Archive for ted danson

Selling TV to Americans

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Internet TV, Reviews, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2013 by Tom Steward

My unofficial job title for the last couple of months has been PR Officer for American TV. Recently I’ve been introducing G to a number of my favourite US TV shows using the vast-if routinely inaccessible-archive of programming on Netflix and HuluPlus as well as my DVD collection, which lies within a handful of colossal CD carry cases in an object-fetishist’s version of efficient storage. Some programmes sold themselves. It didn’t take long for G to figure out that Northern Exposure was an engaging, endearing and intelligently written piece of television and not the geriatric-baiting fodder she suspected. Despite its nausea-inducing camerawork, the viscerality, complexity and wit of The Shield also won G over instantly. But there was always a fly in the ointment, and in every application. G took issue with the titles of both shows, Northern Exposure for its meandering moose and The Shield for its kid-friendly jingle. I tried to explain that these were some of the most iconic and beloved aspects of these shows but it fell on deaf ears and blind eyes. Much as I love them, I can see why G thinks these gimmick-driven, one-dimensional titles might be doing a disservice to the shows.

‘Stupid moose’-G

But sometimes G’s sales resistance is difficult to break down. Her response to the Pilot of Breaking Bad was ‘That’s it?’. I wanted to argue with her but it did seem slight in comparison to later episodes and I didn’t think my observation that it was a ‘postmodern version of MacGyver would make it seem any more profound. Twin Peaks was apparently ‘all dialogue’, which is a new one for Lynch critiques, and only became visually stimulating when the donuts came out.  In these instances, I did what every good salesperson should and tried to associate the product with something the customer knows and likes. ‘It’s like Northern Exposure…but with murders’ I said of Twin Peaks. ‘It’s Malcolm in the Middle on meth’, I said of Breaking Bad. ‘You watch Malcolm in the Middle? What are you, 10?’ G responded. I guess my cold reading skills aren’t as good as I thought. Or maybe the prospect of Bryan Cranston in underpants isn’t as alluring to the rest of the world as it is to me.

Just me, then…

On other occasions I became a victim of my own salesmanship. I’ve managed to hook G on a hoard of arresting novelty shows that I’m fast losing interest in. This means I’m watching their tiresomely protracted runs again as exactly the point when I’ve given up on them. 24 and Damages are the chief culprits here, both of them wildly overlong elaborations on an initially brilliant premise. I didn’t think I could lose much more respect for 24 than had already gone but sitting through those final few seasons again with their automated scenarios and tedious twistiness I think it went subterranean. Worse, as the gruesome compulsion to clear all the episodes in as little time as possible accelerated, the show became like wallpaper in our house, an ever-present wall-adornment barely noticeable to our jaded eyes. G is still at the point in Damages where the promise of finding out what will happen in the ongoing story arc is yet to be beaten down by the knowledge of what does happen. But I can see this fading fast. G’s already worked out that they’re only keeping a serial story strand so as not to lose Ted Danson from the series.

A reason for sticking with Damages.

Although G came to Mad Men much later than me, thus allowing me to cherry-pick the most tolerable episodes from the dreary first few seasons, we’ve both turned sour on the series at about the same time. Actually, G got there first before I was willing to admit that the party was over. Midway through the most recent season, the sixth overall, I remember her asking ‘Where’s the advertising gone?’, which should have been enough of an alarm bell given that it’s the equivalent to Cheers forgetting to feature beer. For me, though, it was the sexual reunion of one of the series’ estranged couples that signalled the end of quality. Breaking a rule of good television established in Northern Exposure, it haphazardly thrust (in every sense of the word!) two characters together whose entire function was to carry the suggestion of romantic involvement without ever reaching that point. G turned to me the other day and said ‘I miss British TV’. I think it might be time to start offering a new product line.

 

If you like these blog posts why not follow my new twitter account @tvinaword where I create new words to describe TV shows. Send your own and if I like them I’ll retweet them!

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Murder 1 24:7 Damages

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, BiogTV, Reviews, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2013 by Tom Steward

G: Is he dirty?

 

T: You’re not supposed to know either way yet.

 

G: Is she dirty?

 

T: You find out later.

 

G: Oh…Is he dirty?

 

T: They want you to think that now but he might not be.

 

G: So she’s dirty?

 

T: Yes!

 

G: I knew it.

 

 

And so it goes, the Abbott and Costello routine that accompanies G and I’s 24 marathon, a programme predicated on not knowing if the characters are traitors. Having seen these episodes many times over I know full well that without the promise of these mysteries being solved there’s absolutely no reason to stay through to the end of each season. G needs something to hang on to in order to get through the shark-jumping contest the series bi-annually stages. Without the mirage of end-of-season plot twists, there’s no way she’ll make it through Season 1’s amnesia storyline, by which I mean the storyline written by people who have forgotten the last 20 years of TV drama. There’s even less chance of her surviving Season 2’s surprise wild animal attack, or indeed any of the disproportionately perilous adventures a certain blonde teenager experiences in a post-nothing-actually-happening Los Angeles.

Happy Day!

These frustrations were the price we’d have to pay. We needed story stimulus and audio-visual distraction to prop up our day-long sessions of Uno which, thanks to my filibustering strategy of hoarding +4 wild cards, usually consist of 1 or 2 games. With our playing reserve  extended to two packs (misguidedly introduced to reduced game time!), our short-term recall seemingly non-existent, and our below Jenga-code surfaces, we had played enough Uno to whip through the first season of legal soap Murder One in less than two days. This is a series with a reputation for quick conversion, a mere 2 or 3 episodes into the run enough for discipledom. But I’ve never seen anyone so utterly brainwashed by a programme as G was by this show. The initial 45 minutes of endless exposition and prevarication which for most people is simply the salesman lowering your resistance until you let him into your home was for G the Jehovah’s Witness being invited to stay for dinner. I’m sure this had something to do with it being the perfect sideways-glance television. If anything important is about to happen, the French-door clattering and microphoned drone bee sound effects will let you know in advance. Plus, the screen will turn a different colour.

Luther and Associates

Like any TV hand-me-down, the joy is always the first-time viewer’s observations that have never crossed your mind. I’d never thought to ask what Teddy Hoffman, played by Lex Luther-in-waiting Daniel Benzali, was always looking at out of the blinds of his office windows (our consensus was squirrel) or why the county court had employed a harpsichordist rather than a stenographer. It’s also good to come at a show without your blinkers of pure reverence. Thanks to G’s unfazed eyes, I could see how our continuing fascination with the ambiguous motives and behaviour of businessman Richard Cross is not simply down to the fine character work of trans-generationally-underrated actor Stanley Tucci but also the script refusing to show us anything of his world beyond his mini-operetta performances in Hoffman’s office. I have an unflinching admiration for Benzali’s performance which may well be tinged with sadness at his subsequent lack of fame and being replaced as the series lead by Daphne’s brother from Frasier. This precluded me from seeing-as G did-the actor’s delusion that he was in a Mario Puzo mini-series and that in the scenes with his young daughter, his interpretation of paternal warmth is genuinely disturbing to watch. In fact, if you turned down the sound on the TV in those scenes and had to write one word on a post-it note to stick on his face, chances are it would be ‘paedo’.jko

Danson in the Dock

Just as soon as we’d cleared Murder One we were into the dregs of 24 Season 1. Do we dare plumb the depths of Murder Two, the hard-to-believe-it-exists second season based on the assumptions that what was holding the series back was its beloved lead actor and breakthrough storytelling and that everyone wanted more of the nervy Jewish guy who prepares writs? Was it too soon to plough through 48, the unnecessary-but-surprisingly-competent sequel which at least keeps the super-violent interrogations to an alternate-episode minimum, and thereby sacrifice the last morally justifiable season of this literally tortuous programme? Lest our faith in the foresight of TV writers is Lost we couldn’t let our lasting impression be these failures in planning for a sustainable future. Something had to fill the gap. G was adamant it had to be another one-season wonder with a continuing storyline that wrapped things up in a neat little package…give or take a couple of loose ribbons.

 

 

G: I’m gonna find out what happens this season, right?

 

T: Yeah, it all gets resolved. A couple of threads are left hanging, but nothing important.

 

G: Good, I don’t want to do all this work for nothing.

 

 

I petitioned for Damages. I’d always thought this off-courtroom legal drama should have been kept as a mini-series and this was confirmed in subsequent seasons where the writers can’t think of a good reason to bring Ted Danson back into the show. It seemed perfect for our casino cabaret purposes. Despite Glenn Close’s Cruella de Overkill performance which grates almost immediately, there’s enough intrigue in the sub-plots involving the TV movie Tom Cruise Peter Facinelli and quality TV’s J T Walsh Zeljko Ivanek to make a two-deck shuffle go a little faster. It was also a welcome reminder of the unique screen presence of the silver horse that is Ted Danson. His series-stealing turn as morally suspect millionaire Arthur Frobisher veers beautifully between the effortlessly comic and the unnervingly understated with a douse of inimitable idiosyncrasy. And so it went as quickly as it came. And so did G, with 24 Season 2 as inappropriate in-flight viewing. Everything else was just too damn consistent!

 

 

 

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