I hope at some point in the ever-evolving world of fiber optic-delivered entertainment, we can cherry-pick our cable TV. I’d get all the HBOs, CNN, the weather stuff, maybe Turner Classic Movies and…that’s it. Local news is a joke, network news an even bigger one and as for the quote entertainment unquote — please.
The other day I turned on a random station (I think it was CBS) at a random hour (I think it was 10 p.m.) to see a rather specific and singular image — a young woman, wrapped in plastic but still alive, apparently suffocating. Of course, she was lovely. Loveliness is a risk factor on network TV, unless one is just a degree or two less lovely (or a year or two older) and willing to wear frumpy suits, in which case you can work alongside Jack McCoy and bring evildoers to justice. Otherwise you’re either dead or being tortured by the first break.
Another other day I turned on a specific station — the NBC affiliate — for a little “Law & Order.” Nothing like L&O when you’re feeling exhausted. It’s predictable in exactly the right way and is mostly dumb but smart enough that you can watch it with two-thirds of your brain turned off and still follow the thread, without feeling like you’re wasting your time.
At least, it used to be like that, years ago, when there was just one L&O. The hour I turned in was one of the spinoffs, which open not with a body and a mystery, but a crime. In this one, a fat woman was blindfolded and crying in fear, while a man slapped her and held a gun to her head. Perhaps because I was also reading a magazine and not giving it my entire attention, I left it on. (The fat woman was in on the crime, which was ripped from the Madalyn Murray O’Hair headlines. I think.) Anyway, it was gross.
The show ended, and another L&O iteration started. “Jesus Christ!” exploded Alan. “Didn’t we just watch this?” We turned it off.
I am the world’s biggest Scorsese fan, have watched Joe Pesci put that guy’s head in a vise half a dozen times, and while I watch through squinty eyes, it doesn’t offend me. “Kill Bill” was pretty stupid, but not offensive. “Rome” is violent, but not offensive.
So why do so many network shows offend the living crap out of me? Hard to say, but I think Lisa de Moraes puts her finger on it:
Women play an enormous role in the new television season.
They’re paralyzed by venomous bites of exotic spiders that crawl under their front doors, after which they can put up no struggle as they’re raped and murdered.
They’re locked in the house for a couple of years by a husband who chains them in the basement in a dog collar.
They’re impaled on the ceiling, where they spontaneously combust.
They have strange unnamed things done to them by aliens during a hurricane and wind up, in shock and naked (naturally), in a swamp.
They are abducted while test-driving a vintage sports car they saw for sale on the Internet, have their mouths and eyes covered with duct tape, and are tossed into cages at a remote shipyard, where their terror is monitored and recorded via video camera for about a week before they’re murdered.
And the pregnant ones get pulled out of the shower at night by huge, hideous, wolflike creatures who rip the fetuses out of their wombs.
Yes, there’s lots and lots of work — albeit short gigs — for actresses on new series this TV season.
Misery — grotesque, baroque misery — is a huge trend in network TV right now. Maybe they feel it has to be over-the-top to be a contrast to the treacly, manufactured kind on “American Idol.” I don’t know. All I know is, I’m not entertained by dead bodies the way I used to be. Sure, a good murder mystery is as perennially satisfying as a bowl of chili on a cold winter night, but there’s rarely any mystery to be found here. The suspense is in how gross it will be. Will the body by so decomposed we get a vomiting scene? Will the camera tunnel into the knife wound to show the diseased liver? Before the victim dies, will we see her in high heels and a thong, heedlessly tempting fate? Yeah, we probably will.
I almost missed the whole first season of “The Wire” because I was so burned out on police procedurals I refused to give it a chance. (This was before I learned to trust HBO. And “The Wire” isn’t really a police procedural, anyway, but we’ve had this discussion before.) I’m convinced one reason “Six Feet Under” was such a success is that it took us into a different workplace every week. Different from a station house or courthouse, that is.
Tonight I’m gonna watch “Rome,” because it has hot sex featuring Roman soldiers, always a sure winner; it must touch a nerve deep within each of us to imagine sleeping with someone who wears a leather skirt. You think it’s an accident Russell Crowe’s character in “Gladiator” was named Maximus? Please.