in, using the theory that "sex sells" and they reside on the nude beach, miles away from the family-friendly public pool. The drama is tasty, and illicit, but strip all that away...and what's actually left? (Grey's especially really phoned it in last Thursday. The plague? Seriously?)

There's CSI, who rests atop an floating lounge raft of the deep end...staying on the surface, but trying to use all the intelligent resources it can. It dangles a foot in the water often, but if it ever fell in...well, at least the raft would be near by to save it.


Then there's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, who comes jumping into the deep end, cannonball, no less, and swims circles around everyone there.


---

Now, I don't mean to insult any shows that you might love. In fact, I'm quite addicted to all of these shows.

But lately I've been watching a lot of new shows, and a lot of continuing shows, and coming to the conclusion that I'm getting bored. Worse, I've become accustomed to the boredom so that I don't even notice it anymore. It's seeming like everything has been done.

And then comes along a show that causes a reevaluation of everything you'd come to take as fact.

Not to say that Studio 60 is without it's faults, but when I compare it to any character-heavy new show like 6 Degrees, Brothers & Sisters, Men in Trees...it glides past them with an ease of an Olympic swimmer challenging a five-year old.

The characterization especially is effortless and flawless. It presents in 20 seconds of dialog what those other shows take 20 minutes to portray. And it's not to say that Brothers & Sisters couldn't have been more concise and less repetitive, because oh, it could. The problem is that if Brothers & Sisters stripped down the show and condensed any unnecessary sequence, they would end up with 30 minutes of dead air. [I'm thinking specifically of the conflict between mother and daughter. Okay, we get it. Again and again. There are numerous phone calls, more than one awkward exchange, and discussion about the conflict for the entire episode, minus the 10 minutes that other characters got their own storylines. Let me just say...there are conflict in my family, and not once have we spent that much time knit-picking ANYTHING the way they do. Move on. Awkwardness is meant to be felt, not discussed.]

So what makes Studio 60 different? It has the substance to fill in the dead space that other shows (theoretically) create. You understand the conflicts without 20 minutes of discussion, and you see how it affects the characters without them talking about it to excess. In fact, characters (like real, human people) can feel emotions on the inside, while doing action on the outside. I know, I know! It's crazy! But in fact, subtext is ALIVE AND WELL. And living at Studio 60.

Harriet and the brunette (Jenna?) are at odds the entire show. It's introduced in the beginning, and resolved at the end. Everyone is aware of it, and some people discuss it. But the number of actual lines of dialog centered around this one conflict cannot number more than 18. And Aaron Sorkin shows are dialog heavy, so that is nothing. It's subtle, it's underground, it's not being beat over your head. The DL Hugley/Danny conflict (also beginning at the start and being resolved at the end) happens in three separate exchanges, possibly less than 1 minute each...but the amount of information you learn about the character could take 15 minutes to discuss/break down/explain to someone. Here's a note to our friendly television staff writers: You don't need to give the audience everything. Let them think/analyze/discover/reach an understanding for themselves.

Studio 60 is a show about characters. But the show doesn't force you to watch painfully dull interactions with characters talking about themselves and talking about other characters. You see them interacting and doing and working and living and being real fucking people. There is plot, there is a setting, there is conflict and drama...but it's all SO well balanced. The audience can choose to take as much or as little as it wants. I assume it's entertaining for those willing to leave it at the credits, but for those of us who take it farther...who bother to use our brains and think...we get a fulfillment unequal, or even unavailable, from any other television show in production today. I guarantee that.


Having said all that, I don't think I really gave Studio 60 justice. I spoke merely of characterization and subtext, ignoring almost entirely the brilliant writing, interesting storylines, the way it talks about pushing boundaries and makes you feel that it had, the realism, the insanity of what realism actually is, the acting, the sets, the details.

The way it strikes a chord or five every episode.

The way I've stayed up well over an hour after it finished and am still deciphering and processing...

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
ultraman
Sep. 26th, 2006 05:30 am (UTC)
As I am watching it now, I should mention, they aren't at odds until a little under half an hour into the episode.
bravebunny
Sep. 27th, 2006 09:39 pm (UTC)
Gail Marie, I of course agree in totality with your diatribe / profession of love for Aaron Sorkin, as we discussed at embarrassing length the other night, but I must say, I think that there are glimpses of shows that capture a character without really explicating a whole lot. You give Scrubs a shout-out, but I was watching the one where Turk proposes and the nurse lady (Nina?) says she needs to think about it, and Turk's big bro--DL Hughley, oddly enough--comes into town and is all like, I left MY wife, let's go out n get drunk. The episode demonstrated a few of the many facets that defined the relationship between the two brothers, but didn't dwell on them, and were framed within this one tiny like two-day interaction. I just wanted to point out that even shows that are in the kiddie pool or out there at the nude beach--or the moon...--still have valid little slivers of things that make you think and feel, or at least laugh at the way the world is. A good example? The little Desperate Housewives clip where the redhead goes, "I'm a Republican--I don't do that!"

As a side note: Grey's use of the bubonic plague was patently ridiculous, there's 10,000 other weirdo things you could get quarantined for that aren't... THE BLACK DEATH. My favorite quarantine episode? E.R.'s, when a bunch of guys were playing hockey in the hallway.

And. House the other night was super cool. There was a kid with Asperger's Syndrome on there and House fixed him and the kid looked him in the eye (totally rare for Asperger's) and gave him his hand-held video game! And you know how House loves those. Plus, the lovely banter between Cuddy and House is worth the show... Imagine how crazy their lovechild would be!

Ummm... I just wanted to respond more than I have something partiuclarly profound to say. You know how I feel about the industry. I do enjoy Standoff, because it's got this dry wit and the woman who played Zoe (Gina Torres) on Firefly's the boss and she just rocks my socks, as Molly D used to say.

And: screw you, because I enjoy Bones!
gailmarie
Sep. 27th, 2006 11:56 pm (UTC)
I know I was harsh...but then again...I was up on my high horse, so I tend to overreact.

And I do really like Scrubs, and I think that every once in a while it touches on something really good and really smart. But for the most part (and I've been watching two episodes a day for the last week and a half), it's just silly. Good silly, very funny...but not life changing or anything near that.

And of course every show has it's really good moments. That Desperate Housewives clip was hilarious...did you watch it? Poor Bree.

Then there's the quarantine, and yes...they could have used a thousand excuses that would be better. And really? The quarantine scene could have been a BILLION times better. Yes, Derek realized that he loves Meredith, but COME ON! The conflict possibilities were nearly endless. I mean...it's George and Derek! Punches could have been thrown. I almost want to write a better interaction.

Oh, and Gina Torres has been rubbing me the wrong way lately. I loved her as Anna Espinosa on Alias, but she's just not doing it for me on Standoff. But I LOVE Ron Livingston and the chick is super sweet.

And no screwing me! I love Bones! I think it's one of the better shows on television.


Yeah, I think that's everything you said...

Love you! (Chazzie style)
bravebunny
Sep. 28th, 2006 01:05 am (UTC)
Fine, I take back the screw you over Bones. I think you're nuts about Gina Torres on Standoff, but I do totally agree that Ron Livingston & the cutie girl are just awesome, and I love the way their conversation is clever and on the surface but it just hints at the larger things they're Really Talking About, you know?

The George / Derek scene needed to have some spark, some fight, especially now that George is becoming more a stand-up-for-himself kind of a guy, which is also why I think he shouldn't have been looking at Derek while he hugged Callie... So, write me a better interaction--one that ends up with a Meredith sandwich, perhaps?

Yeah, Scrubs is incredible. So did you watch the one the other night where the fat kid eats Turk's engagement ring and he talks about little men in the kid's colon(?) pushing the "dookey" (noooo clue how you spell that one) out?? Because when that first aired, my dad almost fucking died from laughing so hard... We still use the word dookey at my house!
gailmarie
Sep. 28th, 2006 02:41 am (UTC)
Meredith sandwich, eh? Although, to tell the truth, I think I'd rather have Derek/Meredith/Finn, or Derek/Meredith/Addison. George has never done it for me.

As for the Callie hug, I think it was right for him to look at Derek...it seemed like a really important exchange. I haven't thought this out, so bear with me as I "talk" it out...

The hug was basically George acknowledging that he's over Meredith, and even if he may not love Callie yet...he knows that he's going in the right direction and he's leaving his options open for what happens next. There's a definite air about him that really truly says "I'm not in love with her anymore."

This does two things for Derek. First, he realizes that George is out of the picture, and thus Meredith is free of that attachment (leaving only Finn). Second, Derek sees that George has moved on and realized that he hasn't. It's been over a year and he's still so in love with Meredith, and he knows that it's not going away. This can finally push him to do what he has to do (tell Meredith and give her the support she needs).

So at this point, the only thing left to do is for Meredith to make her decision. Finn is great and perfect, but there is an obvious lack of chemistry and passion. The same goes with Derek and Addison. There's something about Derek/Meredith that just works...it's hot and primal, but also has a lot of sweetness and love. They could joke and make innuendoes in the elevator, or have some of the most incredible sex, and it always seemed right. And when they fought, they brought out the big guns, really trying to hurt each other (see: "You're not allowed to call me a whore") versus Addison's few yelling matches where Derek would simply walk away.

It's exactly like Mark (McSteamy) said when he rolled into town. "Derek walks in on me naked with his wife, actually in the throes, and he just turns around and walks away. But he sees me so much as talking to you, and I'm on the ground bleeding."


You know, I might not believe in marriage so much, but methinks I'm a still hopeless romantic. Either that, or I sympathize for the dirty mistresses...
bravebunny
Sep. 28th, 2006 12:59 pm (UTC)
Wow! What an excellent analysis, and what a convincing argument! You've won me over. Now, as for the Meredith/Derek vs. Meredith/Finn, I've got to say, while watching all that primal passion sizzle on-screen is fantastic and I don't want it to ever stop, in real life that's just downright unhealthy. BUT, I am also a hopeless romantic (and I also have a bit more faith in marriage than you, but whatev, totally irrelevant to love, you know) and I think it would be totally sweet to have such heat. Then again, wouldn't it be exhausting? Especially in Meredith & Derek's case, because they knew from like Day 1 that it was Big Love but they just didn't do anything right after that, in terms of how to grab that love and hold on to it. Pssh, dumbasses.

Um, also? I'd TOTALLY HAVE AN ORGASM if someone I heart punched a McSteamy just for talking to me!!!
gailmarie
Sep. 29th, 2006 04:34 am (UTC)
This is a comment solely on the "primal passion sizzle is fantastic but downright unhealthy" thing.

See, when I think of the Derek/Meredith dynamic, the first thing I think isn't the unbridled passion, or the huge fights they had when tempers flaired, or the sad puppy-dog eyes and longing looks. What sticks most in my mind were the moments in the elevator, the playful banter, they way that just a glance made them both grin like idiots because they were so happy. A majority of their relationship together was fun, free, light, wonderful, and comfortable (John Mayer style, yo). It was when they were apart that the passion ignited into an uncontrollable wildfire of jealousy, longing, anger, sadness, arguments and hot illicit sex. Yet, those are the images that resonate for most because a) they spent half a season together and then a full season plus apart, and b) being apart was so excruciating that it needed to seem like an agonizing struggle because they are meant for each other. And not just for a wild ride, but for the everyday times too.

I just can't see Finn living up to that. He's certainly relaxed enough for the everyday, but Derek had the fight in him, and the energy for that other side of the spectrum.
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