Sunday, April 6, 2014

It's All About the TV

The golden age of television continues to wail. If you're not spending a decent amount of your leisure time watching television, you're missing out on some of the most thoughtful and creative work being accomplished in our era. I'm a big film fan, but hardly ever go out to the movies anymore; the best stuff's on the tube (which is why many of my favorite actors and directors are also flocking to the medium).

As I wrote back in 2012 (and things have only gotten better since):
"Television has been so transformed that those trapped in outdated prejudices have been caught out. In every era, there's a realm where creative talent happens to cluster. In the 50's, it was jazz; in the early 70's, it was filmmaking; and in the 90's, it was restaurants. Right now, the zeitgeist is in television. Truly great work is being done; hearts poured out and brilliance expressed while the creative bar raises higher and higher. And if you don't dive into a zeitgeist, you may has well be dead. I'd certainly have spent the 1950's in smokey nightclubs and the 70's in movie houses (if I were alive in the 10's, I'd have been sipping absinthe and arguing philosophy in European cafes). And lord knows I put in my restaurant time in the 90's."
Sadly, people are declining to watch Hannibal (on NBC, though it's as good as anything on HBO) because they don't like scary stuff and/or are tired of the movie franchise. That's a pity. This reinvention renders the Anthony Hopkins canon completely laughable. And it's not scary, per se, nor is it particularly violent. This isn't genre at all. It's just a superb, classic psychological study utterly unlike anything you've ever seen. Everyone I know who's been watching is absolutely spellbound - not by the suspense (there is none; everyone knows Hannibal gets caught in the end), but by the swooning beauty of the imagery and skill of the acting, especially by Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, and Mads Mikkelsen (as a stunningly subtle and believable Hannibal Lechter).

And The Americans, about deep-covered KGB agents posing as a normal 1980's American family (on FX), is midway through a second season which is somehow managing to far exceed its tremendous first season (which I wrote about here).

About to start new seasons, and absolutely un-missable: Veep, a scathingly hilarious and acid political satire with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (4/6 on HBO), Orphan Black, featuring Tatiana Maslany somehow managing to portray a dozen or so impeccably characterized and differentiated clones (4/19 on BBC America), Game of Thrones, a richly sumptuous work that's more cinematic than cinema (4/6 on HBO), and Orange is the New Black, the sharply-written and produced woman's prison dramedy (6/6 on Netflix).

If you skip Game of Thrones because you don't like fantasy, or Orphan Black because you don't like sci-fi, or Hannibal because you don't like horror, you need to understand that these shows transcend genre. Don't watch them because you like "that sort of thing". Watch because they're serious artistic accomplishments.

More TV tips (plus links to previous TV writings)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Screenwriting guru Robert McKee (brilliantly played by the first Hannibal Lector, Brian Cox in ADAPTATION) has maintained that for over twenty years Television as theatrical medium has surpassed Film and Theatre in the quality of its output.

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