Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sometimes, I think I'm bigger than the sound

A few random thoughts on an oddly rainy (for SoCal, at least) Tuesday evening.

--I know the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, Show Your Bones, has gotten some mixed reviews, but I really like it. I'm not a big music critic (I mostly pick out songs I can write or work to), but track six, "Cheated Hearts," has got to be one of the all-time great do-something-at-work-you'd-really-rather-not-do songs. I listened to it six or seven times in a row today!

--What is it about rainy days that makes the tumblers click into place in my mind? I changed up a few things in the publication I work on at work, and it seemed to work better. PLUS, I got a lot done on my current writing project mentally. Go, precipitation!

--Remember when we were talking about Christians on TV back in January? Me too. Honestly, who would have expected HBO to become Big Faith Central with its dramas? Now, admittedly, every drama HBO has done has had a religious streak in it (Deadwood, for instance, uses the famous passage from the Bible on how all church members are parts of a larger human body to exemplify the show's larger themes of community), but the new season of The Sopranos and the first season of Big Love have both pushed this to new places.

The Sopranos is looking at issues of redemption, salvation and the afterlife (Tony, a lip-service Catholic, ended up in something that closely resembled Purgatory while in a coma). And Big Love is all about a guy who's so devout that he doesn't swear and has visions. Admittedly, he's a polygamist, but his faith is a big part of his life and is played unironically. As with most things on television, HBO is at the forefront of a new movement that should bring faith back to primetime. I'm anxious to see how David Milch and David Simon work faith into Deadwood and The Wire, respectively.

"Salvation and evolution are mutually exclusive," says a fundamentalist pastor to Tony in last week's episode. That's obviously hinting at something to come, and I'm anxious to find out what that is too.

--In keeping with faith-based issues, has any television show ever examined abortion better than Everwood has? I'm sure you're all going to point out multiple shows that did now, but I've been thinking about it for a week or so now, and I think Everwood has handled it remarkably well. Abortions on TV are rare, but they tend to fall into three camps: 1.) Abortion as necessary evil; 2.) Abortion as trial that woman had to endure in her past and overcome; 3.) Abortion as progressive liberal triumph (this is often paired with number 1, though the two don't fit together as well as producers would like to think they do). To give you a brief rundown of which is which, Six Feet Under used #1, The O.C. used #2, and Maude used #3 (7th Heaven took a pro-life stance, as I recall, but pro-life episodes are pretty rare). An abortion episode is usually accompanied with an earnest debate between the character who's going to have an abortion and a character who is pro-life. Every effort is made not to demonize the pro-lifer, but the person who's going to have an abortion usually goes ahead and has it anyway. They either suffer no ill effects (#3) or spiral into depression (#2).

All in all, a pretty simplistic view of the issue.

Everwood, as it does with every issue, remains fairly nonjudgmental. It understands, as few shows (or activists do) that the issue is one where both sides have an element of ethical nuance to their argument. It's also not afraid to have people discuss the issue civilly. A girl (played by the wonderful Kate Mara, who really needs her own series) had an abortion in season one, but the ramifications from that event are being felt in THIS fourth season. And Mara hasn't even had to come back and guest star.

Everwood is so astute about the issue that it manages to have a pro-life doctor who performed abortions out of what he felt was an obligation to his father. It manages to turn a political conflict into an inwardly emotional one, THEN layer an extra level of family angst on top. From one issue, Everwood manages to spur FOUR different plotlines for ONE character. And that's not to mention all of the OTHER characters who have their own opinions and ideas on the issue.

In short, Everwood should not be canceled.

--No high school show has ever gotten BETTER when the characters moved on to college. I love Buffy season 4 a lot a lot, but the show never really got its groove back until Buffy left college and it stopped being a permanent setting. High school is a pretty universal experience, and it's safe to say that most everyone thought it was pretty hellish. College, however, unfortunately, is NOT a universal experience, and most everyone who attends has a pretty good time (those that don't usually leave). High school is about trying to HIDE your true self. College is about rediscovering that true self. For purposes of a television series, high school is much, MUCH more dramatically interesting.

That said, Veronica Mars could honestly be the first television show to become BETTER when it moves to college. Rob Thomas and his writers have just about exhausted the sorts of high school mysteries that Veronica could credibly solve, and it's clear her talent would be better suited to the bigger issues that college would provide.

Now, I've loved the byzantine, interconnected mysteries in season two, but they haven't really tied in to the high school setting like the Lilly Kane mystery did in season one. But I think it's safe to say that Thomas' taste for secret societies, cliques and such could be sated even MORE in a college setting. Plus, since college is about discovery, Veronica's college career could be about discovering the secrets people are trying to keep buried, which would tie in on a metaphorical level (something the bus crash mystery has failed to do).

In short, Veronica Mars should not be canceled.

--I assume you've all seen this article about how TV shows keep couples apart longer and longer. I've always thought an interesting show could be made about two people trying to turn into one couple and the struggles and challenges inherent in that. But everyone probably disagrees with me. Anyway, I think the article's author is on to something when she points out that the will they/won't they relationship has a lot in common with Victorian romances. After all, the heroes and heroines got together in the last few pages of those novels all of the time too.

--Is there a better book for describing the Midwest than Marilynne Robinson's Gilead? MAYBE the moving, closing passages of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. But it's a credit to Robinson that it's damn close.

--Speaking of those two books, the final sentences of both have been justly praised (read the books; I'm not going to tell you), but to my money, the sentences BEFORE the final sentences are much more resonant.

--24 is maybe the politically canniest show on television right now. Last season, it showed the ultimate conservative nightmare (give the terrorists an inch and they'll take a mile! puny liberals are going to keep us from fighting terror!). This season, as the political tides have shifted, it's showing us the ultimate LIBERAL nightmare (the president's ties are too close to the terrorists'. . .literally! a militaristic vice president who's too quick to fall back on martial law!). Granted, in both scenarios, the nightmare is taken to an absurd extreme (only the very fringes of the right and left believe that torture is necessary and the president is in bed with the terrorists, respectively), but absurd extremes make for good drama.

The latest twist (the president is behind the latest terrorist threat) doesn't make a lot of sense with Gregory Itzin's prior portrayal of the president as a doddering buffoon (again, liberal real-world parallels) unless the president is a better actor than Itzin (and Itzin's a pretty fine actor). But I'm not sure that making sense is the point at all. The twist gets at a deeper fear many Americans have that their own government would turn against them (a fear we have in general, not a specific one like the loonies described above), so it works on an emotional level, even if it doesn't quite work on a logical one.

And what ties it all together is the character of Jack Bauer, who is the ultra-American we all think we are. In reality, we're probably closer to one of the show's other characters, but Jack just wants to do the right thing. He wants to fight evil, corrupt White Houses, snivelling liberal lawyers and nuclear weapons be damned.

As long as Jack is trying to do the right thing, I think people of ALL political persuasions are happy to watch his adventures.

--I'm not one for celebrity gossip. I don't like One Tree Hill at all. And I have very little love for Chad Michael Murray either (though he was fun on Gilmore Girls). That said, does this guy just get married FOR FUN?

--Speaking as someone who's always been fascinated by linguistics, I'm impressed with the way in which "Internets" has become acceptable online shorthand for the Internet itself. A mostly amusing malapropism by the president during the 2004 debates has spread all over the blogosphere (and onto message boards, into chat rooms, etc.). And it's not a political statement anymore (most of the time, when you quote one of Bush's malapropisms, it's standing in a shorthand for your opinion of his intelligence level). People on the right and left use it, mostly, I think, because it filled a need we didn't know we had (most new terms do that). We needed a way to snarkily refer to the Internet community itself, to indicate that it tends to take itself too seriously, even though the power it actually wields is somewhat minimal. Hence, Internets.

--I'm going on vacation at the end of the week to see some REAL South Dakota Dark. Shockingly, through modern feats of engineering, they have the Internets (see? there I go) in the Middle-West now, so I should be able to post some things while I'm there.

And post 100 is coming up. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

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