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!”
Instead of watching the Charlie Sheen Roast, I watched the first half of the Two and a Half Men season premiere. If you knew me, this might strike you as odd. First of all, I was an unabashed fan of 2.5 (as no one has ever called it), and resolved not to watch the tiger dung left after it’s star’s absence. Second, I was an unflinching supporter of Charlie’s descent into mania. Not my choice, but wasn’t that the point? Besides, feeding the beast that craves the spotlight with more attention is a classic example of Perry Como Syndrome (ie, if you want to stop monsters, just don’t look). However, if you knew me, you also might think my nonviewing was logical, since I don’t have cable and network TV is crap on Monday night.
At the same time as the 2.5 premiere, Fox was airing the Primetime Emmys. I happened to catch Charlie sheepishly apologize to the cast, crew, and producer of his former show and wish them luck. I knew that soon, Charlie would be dead. Charlie probably knew he was going to die soon. And as the characters lamented the loss of Charlie Harper, to the tune of a train splattering, I knew the hackneyed charm of the jokes wouldn’t survive the death of the lead character.
Part of the allure of a roast is making stars more accessible, down to Earth. There is an exquisite moment in the best roasts when the honoree’s face betrays their shrinking ego: am I really that much of a slut (Pamela Anderson) or a public joke (Donald Trump, Donald Trump’s hair [which deserved its own roast])? But, how low did you want to push Charlie, who had already displayed so much depravity yet claimed such control?
Jeffrey Roast, the roastmaster, declared the roast a success because while at a viewing party, Charlie displayed a moment of clarity. You know unlike any other addict in history, or Charlie himself many times over his career. If Charlie is really clean, then mazel tov to him and good luck to him and his family. He will have to admit that he didn’t do it on his own terms, though, because what happened to Charlie wasn’t a roast; it was an intervention. Being emotionally pummeled from all sides by upstart comedians at the end of a disasterous live tour circuit might have pushed him back on the wagon. But Pam didn’t get a breast reduction, and the Donald announced he was running for president. Clearly, they learned nothing from their roasts.
If Jeff Ross inspired a socially approved turnaround for Charlie Sheen, then kudos to him and his intervention. But if Charlie just goes back to being Charlie, then all he did by roasting him was help glorify the beast. He’s kind of all-in on that turnout, but then again, he’s a comedian, so he’s probably not losing sleep.