As the television landscape stands today, there is little time between traditional seasons with original programming . Since the inception of the summer schedule and the mish-mash of structured scheduling ushered in by cable networks (premium and basic) such as AMC, FX, and the quality/quantity juggernaut that is the Home Box Office (HBO), there really is no downtime in a casual television watcher’s yearly schedule.
The British, on the other hand have a system that for the most part follows as such: Schedule a show on a limited run and then release a Christmas Special at the end of the year. This is a practice that American programmers could take note of and follow accordingly. Nonetheless, our common language brethren from across the pond have given us some wonderful television that not only satisfies their (higher) taste, but in turn, our own.
Since 2001, when American television critics really started to take notice with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s office dramedy cleverly entitled, The Office, British television has been on the radar of everyone that has a passion for the medium. Some shows get more praise than they are worth (Life Is Short) and others not as much as they deserve (Spaced). But overall, I’m glad that we are taking notice of a country that gave us classics such as Flying Circus and Faulty Towers.
Last year, the BBC, paired with the always-solid Masterpiece Theater, produced a cinematic, upstairs/downstairs series entitled Downton Abbey. It was the British counterpart to the Mad Men’s and Boardwalk Empires‘s of American television. Downton is a beautiful, high-production quality, lush period piece with an incredible cast that depicts everyday life for a range of different social classes. Initially, the series started out incredibly strong, almost making this cold heart of stone tear up in its opening hour. However, since then, it has taken an incredibly melodramatic turn.
Showrunner Julian Fellows quickly squandered the captivating story of downstairs footman Mr. Bates, whose challenging status as “the new guy with a disability” that made me do a “who the fuck is this incredible actor imdb.com search” within the first twenty minutes of hour one, and his transformation to an ongoing “really, another fucking scene with Bates and that slag tooth boring fucking whore that he is in love with…can I blow my fucking brains out now?”, was the show’s heart in its initial run. I could watch Bates for an hour holding the throat of secondary footman Thomas while simultaneously finger fucking a random housemaid (Don Draper style) for hours. Why does a love story have to be at the forefront of every conflict of this show?
The show really jumped the proverbial shark in series two when they did what I thought they should never do: marry off an uppy (upstairs person) with a downy (the “help” for Christ’s sake). No goddamn restraint people. Let me say what we all think as consumers of “low art.” Drama can be really boring at times. Especially manufactured drama. There is no reason to combine the two worlds. Watching a show with a somewhat realistic view of life in the 1910’s was a breath of fresh air at first. Somewhere along the line the writers lost touch with what we really loved about the program. They had to create tension where there was no need for it. There is no reason to show every aspect of British life within in a six-hour block of television that is focused on a very specific part of society in a very specific time period. I don’t need for a writer to inform me that yes, people do, in fact, have miscarriages and suffer gunshots that paralyze them then miraculously walk six months later, die from the Spanish Flu, get put on trial for murder, get fingers shot off, have affairs with Turkish princes that die mysteriously in guest rooms, and other incredibly stupid shit that will inevitably happen during series three.
Will I watch that? Yes. Am I anxious for that time to come some time next year? Not really. I will encounter the new episodes of the drama that draw the life and times of the inhabitants of Downton as I do a new episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives: with a “huh” rather than a “Hey!”
Earlier this year I opened an account with the online journaling site Penzu. Very cool site, although you really kind of need the paid subscription to access some of the neat features. The one thing I really like–and that is included in the free version–is the daily writing prompts. You can have them emailed to you daily (your choice of morning, noon, or evening). The title of this post is the prompt I received today. And while I’ve totally failed to write in this journal daily as I had planned (a failure so epic that this is the first time I’m even writing “about” one of these prompts even though they’ve been delivered to my Gmail every day for the last FIVE months), this one stood out to me in a way that none of the Woody Allen, Winston Churchill and Groucho Marx quotes that preceded today’s ever did. Why?
This is a question that I ask myself daily and, on good days, try to answer because, basically, I have no money and nothing I “have” to do. I finished my M.A. in English at the end of April and then moved from Missouri to Massachusetts to share an apartment with my girlfriend. I was able to land a part-time job tutoring a few weeks before making the move. Since my plan was to take the year to apply for PhD programs rather than try to get an entry-level job and start a career, I thought I was all set for a laid-back year of deep thinking and writing in the Liberal-Paradise City-Hippie Haven-Intellectual Hub that was “Noho.”
No go. No students means no tutoring, no tutoring means no $, no $ means–what?
After a 1.5-month stint in retail, selling used DVDs and CDs and lots of gimmicky do-dads that were the epitome of (in-)discretionary spending, making an hourly wage disconcertingly close to what I got paid for basically the same job at 16, I had less of a life and more of a credit card bill. Once I broke even, I broke out.
Now I have no money, what will I do?
The primary and ongoing task is to find creative and productive ways to answer the question. Which begs some more questions: How many answers are there? Is there a “right” one? Is this even a question worth answering? How deep does this Zizekian hole go?
So after throwing all of this at you at once, I’m going to cop out and just let it all sit for a while, then try to tackle it one piece at a time.
Does that answer your question?
For the past several years, since I first started using RSS in general and Google Reader in particular, I’ve had the continually awesome experience of reading just insane amounts of information online. Everything is “Oh, I want to learn about that!” Click. Subscribe. Read. Then be ridiculously over-proud of myself for now knowing whatever the hell it is I just learned, but only ever just letting it basically rot in the back of my dome.
But for all my criticisms, both constructive and not, I never actually write anything about it. I just complain. Constantly. So I’m really as bad as the non-contributing, sarcastic ironists that I’m griping about being non-contributing, sarcastic and ironic.
So for every X number of articles/posts that I read on reddit or Google Reader, I will write an article/post/comment myself. What is a good number for X in this equation? I’m not sure yet, so please offer your suggestions in the comments. Is the process of reading-feeding back a 1:1 relationship? 2:1? 5:1? Is it totally subjective and unquantifiable thus letting me off the hook before I even get underway?
In the wake of V.S. Naipaul’s sullying of Jane Austen’s virtue, the Guardian has “The Naipaul Test,” to see how lay readers compare to the Indian novelist in their ability to tell the sex of an author just from their text.
I was 6 for 10. “Sloppy thinking. You clearly need to read more books by men.”
Photo taken on I-29 South in Missouri, between St. Joseph and Kansas City.
Infinite Jest is the only one I’ve read myself. Thankfully, I only ever had to read excerpts from Clarissa.