Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Life as a Television Fan

I have an interesting relationship with television.

My viewing habits are not the same as most people, primarily because I don't actually own a television. I haven't purposefully seen a broadcast since the early episodes of this season, and that was because I happened to be in a place where it was on.

I love television. It is, by far, my favorite visual medium. Movies are great, but there's only so much you can convey in a two-hour movie. A typical season of an hour-long television show allows nearly 16 hours (not including commercials) to convey the heart and message behind an idea, the characters have time to stretch their legs and breathe, and stories have time to have nuance and finally come to a logical conclusion.

I don't watch television as an intellectual escape, nor do I turn it off to drown out the silence. As a result, I am not attracted to shows like "Two and a Half Men" or "According to Jim," but I am drawn to shows that make me laugh because they earn the joke and shows that make me think because they earn the thoughtfulness. They don't go for the easy laugh or the obvious one, nor do they use false sentimentality or underhandedness to trick me into caring. When they do, I check out; I stop caring. I don't have room in my life for anything other than sincerity.

There is a line in Aaron Sorkin's ill-fated series "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" in which the head writer (Matt Albie, played by Matthew Perry) says to the female lead of the show-within-a-show (Harriet Hayes, played by Sarah Paulson) about why a joke didn't work in dress rehearsal when it did during the table reading.

Harriet: What did I do wrong?
Matt: You asked for the laugh.
Harriet: What did I do at the table read?
Matt: You asked for the butter.

I want my shows to ask for the butter, not ask for the laugh. And like Harriet, they're far more likely to get the laugh if they don't beg for it, but let it come.

When I find a show that works, I tend to devour it. I don’t always keep track of series when they’re on the air, but I will find a show years after it has started or even after it has completely ended. I discovered “Arrested Development” after it was finished and burned through the seasons on Hulu as fast as time would allow. There are similar stories for “Lost” and “House.” Even “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” crown jewels of geeky cult classics, were lost on me until after they were off the air.

I wish I could be the person who instinctively knows what is going to be worth watching. I can sometimes get lucky, like I did with “Life” and appear to be with “Community,” but those times are rare. I am unable to support a show while it is on the air because I don’t know it’s worth watching until it’s already been well established. “The Office” or “30 Rock” are perfect examples of this.

I can’t afford to spend all of my time looking for the cream of the crop, I just have to hope it rises in time for me to enjoy it. If you’ve found the cream, let people know about it. Talk about television; what you saw last night, what you’re looking forward to, what you hate. Nearly everyone can relate to television, and you can discuss it with anyone from snobs like me to people watching the most base of reality shows. If they can’t, you probably don’t want to be talking to them anyway.

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