Category Archives: TV as literature

Happy Belated Birthday, Lucille Ball

Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri speaks to journalists as he arrives at the Imam Khomini Airport in Tehran

On Lucy’s birthday the “Scary Lucy” statue of her in her hometown of Celeron, New York was finally replaced with one that actually looks like her.

Carolyn Palmer

In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo, artist Carolyn Palmer prepares to apply a cold patina to her bronze statue of Lucille Ball in Saddle River, N.J. The sculptor was chosen to create a replacement statue for one dubbed “Scary Lucy,” in the late actress Ball’s hometown. The much-maligned statue of Ball will be replaced after it drew worldwide attention as “Scary Lucy,” according to the mayor of the western New York village where the 1950s sitcom actress and comedian grew up and her life-size bronze has stood since 2009. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

On Saturday, August 6th, Lucille Ball turned 105.  While it is true that she has also been dead since 1989, we never-the-less must acknowledge the fact that this comedienne and her singular body of work have been influencing life on Earth for over a century.  Perhaps we could even use more like her.

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She has been subtly guiding my own life since the days of black-and-white television and the genre-establishing sitcom, “I Love Lucy”, where she has been advocating for a woman’s right to work and have a career of her own by making us laugh at the situation over and over until it becomes a mirth-filled, easy-to-swallow fact-of-life.  She was the first female film producer to run her own production company, Desilu Productions.  She is the producer behind such television milestones as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible.  Being a child of the 60’s, raised by television almost as much as by my parents, she is a big part of who I am as a person.  To this day she still influences how I feel about things.  She is one of the primary reasons I can laugh at life’s troubles and, by laughing, overcome them.

So, I want to wish Lucy a happy 105th birthday.  And I find it amusing and ironic that “Scary Lucy”, the bronze golem of Celeron, New York, has finally been replaced on her birthday with a statue that pictures her more accurately.  We all need to see Lucy more accurately.  We all need to laugh more and love more and live better lives.  It was the “Golden Age” of television not because of the technology and the craft, but because of the essential goodness we can still get from it, that has stood the test of time for a century.

And I don’t think that I am merely looking at the whole thing through the colored lenses of my own affection for things in the past.  I think more modern and definitely younger people than I can benefit from getting to know Lucy too.  Lasting  105 years is a pretty big thing, even if you are dead when you do it.

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Filed under artists I admire, clowns, comedians, goofy thoughts, humor, review of television, sharing from YouTube, TV as literature, TV review

Binge-Watching Two

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Having successfully binged on the current first season of the television series Quantico, I was determined to try something different on the second try.  I turned to the HBO series Band of Brothers.  Now, I admit, being a war buff of the worst kind in every way, I have seen the entire thing before when it was broadcast on TBS back in 2003.  The thing is, I did not have all the tools at that time necessary to fully appreciate and understand the dramatic arc of the story.  I found it practically impossible to keep up with all the many characters who come and go so quickly.  Some are introduced for the first time in the same episode in which they are killed.  Some are wounded, leave for an episode or two… or four, and then return as if we are supposed to remember them in their entirety.  So the secret magical spell I employed this time around for better and more intimate understanding is…  I read the damn book.

Yes, the uncritical critic took on Stephen Ambrose’s masterpiece, Band of Brothers.

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Having read the book, I now had all the background information I needed on each of the characters.  I could begin to match names and faces from the cast list of each episode with the real people I read about in the book, and the real people who matched those characters in the movie from the brief interview segments at the start of several episodes.  I began to understand why so much of the film was devoted to the stories of Major Dick Winters, C. Carwood Lipton, and Sergeant Don Malarky… these being men who led Easy Company of the 101st Airborne through the most terrible parts of the war and lived to tell the stories that got made into the book and then the series.  I really began to appreciate the heroics of people like Sergeant “Wild Bill” Guarnere who found out his brother had died in combat in Italy the night before the big D-Day parachute jump, and ended up losing his leg in the Battle of the Bulge, at the defensive stand in Bastogne.  I learned more about the key leadership role of Bull Randleman who was separated from Easy Company in Einhoven and spent a night hiding from the German troops during the failed Operation Market Garden.  I felt the deep hurt felt by people like Eugene “Doc” Roe the combat medic as he tried and repeatedly failed to treat horrible war wounds.  They are not just characters in a war movie any more.  I feel like I know them as people.

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Things about war and good war movies leave me in tears constantly.  They grind up my soul and leave me sick at heart that people could be guilty of such things.  I almost had to look away at times during the concentration camp episode.

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Winters quietly orders his soldiers to open the prison gates

But ultimately it feels like a series like this is good for the soul.  You can’t truly know how good and heroic people can actually be until you see how they live through and conquer these terrible experiences.  And it is good to see an excellent book brought faithfully to life like this.  It helps me lie to myself that writers can have a worthy effect upon life, the universe, and everything.

 

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Filed under movie review, TV as literature, TV review

Binge-Watching

Being confined to home and bed by illness and my car getting in an accident without me in it, I didn’t have many other choices this weekend than to try binge-watching a TV show.  I had been meaning to check out the ABC show Quantico since I first saw ads for it this last summer.  But I didn’t get around to it until now.  So, I watched eleven episodes this weekend and am now basically caught up to the present.   And also, basically, hooked for life.

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I started this, of course, by telling myself that if the show was no good, I would know that after the first episode, and I wouldn’t have to continue.  But I had already learned the hard way that the uncritical critic in me can get caught up in really bad TV shows and learn to enjoy them.  My son in the Marines gifted me with a subscription to Netflix on the promise that I would watch the show he was addicted to on Netflix called Supernatural.

Honestly, I had to suffer through four or five episodes of monster-of-the-week with that show before I got seriously hooked.  It was a klunky-dumb show with a macho-dumb-guy main character, until it began weaving stories together into a main story arc and then dipping into the well of self-referential humor.  You could see them getting better and better with each episode, and by now I have watched ten seasons worth of episodes… and the thing is somehow still running.  I have to write a future post about that show too.

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But this post is about a show that I actually watched eleven episodes of in two day’s time.  Quantico is an FBI mystery series where they are running two parallel plots at the same time, the training of the main characters before the big attack, and the manhunt for the main character played by beautiful Priyanka Chopra after the big attack.  It is a fascinating exercise in story-telling where no character on the screen is one hundred percent guilt-free, and the story seems to focus on a different perpetrator each episode.  After eleven episodes and the deaths of two characters, I still don’t know who is guilty.  At one point I even thought the main character herself was guilty and pulling the wool over our eyes the whole time.  It has the pull and intensity of a really good Sherlock Holmes’ story with twists and turns and double-backs galore.  I may have to re-watch all eleven episodes to get it straight.

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And it just keeps me going with a need to know more about each and every one of these intricate and well-developed characters.  I am astonished that a plot-driven entertainment like this is capable of developing different over-all themes in each of the episodes.  And I am thoroughly impressed by the level of intelligent creativity exhibited by program creators on a consistent basis.  It is almost too smart to be popular with the viewing public.  It is the same thing my son encountered with the Supernatural TV show.  There isn’t anywhere to turn to find people who have watched it and understood it well enough to discuss it with me.  Most of the people I know don’t want to actually discuss themes and ideas from TV shows with me anyway… but especially not brain-intensive shows.

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So feel free to tell me in the comments how awful you think the show is and why I am so terribly terminally wrong about it.  Or not.  I am an uncritical TV critic and you can’t spoil something like this for me no matter how many syllables are in the bad words you use.

 

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Filed under humor, TV as literature, TV review

Television Can Be Literature

How stupid is it that a former school teacher can write a nutsy title like that?  If that were true, why don’t English classes just show movies all the time?  Why read?  Honestly, teachers do worse things to students every day.  Well-made film for the theater or television is literature, and it is relevant to study it.  When you are teaching kids to read, the ones who already read and devour books on their own are not your target audience.  The vast majority who hate reading need to be pulled into the miracle of being enfolded into a good a story, made to discuss and analyze why they liked it, made to determine what their own personal standards of good are, and taught how to find that for themselves, in the theater, on TV, and yes, even in books.  So, why does an idiot former school teacher think about stupid stuff like this?  Well, my brain has been permanently wired for that kind of thinking.  And now that I am retired and have time for stuff like Netflix, I am discovering just that sort of monumental epic literature that I have always sought in television shows, of all places!

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I just finished watching the final episode of The West Wing on Netflix.  I was completely absorbed by this seven-season show for the entire summer.  And now I have finished it.  And this essay is the first symptom of withdrawal that is going to hit like the black plague.  I am not going to do a review of it.  Others have done better at it than I ever could.  Here is a bit or evidence for that at this link; Contemplating Media on WordPress  or this one; Arts.Mic

I am telling you why this show is indispensable literature and powerful, functional art.   It is because it just IS!  The writing on this show by Aaron Sorkin is seven seasons’ worth of vibrant, lively, in-depth, and funny stories that keep you tuning in at a higher level of gravity than any mere soap opera.  You learn to love or hate the many characters you get to know so well, and you have to find out what happens to each of them in each and every episode.

I most identified with the character of Joshua Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford.  I once was a young and idealistic man who believed that my passion for ideas could change the world and make it better.  I too fell to the hammer blows of cruel reality.  When Josh was shot as collateral damage in a presidential assassination attempt, it brought me back to the dark years of teaching when I almost quit after having my life threatened and my tires slashed by students.  I was in his skin too when it came time to put myself back together and make myself whole enough again to continue doing my job.  Good literature is like that.  It holds up a mirror in front of our shocked little faces and shows us exactly who we are and what we have to do about it.  Here is the scene that made the waterworks flow the hardest, after Josh has seen a psychologist to help him overcome his PTSD;

For seven seasons this TV show maintained a high level of powerful storytelling and life-changing meaning.  I can’t begin to tell you how well this has helped me understand politics and good people.  There is no other kind of literature that can do what a series like this can do.  And this is not the only one.  I can name any number of other series I felt the same way about over the years and had to find some way to watch every episode I could; there was Alex Haley’s Roots, Shogun and Centennial (both epic mini-series), Lonesome Dove, Ken Burns’ The Civil War, Ken Burns’ Baseball, Hill Street Blues, Mork and Mindy, Cosmos (both the Carl Sagan original and the new Neil DeGrasse Tyson versions), and, of course, Dr. Who in all his incarnations.  In some ways television series like these have given me more and done more to make me the man I am, than any single teacher or parent or grandparent I ever had.  It doesn’t replace any of those essential people, but, boy! does it ever supplement!

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Filed under humor, review of television, TV as literature