Friday, December 30, 2011

An Open Letter to Ron Swanson

Dear Ron Swanson,

First of all, thank you for not openly rooting against me. I've seen the treatment many of your least favorite people have gotten, and I know that I am fortunate enough to be on your good side. Or at least not on your bad side.

Next to my wife, I enjoy my time with you every week more than anyone, from your wacky yet manly quotes. You have truly inspired me to be a crankier person, because you have the same outlook on life every day: people are annoying. If they are not there to help you, then they should not be there at all, and to me, this is a profound way to live.

Every one of your quotes could be on a t-shirt, and I would want to wear one of those shirts every day of my life. A different one every day. It would have the quote on the front, and then the back would be your mustached face.

And let's talk about that mustache. Not since Magnum PI has a mustache fit a person so well. It's almost like its own character. But that would take away from the character of Ron Swanson itself.

It's a crime that you have never won on award, and it's a travesty that you have never even been nominated for an award. I feel like the only reason is because people fear that you will burn their crops and salt their fields should you not win. And this is just not something voters want to deal with.

But most importantly, Ron, I want to thank you for arming me with vague threats and frankness that I could use on my students. Now, there's a good chance that I probably shouldn't have told one Latin students that, and I quote, "had carved him a coffin from a tree that grew in his own front yard," yet I digress.

When in doubt, if people think I like them and they try to get to close, I do what you told me, Ron. I call them by the wrong name.

Gruffly,
Chris

Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Open Letter to Bill Henrickson

Dear Bill Henrickson,

Thank you for showing me a world of polygamy. At no point during the parading of your family did I think this was a good idea; to be fair, I didn't think it was a good idea before you showed me either. All I saw was a tough life full of anger, spite and jealousy. Also, you were gunned down in the middle of the street for your life choices. At least Tony Soprano was gunned down in a diner.

You could not manage your three wives and 5 children, and in fact, one of these children made out with one of your wives. That does not seem like a healthy relationship to me. But then again, I'm not a polygamist.

You lost your father and mother, your brother disappeared randomly, never to be heard from again, you lost your business (both of them) and you lost your best friend. Hey, but you became a senator, so that was fun.

Marriage is a sacred bond, Bill, and when you marry, you vow to give your entire self to your wife. How can you give your entire self 3 times? Isn't that three selves? Maybe my math is poor, but I don't see how three wholes equals one whole (with the exception of the Trinity, of course. Are you calling yourself God, Bill?). You must forsake one wife to lay with another, and everyone is ok with this? At what point do you realize that what you are doing is not the ideal, and that your children are going to end up crazy?

Moreover, you have now given me hope for Mitt Romney. If he is elected next year, I hope he is able to walk up to the podium and introduce his wife. Then introduce his other wife. Then introduce his third wife. And everyone stands in disbelief. But not me, because I have you, Bill Henrickson, who has prepared me for what is to come.

Kindest Regards,
Chris

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An Open Letter to Rosie Larson

Dear Rosie Larson,

I'm sorry that I don't know who killed you. I really tried to find out, I swear to you. But I followed your innocent teacher for 3 straight days, when it turned out he had nothing to do with the kidnapping or murder at all, and it was a pointless, and mostly boring chase. Then I took a day to follow the two detectives investigating your murder looking for one of their children. Turns out he was with his father, who was married to a Cylon in another show. Also, that same detective's new fiancee was also a Cylon. This lady sure has a thing for toasters.

But believe me, Rosie, I wanted more than anything to find out who killed you. I wanted to know because of your father, who took this harder than anyone I've ever seen. When you watch Law and Order, you never see the devastating effects on the family that a murdered child has; your father showed me his soul. And it was crushing.

I wanted to find out because it always rains in Seattle. And that makes it depressing. And that makes me depressed, mostly because, Rosie, all I wanted to do was know who killed you.

I had so many ideas. Was it Senator Charles Widmore? His daughter, the assistant to the top Mayoral candidate? The slow and dimwitted associate of the Larson Moving Company? The janitor in the high school sex dungeon? One of the two detectives? Leoben? The Trinity Killer? It has to be someone, right?

I fully expected to find out in 13 days, because that's how long these things take. But apparently the Powers that Be had other ideas, and it was not to be so. We were instead forced to watch narrative incohesion at its finest, where not even a Willing Suspension of Disbelief was enough to keep me from thinking this was one of the worst creative decisions in recent television memory. It was not enjoyable to watch the search for your killer, Rosie. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge there would be justice.

Now I'm hoping there will be justice done to Veena Sudd for wasting my time.

Livingly,
Chris

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

Why do a year end post? Well, mostly because everyone else is doing one, and I don't want to seem like an idiot because I didn't do one. But why should you listen to me? After all, you won't find any MTV shows on here, or reality shows, or anything else at the top of the Nielsen ratings.

But mostly this list makes me feel important. What kind of a TV blogger would I be if I didn't write this article? Where would I get my own personalized sense of importance, thinking that I could tell everyone what the best shows on tv are? And especially, where would I get the idea that you even care what I think?

This is the brilliance of Top Shows Lists: They are arbitrary. I could put whatever I want on here, and it doesn't matter. It's my list. I could put the Killing on here, but then I would lose all credibility, since it doesn't belong on anyone's list. Except for most infuriating show with no ending and a half-witted showrunner.

A couple of caveats, though. Not all of these shows are family friendly. I dot believe that only shows that are suitable for families are the only redeemable programs on the small screen, nor do I think that if a show contains sex, violence or language that it is unredeemable.

Second, I have not yet watched Homeland, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy or Justified, so when you ask why these weren't on the list, it's because I am not yet caught up. No other reason.

Also, these are just dramas, and I will say a little bit about comedies as well at the end.

So here we go.

1. Breaking Bad
This was a no brainer. With no Mad Men in 2011, Breaking Bad was the runaway favorite to win this award (despite what the Hollywood Foreign Press says with the Golden Globes), and Vince Gilligan continued his masterpiece. Season 4 saw Walter White continue his moral decline, and we saw Walter become one of the most unlikeable protagonists in television history. Even Tony Soprano acted with his family's best interests in mind on occasion. Walter, on the other hand, put his whole family in danger, wife, 2 children, brother-in-law and his kinda-son Jesse Pinkman of course. We saw Walter take down a Mexican cartel almost singlehandedly, we saw him make 1.6 million dollars, and saw Skyler lose it almost as quickly. There is no show on TV that is as brilliant in its writing, acting and directing than Breaking Bad.

2. Game of Thrones
How do you describe HBO's adaptation of George RR Martin's epic fantasy series? Let's let Adam Scott from an episode of Parks and Recreation handle that: It’s a crossover hit! They’re telling human stories in a fantasy world.“ Human stories like family strife, loyalty, betrayal, kingship, more betrayal. A fantasy world that included white walkers, dire wolves, and of course dragons. Game of Thrones might have been consistently the fastest 60 minutes on tv each week, and when it ended, you wanted more immediately. Put it this way, there are few shows that I get mad at while watching, but not because of stupidity or poor writing, but because I'm actually angry at certain characters for behaving in a way that is contrary to good. That is the sign of a good show.

3. Friday Night Lights
Dear Coach Taylor, You have taught me so much in the 5 years that you coached in Dillon. The way you helped Smash Williams every night so that he could play college ball. The way you vouched for Tim Riggins while in prison, even though he repeatedly skipped your practices to go to Mexico, drank all the time and then ran a chop shop. Breaking the headlights of the guy your daughter was sleeping with. Referring to Landry repeatedly as Lance never got old. What you did with Vince Howard, you saved his life, man. You saves his mother's life. You won 2 state titles in 5 years with 2 different schools. But it was what you and your wife Tammy meant to each other that I'm going to take away the most. You never doubted your love, and you never doubted her. And when it came down to it, you gave up the chance to coach the number one high school in the nation with the number one quarterback in the nation to move to Philadelphia (which is a crappy city) for your wife. You, Coach Eric Taylor, are a great man.

4. Boardwalk Empire
The Sopranos set in 1920s Atlantic City. Compelling, fascinating, crushing, and emotionally charged. Steve Buscemi somehow works as Nucky Thompson, to the point that I don't see Steve Buscemi any more, but rather Nucky.

5. Dexter
So many things about this season were fascinating, none moreso than Dexter's search for religion. Season 2 put to rest the idea that Dexter Morgan is a sociopath, since he clearly feels and worries about others. So his search for meaning and for the possibility of an afterlife fit right into his ongoing search for himself (which is when the show is at its best). Mos Def, Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks were excellent additions to the cast (even if the Geller mystery was never really done very well and everyone suspected he wasn't real from the opening episode). Moreover, we got Angel back and refreshed, not being bogged down by LaGuerta. My biggest problem on the season was that they abandoned Dexter's religious angle as soon as Brother Sam died, and that made it feel unfinished.

6. Person of Interest
The only freshman series on this list, Jonathon Nolan's Enemy of the State/Big Brother drama stands out as something that is worth watching every week and which builds upon its mythology without hammering you with it. Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson are perfectly cast and equally mysterious, and both of their own personal motivations are not perfectly clear. Nor are their pasts. But you know that they will both be smarter than those they are trying to save and the people they are trying to save the victims from. The case of the week works, especially since there are still a few serial elements to the show.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Networks vs. Cable

Now that year-end top TV lists are coming out (mine will be coming in a few weeks), there are a few interesting trends to note. People base their opinions not so much on what shows earn the most amount of viewers or are talked about constantly at water coolers (for offices that still have water coolers, obviously this would not fly at the Coors Brewery, where people gather around the kegs of beer). These shows are matters of opinion and, for the most part, are reflections of a shows calendar year.

The lists will be filled with shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, Friday Night Lights (note: these are all dramas, as comedies are a completely different animal). No list will include The Killing unless, of course, it is written by Veena Sudd herself, where she will continue to compare her own copied show to The Sopranos and The Wire.

The main theme that will run through most of these lists is that there are very few network shows included in them. Networks have fallen aside in the last few years, and especially with the departure of Lost from the schedule. There is no more 24, no Alias, no West Wing. In fact, a network show has not won a Best Drama Emmy since 2005, and in the last 3 years, only a total of 6 network shows were nominated for the award (out of 19).

So what has happened to the network shows, and why is all the creativity on cable channels (Showtime, HBO, AMC, USA, FX, etc)?

The main reason is creative control. In general, cable channels are allowed to have more freedom in terms of theme, language and dialogue. Networks are not allowed to swear, the roughest words being ass or bitch. This gives a sort of realism to the cable channels that allow for the writers to push the envelope. Language does not make a show good, though, but he maturity of the dialogue means that they are going to attract more mature viewers and thus give the writers the ability to write to these viewers and not pull punches. Similarly the themes on cable channels are usually much more mature than networks, whose main goal is attract viewers and entertain them.

Seasons on cable channels are also only 13 episodes and run consecutively, as opposed to the networks, in which run 22 episodes broken up from September to May. This allows the show to become more focused and weed out some of the filler. There are very rarely fluff episodes designed to fill an order. Every minute is precious on a cable channel, and every minute fits into an overall story. Networks, on the other hand, are forced to come up with B storylines to keep the episode count up, and these storylines are oftentimes stale and pointless, and serve in just angering the audience rather than captivating them.

The audience of most network shows, while larger, isn't interested in tuning in every single week or wanting to devote part of their brain to remembering characters or situations. They want to be entertained, and they want to be entertained in an hour and have a satisfying conclusion to their devoted time. This is why shows like CSI, Criminal Minds and NCIS succeed: a problem arises, complications occur, and it is all solved in an hour. Shows like Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Whitney succeed because their viewers are idiots.

Cable shows, on the other hand, have a more complex job and story to tell, and in the best examples, a small piece of a first episode of a season may not pay off until 10 episodes later. But the audience is devoted to the show, possibly obsessed, and this gives the writers the freedom to go at their own pace and to let things cook before serving. Fewer people get these channels than the free to own network ones, so ratings don't have to be as high, and usually aren't. Money is made in other ways, especially through dvd sales and recognition through awards.

This is not to say that network shows don't have a benefit or spot in society. CSI, Criminal Minds, SVU, these are all shows I enjoy on a regular basis. They are entertaining procedurals, and there is something to say for shows that will wrap up in that hour.

But I would never rank them among the best shows on television (with the exception of Lost when it was on, which may be the greatest network show of all time). There is nothing more satisfying than the season finale of Breaking Bad every year, when each tiny and seemingly unimportant clue or piece of dialogue pays off in a big way. It's the difference between reading Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Both are good, but LOTR is ever so much more satisfying and complex.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Family TV Time

Currently, the two best shows on television are Breaking Bad and Mad Men (although neither are this season, I still count them as the best shows on TV). One features a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, and the other deals with a 1960's New York advertising agency, complete with its debauchery, drinking and womanizing.

Neither are exactly family friendly.

So if you're looking for a little family tv time, something to get everyone around the tube and not only be safe for viewing by children but that would also inspire discussion, then the best place to look is DVD (or getting with the times, Blu-Ray). So what are the most family friendly shows available for rental or purchase?

1. Lost
One of the most Catholic and religious shows to come out in a long time, Lost was an example of ambitious storytelling, excellent character development and plot twists. Seasons 1 and 3 are nearly flawless in their epic scope, but that doesn't take away from the other seasons (6 total). There is imagery (including baptism), thematic elements (faith and reason is the main theme of the whole show, as well as destiny vs. free will).

There is virtually no sex, which is rare for a network show, and there is no swearing. The violence is minimal and is never glamorous. The bottom line is that you never have to worry about your children watching this show.

Just prepared to get hooked from the beginning and you will miss it when it's over.

2. Friday Night Lights
Often written off as another campy teenage high school show, FNL is anything but. Sure, there are high school relationships, the show maintains a lot of the problems that high schoolers have and in the first couple seasons, can blow these out of proportion. But what high school student doesn't think that his inability to speak with girls is the worst thing that will possibly happen to him?

Being a high school drama, there is instances of sex and references to sex, and unfortunately with the society we live in, that is come to be expected. But there is no gratuitous scenes (it is an NBC show after all), and that is never the focus of an episode or show.

Coach Eric Taylor actually gives one of most positive role models on television, probably of all time. He is dedicated to his players, he helps them and makes them winners (in life and in football, because cheese is sometimes a good thing), and he is also a wonderful husband and father. Coach and Mrs. Coach offer the best marriage on television, love and respect, disagreements and resolution, compromise and care. If you want to catch a glimpse of the best marriage on television, as well as an excellent football show, give Friday Night Lights a shot.

3. Battlestar Galactica (with an asterisk)
I am placing an asterisk next to this because this is by far the most mature of the shows on this list. In the first few episodes, Gaius Baltar simulates sex with at times a real Cylon and at times an imaginary one. There are few instances of this, but they do exist. But they also exist for a purpose, and there is never any nudity involved.

The topics that will come up from this series could last an entire month by themselves. It follows the travels of the final 47,000 people in the galaxy after the colonies have been nuked by the evil Cylons. Abortion, politics, terrorism, freedom, love, justice, everything is discussed and presented.

Similar to Lost, one of Galactica's main themes is monotheism vs. polytheism. Religion and faith play a central role in the flesh and blood humans and the robotic Cylons. Both of them have reasons for believing in what they do, and both argue with each other.

4. Firefly
Do you like science fiction? Do you like westerns? Have you ever wanted to see what would happen if the two were combined into one? Well then do we have the show for you!

Created by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) and starring Nathan Fillion, Firefly only lasted 1 season comprised of 13 episodes, but each episode will leave you wanting more, and when those 13 episodes are done, there is a movie to give you somewhat closure and whet your appetite for more (Serenity).

It really is a wonderful show, and while lacking the religious themes of Lost or Galactica, its approaches to humanity and loyalty are unraveled, and when you're done, you will put Malcolm Reynolds in your top 5 characters.

But most importantly, there is rarely sex, the violence is never over the top, and there is no swearing (it aired on Fox, who is the reason for its demise, and you will express anger at them when you are done watching the short season).

Your family will enjoy this without a doubt, and children of all ages will consider themselves lucky to be able to view such a wonderful project.

5. The Simpsons
Given a bad rap for years because of the backtalking Bart, the first 10 years are unrivaled in their brilliance, wit and imagination. The stories are clever and one of the best forms of satire available in a relatively available medium.

Are there instances of crassness and crudeness? Sure. But what show doesn't have these nowadays? That's an unfortunate side effect of society, but give the first 4 or 5 seasons a chance, parents, teenagers, young adults will all be watching and laughing.

Besides, there is the constant that drives the show. Homer loves Marge and Marge loves Homer. The whole Simpsons family is based on their love and understanding, and the hijinks are caused by one of them trying to either impress the other or participate in their children's lives.

It really is a wonderful achievement in storytelling and one that should not be ignored because of the stupidity of the last 10 years or so.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

REVIEW: Once Upon a Time

ABC - Sunday 7 pm

A show with more potential than any other network offering, Once Upon a Time suffers from the pilot blues, with poor acting, poor dialogue, and at times missed opportunities.

1. Does it entertain me?
At times, yes it did. I have watched the first 3 episodes, and I am slowly getting into the story as a whole. The pilot is such a mess and features one of the worst acting performances in television history by Josh Dallas' Prince Charming. The dialogue tries to sound grand and epic, but they fail miserably. I actually don't know why, but I'm guessing it's because the actors don't have the acting chops to deliver that and still be taken seriously.

However, after the pilot things do pick up at least. Lost writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis borrow heavily from Lost's way of doing things and work flashbacks into the main story, flipping between the real world and the fairy tale world.

See, this is the way the universe of Once Upon a Time works: There was a fairy tale world, where all our favorite characters live and breathe and interact. Then the Evil Queen puts a spell on the world, and they are all transferred to Storybrooke, Maine, where each character lives as a regular person with a regular job. They don't know they were once great fairy tale characters, though. They just think they are regular people. Jimminy Cricket is a therapist. Snow White a teacher. The Evil Queen the mayor. And so on and so forth.

The daughter of Snow White is now destined to break the spell, so she has been brought here to get the job done.

It's exciting to find out who each real world character is, and what fairy tale they were once a part of. The show toys with many variations of this one theme, and this does at least make the show watchable.

The big problem is that this is the best part of the show. Seeing the fairytale world is fun, but the real world gets boring. The characters aren't strong enough and the writing isn't good enough to last as anything more than escapist fun, which is fine. But the potential is there to rise above a simple fantasy show.

2. Is it realistic?
Sure, who doesn't want to believe that Gepetto works at Home Depot? I see guys who look like him all the time.

The rules all make sense, characters behave like stupid people most of the time, but that's easy to chalk up to the fact that they were once one of the 7 dwarves.

The bottom line is that I haven't wanted to kill off any of the characters yet, but Prince Charming needs to watch himself.

3. Are immoral actions defended?
The Evil Queen killed her father to take his heart in order to enact the Curse of 1,000 Horrible Deaths or something like that, but you know what? She's the Evil Queen! That's what evil queens do. So I'm going to allow that to happen.

This is a fairytale world, and like comic books, fairy tales are usually pretty good about showing things that are black and white good and bad.

This is also a family show, marketed as a family show, and there are very few reasons to think of it otherwise.

4. How does the show deal with the family and traditional family values?
Family values appear to be upheld as well. Emma, Snow White's daughter, did have a child and is not married, and we don't meet the father (yet), that she gave up for adoption (the child, not the father. That one would be weird). The mayor (once the Evil Queen) adopted said child, which makes for sparks flying and "You haven't been around for 10 years in this boy's life, I don't care if you gave birth to him, I raised him so I am his father" kinda things. But that's all fine and dandy.

No one else in the town seems to have children, although there are lots of children running around the school, so at some point, various fairy tale characters must have procreated (come on, we were all hoping Robin Hood and Maid Marian would have kiddos).
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Overall, the question with Once Upon a Time that remains is is this show going to get better? Is it going to get past "what fairy tale character is that?" as the most important and most intriguing aspect of the show? If it can do that, then it could rise above a lot of the mediocre dregs on television (and even farther above the crappy dregs (cough Whitney cough)) on television.

At least Horowitz and Kitsis get credit for using 108 as house number.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival 11/6/11

This is a new feature on this blog, moved over from RAnn's site. This is like the Sunday edition of the paper, bigger, full of ads, and most importantly, more expensive. Possibly.

But no crossword puzzle.

Yet.

Or Get Fuzzy.

Only one post here recently, teaching has been getting in the way of my TV watching. I still need to get reviews of Once Upon a Time and Grimm up, both series that need work but have potential if they can find their footing.

Head on over here to read my take on Breaking Bad's season finale, and most importantly, the morality of Walter White.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Morality of Walter White

I won.

The transformation of Walter White was quick, calculated, and most of all, complete. There was no remainder to the teacher and father whom we met 4 seasons and 1 calendar year ago. This Walter is cruel, selfish, manipulative, and above all else, morally bankrupt.

The relationship between Jesse and Walt has always been at the forefront of Breaking Bad, and when the two master cooks were standing on the parking garage at the end of the episode, we were all waiting for them to hug. It appeared that, for the first time, Jesse had not been the victim of Walt's downfall. Walt's protection of Jesse had always been an interesting dynamic of their relationship, as they flirt with the father-son roles, but very rarely catapult into it.

Now as Hank, Junior, Marie and Skyler hang out in Hank's house, and Walt goes about saving them all from the mess he created, Jesse and Walt work together in order to not only save their own lives, but effectively put an end to the cartel in the process with the death of Gus (unless Mike somehow becomes kingpin).

This was a tough season to watch for fans of Walter White, as series creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan was doing his best to make Walt altogether unlikeable and reprehensible. Walt was growing delusional in his power and importance, unable to let Gale rest in peace, even going so far as to claim that there was still an evil genius out there cooking the meth that Hank was so impressed with. He declared himself the danger at people's doors, all while being unable to protect his own life and family.

But the big question is, does Walt even have a family any more? Sure, he's still married to Skyler and father to Junior (I wish he was still calling himself Flynn), but what about Holly? Does he even remember his daughter? And more importantly, does he care if he loses them in the game that he is playing? Walter White survived Gus, but how much of him died in that fantastically shot final shot of "Crawl Space?"

The bottom line is that Walter's actions cannot be justified. Manipulating Jesse into jumping on board the killing of Gus by poisoning Brock was indeed a brilliant move, but it was also sadistic. He knocked a few years of life off his family by calling the feds in to call Gus out; he has effectively killed Saul Goodman and his poor assistant (although Saul was up to no good before Heisenberg entered his office, he was hardly caught up in this net of amoral misdeeds he finds himself now).

I always held out hope that Walt would be able to redeem himself, save everyone and ride off into the fantastic sunset. Now the only way that he can redeem himself is if he tells us that he killed Rosie Larson.

As Jesse tries and tries to get out of this life that Walt has made for him, he suffers more and more. He has seen the death of his girlfriend (Jane) at the hand of Walt himself; Brock was poisoned by Walt; his drugdealer friend was killed because of Walt's turf war; and most importantly, Jesse's soul was jeopardized by Walt's ordering of Gale's death. Jesse was right, everyone that Walt touches effectively gets crushed.

And yet he continues his quest in life to prove to everyone that he is not a dud. Going back to when he and Skyler got married, he was planning on having a bigger house, a better job, a great life. He never thought he'd be working as a high school chemistry teacher, moonlighting as a car wash attendant, and raising a family that didn't appreciate his sacrifices.

Walt's transformation has been all about getting the respect he has always deserved, and always felt entitled to. As Heisenberg, he was finally someone, and no one was going to take that from him. Not Gus, not Skyler, and certainly not his former student Jesse Pinkman.

Finally Walter had won. He had defeated the entire cartel, killing their leader. He prides himself on being smarter than anyone, with no better example than season 3 when he explains Gus' whole plan to take over the meth industry to Gus himself, the true mastermind of the plot. Walt has to be smarter than anyone else, and most importantly, everyone needs to know that he is smarter.

But in the process he has lost his entire family, the people who already did look up to him and know his intelligence.

He won the game as Heisenberg. He lost the game as Walter White.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

REVIEW: Pan Am

ABC - Sundays 10 pm ET

With an assorted cast headed by Christina Ricci, Pan Am attempts to depict "golden age of flying" and especially the stewardesses and pilots that ran the buses in the sky.

The biggest problem with Pan Am is that it doesn't really know what kind of show it wants to be. Is it a romance? A mystery? A crime procedural? A character study in the 1960s feminization?

It's fine if a show wants to exude all these ideas and concepts, but it needs to decide which one it is primarily.

1. Does it entertain me?
For the most part, no. The pilot was not especially entertaining and bordered on boring throughout most of the show. It wasn't until the final 10 minutes where I actually found myself involved and actually caring about what I was watching. It was in these final 10 minutes that the majority of the season-long narrative was set up, with mysteries about where a missing stewardess went, why she chose a replacement for her, why no one is smoking on the airplane even though this is clearly the 1960s.

The reason that Pan Am is on the air right now is one simple reason: Mad Men. Because AMC's 4-time Best Drama Emmy Winner is so successful, the networks are no trying to duplicate its formula. But the main problem with this is that Mad Men has brilliant writing and fantastic actors, and none of that is at work here in the pilot of Pan Am.

2. Is it realistic?
Mad Men also has the luxury of being on a network that allows limited swearing and much more mature themes. ABC does not grant to Pan Am the same liberties that are necessary for accurately recreating the 60s. Mad Men embraces their decade in order to explore the story, but Pan Am seems afraid of it, mostly because of ABC.

This is something that could all be cleared up in future episodes as well, as the show could very well move into the women's movement and the allure of being a stewardess. The problem is that it might not do so with complete realism.

However, this might not be the goal of the show. Pan Am could very well be a Sunday night popcorn drama, with mystery and intrigue and sexiness, but something that very rarely breaks new ground and does not desire to. Which is fine, we are never going to have another Lost.

3. Are immoral actions defended?
This is the 1960s after all. There's going to be sex everywhere and on every continent. The question is, does the show fully defend it or act like this is no big deal?

The one torrid affair that we were shown in the first episode was between a stewardess and an American businessman. The man's wife discovers it and politely admonishes the stewardess, leaving her looking forlorn like she was the victim.

This might come into play later as we get into the espionage aspect of the show, but that could be a whole other article.

4. How does the show deal with the family and traditional family values?
The only other relationship depicted (aside from one stewardess leaving her man at the altar, which is fine, because it doesn't sound like it would've been a good marriage to begin with) involves one of the central mysteries of the show: namely what happened to the pilot's fiancee?

It's never a good idea to being a marriage that is seemingly forced, and that's what appears to be happening with the above situation. So we'll let that slide.

The Italian stewardess has no regard for her affairee's (is that a word) wife, but she also says she didn't know he was married. Which lets the affair of the hook, but not the pre-marital sex part. That's still bad.
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In short, Pan Am is plagued by what many new shows often are, namely too much exposition and not enough development. There is a very strong possibility that this will be taken care of as the first season continues, but it could also go completely the other way, bore the heck out of the audience, get low ratings, get cancelled and send Christina Ricci back to doing dark indy projects.

Pan Am is a show loaded with potential and possibilities. It all depends on if it has the writers to get it to where it wants to be.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

REVIEW: Person of Interest

CBS - Thursdays 9 pm ET

Written by Jonathan Nolan (The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) and produce by JJ Abrams (Lost, need I say more), Person of Interest combines Minority Report and Enemy of the State, adds a little Michael Emerson and James Caviezel, and unleashes what could turn out to be an excellent procedural.

1. Does it entertain me?
The answer to this is a resounding "yes!" Easily one of the best pilots I've seen in a while, Person of Interest does not waste any time jumping into the world of post-9/11 government omniscience.

James Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, Count of Monte Cristo) is an ex-CIA operative/homeless guy/all-around-badass who is recruited by Michael Emerson (Lost) to be his go-to crime stopper. The only difference is that neither man exists in the eyes of the government, and they are tasked with stopping crimes before they happen.

Using a machine he built, Mr. Finch (Emerson) is able to filter out all the terrorist chatter and focus instead on the forgotten conversations, those dealing with everyday crimes.

It is then John Reese's job (Caviezel) to use all his spy skills to find out if the person they are looking at is the victim or the perpetrator, and stop whatever crime is about to be committed from being committed.

There are possibilities galore in this show, dealing with the notion of privacy, revenge, crime-solving, and especially motivation. What happened to Reese and Finch that led them to these points? Does anyone else know they exist and that they are doing the cops' jobs? Is there a moral issue involved with arresting people before they commit a crime (the show may not even go that route, as in the pilot, the evildoers had done previous evil in the past).

2. Is it realistic?

It's hard at first not to think that Caviezel is reprising his role of Edmund Dantes, but that is not the worst problem if he is. Both leads are excellent in their roles, and both have a chemistry together that makes you believe that they could take on the scum of New York.

Caviezel has a calm to his acting and his portrayal that you believe he could be an ex-CIA operative, ready to exact his brand of justice with a grenade, an assault rifle or his lethal fists of fury.

And someone could tell me at any point that Emerson was the smartest man alive and I'd believe it. Then I'd be scared to death, because he is smart, manipulative, endearing and charming at the same time. His work as Ben Linus on Lost was masterful, and from the moment he appears on the screen here, you don't turn away because he might say something profound.

A machine that monitors every one of our conversations at any given time is also believable, which is a frightening thought, and this is the most important thing to believe. If you can't buy that Finch and Reese can know what is going to be involved in a crime, then the show fails.

But luckily both are very believable.

3. Are immoral actions defended?
Minority Report was a little more problematic in its handling of crimes, since they were dealt with before they happened (and this was the purpose behind Phillip K. Dick's short story). It is unclear, as mentioned above, if this notion will be dealt with, but given the writer (Nolan), I would not put it past their grasp.

Reese also has a knack for shooting people in the leg (he's either the world's worst shot, or the best, depending on where he is aiming). At some point, he will probably kill someone, but I doubt it will be in a justified cold-blooded homicide.

Given the nature of other procedurals, Person of Interest will probably follow the Natural Law in this area, always doing good and avoiding evil. But if evil is done, then expect it to come with a certain amount of discussion and exposition. All of which excites me.

4. How does the show deal with the family and traditional family values?
In the first episode, there was only one brief encounter between Reese and some mysterious woman, but there's also a possibility that that was his wife in bed with him. To which we say, unabashedly, go for it!

But at some point, through dialogue with Finch, we learn that someone Reese loved was killed when he was half-way around the world. So we have that to look forward to

And we know virtually nothing about Finch and his life, his kids, parents and love interests. With time that will probably come, though.
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Person of Interest has the potential to rise above the other procedurals out there via a fresh take on the subject. Everything about this show felt new, and through the great writing of Nolan and Caviezel's and Emerson's acting gravitas, there is a wonderful promise of things to come.

REVIEW: New Girl

Thursdays - 9 pm ET

Existing as a vehicle for Zooey Deschanel, New Girl works precisely because of Zooey Deschanel, starring as the titular character who has even made up her own theme song, something we have all wanted to do (and possibly have done). The cast of characters is comprised of a few nobodies, who all range from sweetness to dopey, but they all also have room to grow as characters and as actors.

1. Does it entertain me?
I do admit, I find this show fairly entertaining. Pilots are difficult to judge, because we do not know a thing about the characters or the world in which they inhabit. We don't know the rules and we don't know how we got here. New Girl gets in and gets out, and establishes early that Jess is a sweet, naive and mostly nerdy girl who just needs a little help. And if that means watching Dirty Dancing repeatedly so she doesn't carry any more watermelons, then by gum, these three guys (Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr) are going to help her do it.

It has its problems, of course, mostly that the 3 guys aren't fleshed out and lack a certain relateability that is necessary in what will most likely be a romantic comedy sitcom. But I chalk this up to the pilot nature of the show, and will allow this to fix itself.

2. Is it realistic?
As far as a show about a single girl breaking up with her boyfriend, needing a change, finding 3 dudes looking for a roommate on craigslist and the girl not ending up dead, yes the show is realistic. Nick is a bartender, Coach (horribly named, cast and soon to be replaced) is a personal trainer, and Schmidt is a douchebag, while we're still unsure of what Jess does. That's fine, that doesn't matter. No one knew what Kramer did on Seinfeld for 5 seasons.

The realism you're looking for in this genre is, do the friends stick up for each other? Do they discuss issues, do they talk like normal people would, do they engage in social situations? The answer to all of this is yes.

Maybe someone wouldn't be as awkward as Jess is in public, or talking to boys, but Zooey Deschanel is able to play it off well enough that we believe Jess is this way.

3. Are immoral actions defended?
The opening scene of the show has Jess going over to her boyfriend's house with just a trenchcoat on, only to find said boyfriend already with some other woman. That serves to set the rest of the episode and series in motion, leading to Jess finding a new place to live. Done. Print.

It's unfortunate that that sort of behavior is not only common-place but is also expected. That's the society we live in, and in no way am I condoning such behavior.

But that is by far the worst of the immoralities, as well as the only one in the entire episode. There are references to rebound sex and hooking up that parents should be aware of, but that, too, is a small part of the episode.

4. How does the show deal with the family and traditional family values?
The above mentioned scene and references are the only indications of traditional family values in the show.

There are good instances of friendship, loyalty and helping out others that is important to life in society.

And the three guys have a "douchebag jar" for Schmidt that gets used frequently, much to my delight, since we need less of those in society. They can be productive members, they just need some coaching and some tough love.
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Above all, New Girl is certainly entertaining and dabbles in the sweet. Time will tell if Jess' naivete and charm hold up, and if the show can flesh out the other main characters. If it does, this will be a show that is worth watching.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review Rules

Now that the Emmy's have come and gone, putting their stamp of approval on crappy shows (and stamps on some good ones, too), it's time to dig into the fall season. This season is loaded with shows that are doomed to fail right out of the box, and literally have no chance to succeed. You know who you are.

It is virtually impossible for me to watch every show and tell you if you should watch it, so I'm going to ignore certain shows already if I have no desire to see them. If by some chance, I miss a good or great show, I will try to catch up on it and review it at that point. But this way, I save time, and I don't have to worry about gouging my eyes out from seeing terrible shows.

As far as I can see, these are the new shows I will check out and report back on: The New Girl (Sept. 20), Person of Interest (Sept. 22), Pan Am (Sept. 25), Terra Nova (Sept. 26), Once Upon a Time (Oct. 23). There may me some other ones as well, but those are the shows I am consciously looking forward to.

As a note, since I am not an actual TV critic, I do not get these shows in advance, and thus I am not privy to seeing the show before it airs. So more than likely, I will not get the review up until the next day. But I will try very hard to make sure it goes up the day following the original air date.

I generally believe you can not tell enough about a show after one episode to decide if it's going to be good or not. 3 episodes is generally a good rule of thumb, giving the writers, producers and actors enough time to get their story going after introducing the characters and the way their universe works. I will keep this in mind, and try to give an initial review, followed by a 3 episode review.

With that in mind, here is what I will review about each show?

1. Does it entertain me?
Very important here, because I am not going to sit through 30 minutes or an hour on a show that I find boring and dull. I don't care if it's the world's most moral show, I need to laugh, to think and to connect with at least one character.

2. Is it realistic?
I will be the first to admit that Lost probably wouldn't happen. But I also would like to believe that if I was stuck on an island with polar bears, light houses and Sawyer, that I would behave in such a manner as the show depicted. If I am constantly shouting, "WHAT!?" at a show, that is not a good sign.

3. Are immoral actions defended?
I understand that shows are going to depict immorality, whether it is sex or violence or whatever. But I need to know if those actions have consequences, or does it glorify evil. Great shows can use corrupt characters to invoke a larger theme without dipping into the world of moral relativism.

4. How does the show deal with the family and traditional family values?
This is the one that is normally going to get ripped to shreds in a primetime show, with all the adultery, affairs, sex and divorce on the airwaves. So if there is a show that has positive marital role models, fantastic!

So that will be how these reviews work. Let's get 'er rollin!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Emmys Preview

Sunday brings the 2011 Emmys to your small screen, and with it the possibility that someone new will ascend the throne of television immortality. Or whatever comes with winning an Emmy.

Going back to the beginning of the award, the Emmy for Best Drama has been dominated by police, law, doctor and political shows. Law & Order, Cagney & Lacey, The West Wing, ER, The Practice, Mission: Impossible to name a few.

The 2000s actually brought about 5 different winners: West Wing, Sopranos, Lost, 24, and Mad Men, with the latter taking home the last 3, and looking like a good choice to take home a 4th.

Keeping in mind that Breaking Bad is not eligible for this year's award (they did not air a single episode in the 2011 eligible time frame), here is a breakdown of the nominees:

Mad Men - Don Draper is divorced, Betty has moved on with Henry, and Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price is moving forward. Maintaining arguably the best character development on television, the 4th season of Mad Men showed no dip in creativity, and Matthew Weiner kept it running at its expected high levels.

Don continues his loose lifestyle, but he is not constrained by his marriage or his "fidelity" to Betty. It was inevitable that Mad Men would deal with divorce, since it has done such a good job of depicting the 60s to this point. With that comes many of the things that made that decade morally problematic, including sex, drugs, lying, cheating. Don's false identity took on a new role when SCDP was working towards a defense contract.

As always, the immorality, not only of Don, but Betty and Roger Sterling and the rest of the agency, are a focal point of the series. But their actions are never glorified, and the results of their choices affect those around them.

Game of Thrones - One of two freshmen series to be nominated, Game of Thrones more than deserved to be on this list. Based on George RR Martin's popular series, GoT proved that fantasy, well-done fantasy, has a place and an audience as a serial hour long program.

Set in the fictional world of Westeros, Game of Thrones was a mix between medieval England and Middle Earth. There were knights and maidens, politics and doublecrosses, dwarfs, direwolves, unexplainable enemies and explainable enemies. And dragons. Did we mention dragons?

As would be expected in a fantasy world, the concept of gods and God are discussed, with references to the old gods and the new. There is relatively little swearing, and there are some scenes of sex and nudity. The violence is present, but is never overdone. But this is still definitely a show meant for a mature audience. Death is abundant, and the motives behind actions is never really crystal clear.

This presents an interesting look for the audience, as there are very few black and white characters, although there is a clear idea of good and bad. Very similar to the Wire in this regard, in that there aren't necessarily "good" characters and "bad" characters, but rather characters who do good and who do bad.

Friday Night Lights - The final season of NBC's superb series about high school football finally came to a close, bringing with it a very satisfying finale.

There is the expected amount of teenage sex and drinking (expected here, not being a good thing, but being almost a requirement on network television). But everything outside of this is an honest look at Americana, from the honest friendships, loyalty and dedication of the football players, and especially in their youthful jubilation and struggles.

But the most positive thing about the show, now as always, was the brilliant depiction of a strong married life between Coach Taylor and Tammy. Their dialogue and their delivery are honest and true, their disagreements are about things in their life, not things in each other, and they never stray or abandon the other. Their actions are real, their emotion is true. It is truly refreshing to see this, and to see the honest love of man and wife.

Boardwalk Empire - The other freshman series to garner a nod, HBO's historical fiction of prohibition Atlantic city carried the exact amount of debauchery that a series about such a subject as you would expect.

There are relatively few honest-to-goodness "good" people in this show, the same was that The Sopranos had very few moral mobsters. Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is at the forefront, both as the protagonist and as the moral decision-maker. And by that I don't mean that he makes the most moral decisions, but that he has the opportunity to make the most. Usually he fails.

With methodical pacing, Boardwalk Empire is able to deal with the Women's Temperance League, the treatment of World War I veterans, even the Black Sox scandal with due diligence, focusing notsomuch on the events themselves, but rather on the characters that each event impacts.

Dexter - Ahh, Dexter. The serial killer's serial killer. Rather than focus on the moral implications of each death, Dexter is presented as a sociopath, who, although he doesn't have a traditional Judeo-Christian morality, still understands good guys and bad guys, and understands that if bad guys are not stopped, they will hurt more good guys.

This is Moral Relativism as its finest, although it never presents Dexter's actions as good, but rather necessary. And Dexter himself actually has no morality, and the only code he goes by is "don't let people find out what you are."

This season was one of its better ones in recent years (although still probably not necessitating a best drama nod), introducing Julia Stiles as a serial killer in the making.

The Good Wife - the only show on this list I do not watch, and thus am unable to comment on to give it any justice.

All in all, a pretty good year for television. Plato said that it is stories that help us to learn about ourselves and the human condition, and if he were alive today, he would hopefully watch these shows. The important thing to remember, as always, is that television is designed to tell a story, to depict a world similar to ours that is not ours, and that if watched with a properly formed conscience, it can be very rewarding and very intellectual.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Childlike Audience

Every year there are reports published about how much television our children watch, and how much is productive. And every year there is a reaction throughout the internet community about how terrible the parents are who use TV to babysit their children.

So the question, is, should children be allowed to watch television? And by television, I am talking about primetime, and specifically the dramas that populate the networks, premium channels and cable. Competition shows (American Idol, Dancing with the Stars), Quiz Shows and sports are generally acceptable, since their content is rarely if ever risque or morally questionable.

So how do you know if you should let your child watch a show? Better yet, how do you know if you shouldn't watch a show?

This question comes with the notion that certain elements of a show are unacceptable for younger viewers, or even unappreciated.

1. Maturity level of the viewer. This is a big reason not to allow children to watch a show, and it's often overlooked. The themes and language of a show (this is not foul language, but just dialogue and certain elements of sentences) are usually written for an older, mature audience. Similarly, themes are often possess a nature that is not suitable for younger viewers. All of these serve to enhance the viewing experience of the audience, but they are often too much for children. Consequently, they can be bored or find certain shows dull and unentertaining.

This then puts them off the show forever, and they will never go back to watch the show again when they are older and might find the content more interesting and intriguing. By allowing a child to watch a show too early, there is the possibility that they may be turned off it forever, and may miss out on a very good show. First impressions are the most important when meeting a new person; so, too, in television viewing. The pilot needs to suck in the viewer and make them want more. But the viewer must be of the maturity level where the content is not only appropriate, but also makes sense.

2. Language - Back when I was in college, I worked at the local Park District during the summers, doing various maintenance jobs. My boss would always tell me that he would swear far less when I was working there, simply because I didn't swear too often. The problem was, that I would swear far more from working there, simply because I was surrounded by it on a daily basis; that's just the way the employees talked.

The point is that language is very imitable. If people hear cursing and swearing, they are more likely to repeat cursing and swearing. And the last thing a parent wants is their 10 year old talking like Al Swearengen. Even though it would be fun to try and decipher his cryptic messages, the instances of swear words would be too many to count. And your child needs someone to play with. But if he talks like that, no parent will allow their child within 10 yards of him.

3. Violence - This is one of the most prominent features of television, ranging from network shows to cable, coming in varying degrees. It can take the form of explosions, gun shots, mass quantities of blood and especially physical abuse. While generally not as imitable as language, given the lack of access to grenades and submachine guns, this can still have a very desensitizing effect on younger viewers.

This can especially be the case when they begin to believe that problems can and should be caused by violence or fisticuffs. Unless they understand that the violence and the action on TV is not real, then they are likely to duplicate the actions they see on television.

4. Sex - We live in a world that glorifies sex, advocates sex before marriage and loves to depict anyone and everyone having sex. In fact, if you're on television and you're not having sex, then there is something wrong with you. The online message boards erupt in joy when a long flirting couple engages in this seminal act of love.

The question is, when did sex become the be-all and end-all of relationships? What happened to authentic love? The problem is not television, as people would suggest, because TV is representing to the world what it already believes. It did not invent pre-marital or extra-marital sex, but it does promote it. Children need to understand love before they can engage in sex, shows, even great ones, rarely depict actual love. It is very good at depicting lust though.

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Television becomes a great medium when people with properly formed consciences are the viewers, and this usually does not exist in younger viewers. People need to be able to distinguish between good and evil, between sin and morality. If you are able to separate the immoral acts from the moral, and if you are able to explain why certain actions are wrong and why you won't repeat them, then the television can and will open a wide range of new worlds.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Apply morals to TV

I recently read a discussion on another forum about the evils of TV and the crap that is on television these days; programs that provide no moral guidance and no morality whatsoever.

This got me thinking. Is TV designed as a tool for us from whence to get our morals, or is there something more at work here?

Instead of getting our morals from television, why not apply our morals to it instead?

A properly formed conscience, using the revealed truths of the Church and Christ, is the best way to judge an act or action. We have this great thing in the faith called morality, and it is not a grey area. We know what is right and wrong, we know what a sinful act is, and we can figure out when a person is acting morally, immorally and possibly even amorally.

If I were to use the reverse, and if I were to actually get my morals from TV, I would believe the following:

Moral relativism - Diff'rent Strokes. This is from the theme song along, "What might be right for you, may not be right for some." We know of the great evils of moral relativism because we live in a Hollywood society in which sex is an icebreaker, but it doesn't matter, because one day, I might find my spouse at a trendy club and marry them. And if it doesn't work out, then we'll just get a divorce and we can marry someone else for forever/5 years. And all because Arnold didn't know what Willis was talking about.

Proportionalism - 24. Jack Bauer made a living off of saving the world. Which would seem like a good thing if he didn't execute his boss at a train yard in order to save hostages. Or kill a guy and then cut off his head with a hacksaw in order to gain entrance into a secret organization. Or let his daughter get eaten by a cougar.

The ends justifies the means - Dexter. Who doesn't love rooting for serial killers? Showtime has been asking us to cheer for Dexter Morgan for 5 years, a serial killer who kills serial killers. Why? Because Dexter cannot control his urges to kill, and rather than kill innocents, he only kills those who deserve to die because of their criminal lives. Nevermind that he is the prime example of a vigilante, taking the law into his own hands. He kills so these people won't kill again. Sounds like the justification of a mad man to me.

Animal Cruelty - Garfield. Every time Odie was standing on the edge of the table (why he would stand here, I have no idea), Garfield would push him off. And not just push him, he would actually kick him in the behind, sending him flying off the table and onto the ground. Couple this Garfield's constant shipping of Nermal to Abudabi, and we get the idea that violence to animals is not only ok, but is quite funny.

On the other hand, if you take the morals you already have and apply it to the worlds that television creates and provides, you will be able to enjoy all that it has to offer to a much great degree. You will know what is right and what is wrong, and more importantly, you will be able to discuss why it is so.

Studying sins and vices does not lead you to a life of the same, but rather can lead you to a life in which you understand your faith and your values better. An understanding of the truth sometimes requires a glimpse into the falsehoods of the world, and this offers, too, an appreciation of the objective truths by which we live

Friday, August 26, 2011

Where will the next great religious show come from?

TV has always been a medium that carries with it shows of varying themes. We have seen the political shows, the crime shows, and the war shows.

But there are also those shows that depict a higher being, a higher life, and the ramifications of those beliefs on their people.

Before taking ill-advised turns and plot-twists, Lost was a prime example of a show with religious under and overtones. One if its main themes was the idea of faith vs reason, and free-will vs. destiny. Jack embodied the idea of reason and choice, while Locke was the chief proponent of faith, basing his decisions on the idea that the Island has a living entity, guiding him to his proper end. The two were in constant conflict, not just for island leadership, but for their own individual ideals.

The show also featured a Catholic priest (albeit with questionable legitimacy), the building of a Church and missionary work, sin and repentance galore, and even a very vivid Baptism scene.

At the same time as Lost was airing on ABC, SciFi (before revamping their advertising and renaming themselves SyFy, which is clearly more appealing to the masses. Now they won't know they're watching science fiction) was airing Ron Moore's superior reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. Never one to shy aware from any issue, from war to terrorism, abortion to politics, Galactica always had the issue of religion and deities at the forefront.

The humans were of the belief that the ancient gods of old were leading them and guiding their actions, so they built temples to them and wrote their prophecies down. The human made robotic Cylons, however, considered themselves to be advanced beings, and thus they believed in the one God, who was the true God. This created an interesting dichotomy, where a race, considering themselves more evolved, saw the belief in one God to be an example of their advancement (never mind that they nuked an entire civilization, reducing the human population from millions to 49,000.

Once both shows ended in 2010, it left a void in the television universe, with no great shows tackling the theological questions. There is plenty of great television, but what will end up being the next great religious show?

Religion is much more difficult and riskier to depict because of the strong opinions of people on the subject. It can be much more polarizing than catching criminals or dating your boss. Almost everyone in the world has an opinion about religion, whether it be positive or negative. It is difficult for a network to take a gamble on a show knowing that there is already a group of people who will be against its subject matter and thus not watch it. Shows with no viewers rarely survive.

That is why fantasy and sci-fi genres are the perfect ground for religious shows and shows with faith-based elements to land. By nature, they are already in a world in which the normal rules of the universe don't apply, whether the setting be on a mysterious island with its own set of rules, or in a galaxy far, far away. The character are human, but the worlds they inhabit are most decidedly not earth. Under the guise of these worlds, the writers and creators of the show are able to introduce whatever thematic elements they want; one of the most popular is how do people deal with the question of God and his existence.

Because of the universal nature of God, his presence can be discussed on Caprica, in Sunnydale, in places where the Alliance runs amok, in outer space and deep under the sea. The people are the same, but the background is not. This allows for an almost fresh take on the subject, and rarely seems like religion and God are being shoved down our throats.

We are not taught what to think or what to believe, but rather we are presented with new questions that we may have thought of in our own lives. We are also able to relate better to certain characters if we find they have similar beliefs to our own, or even similar ideas. Television is meant to attract viewers to shows, and faith is a great way to keep people interested and also to challenge them and enrich their lives.

So where does the next great faith discussion come from? Game of Thrones dabbles in the gods of old vs. new, but non-book viewers do not yet know where that discussion will lead. Terra Nova has the makings of it, but time will tell if God and modern religion follow the people back in time to hang out with Earl Sinclair. Mad Men and Breaking Bad both deal with sin and causality, but neither directly with God's role.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is Breaking Bad a moral show?

At first glance, and every other glance after that, Walter White is an immoral man. A former high school science teacher, Mr. White has graduated into the lucrative business of the production of methamphetamine, to be sold and distributed on the streets of Albuquerque, NM. He respects the chemistry of it, the purity of the combination of elements in such a way that the end result is a crystalline blue substance that, when ingested, leads to the best possible artificial expansion of the mind.

Walt is bankrolled by the leader of a South American cartel, who also doubles as the owner of the local fast-fast chicken joint.

His partner is a high school educated slacker who has not only been kicked out of his parents house, but lowballed his unsuspecting parents on a bid for that same house, claiming it used to be a meth house. The bit he didn’t tell you about is that he was the one cooking that meth.

He has lawyer protection from a man who changed his name to sound more Jewish, figuring that the public would trust one of God’s chosen people more.

So how is it possible to watch this show knowing the premise, knowing the characters, and knowing that Walter’s actions lead to the increasing addictions of children and families?

Because we always have hope.

Walter didn’t become the meth king of New Mexico because he was bored, or because he had nothing better to do. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, given just months to live. Working part time at car wash as well as teaching at a high school did not give him the economic stability to support his family should he die. Refusing to just let his family suffer, he sacrificed his ownself so that they might live and survive.

“"When you have children, you will always have family. They will always be your priority, your responsibility. And a man…a man provides. And he does it even when he is not appreciated – or respected…or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it…because he’s a man.”

Does Walter’s end of supporting his family justify the means by which he goes about it? Absolutely not. But what it does is allow us, the audience, to see that Walter has not gone completely mad; he has not entered the realm of the sociopath. He is misguided and he is confused. But he is not evil. We did not hope that Luke Skywalker would simply kill Darth Vader. We wanted Luke to bring out the good that was still in him, to save Vader, and to have Vader turn away from the Dark Side.

This is not to oversimplify the magnificent Breaking Bad, because the whole show is not about cheering for Walt to make the right choice. If Walt continues to make every wrong decision out there, if he continues to cook meth and make millions of dollars at the expense of drug addicts everywhere, the show will still be great. It is currently one of the most creative shows on television, with stellar writing and stellar acting, garnering awards at every Emmy’s ceremony.

The brilliance of television has always been that you can show evolution of a character and maturation of story. The Sopranos really ushered in this new era of television, bringing with it the idea of an anti-hero, the character we watch in whom we take such delight in their evil deeds. This person usually surrounds himself with characters of similar ilk, because let’s face it, we all like people with similar interests. Cooking meth, collecting gambling debts, serial killing, watching According to Jim. Even bad guys like to have friends.

What this new era has shown to a new, mature audience is that we as people are capable of some pretty sick things. CBS has made a living depicting these crimes, all solved by a crack team of investigators with billion dollar labs. We know the good guys will do good things, we know they will make the right decision, and we know the bad guy will be caught. And we want the bad guy to be caught. Why? Because he’s the bad guy!

But to us, the television viewing audience, a far better outcome than the bad guy being caught is if, right before he is caught, he runs into a burning orphanage (that he probably lit on fire) and saves all the kids. Or he jumps into the Potomac to save a box full of puppies (having fallen out of his truck after he robbed the pet store). We want to see a glimpse of humanity, to see this person who has spent the last 12 hours tormenting the public, release his hate and throw the Emperor into the depths of the Death Star.

Is Walter White a moral man? No.

Is Breaking Bad a moral show? That question does not have such a succinct answer.

It is easy to look at the show, see the fall of Walter White into the shadows of greed and corruption, and write both his character and the show off. It is easy to say that this is filth, that this is trash, that this is a further example of the degradation of society, a contributor to the culture of death.

The show is not written to be a rulebook by which we can live our lives or a guide to our morality. As far as I know, only one institution is solely responsible for our salvation.

The show is designed to tell a story, and that is the story of Walter White. He has a wife, two children, and he cooks meth. Walter White is not a moral man, he does not do moral things. But as with any choice, every decision he makes affects those people around him. We the viewers see how these people react to Walt, how they behave, how their decisions reflect themselves, their beliefs and their own lives.

In the end, we want Walt to give up his life of crime, stop cooking meth and start cooking spaghetti for his family. We want Walt to stop cheating his family out of a supportive father; we want Walt to show his love by playing hide and seek with this kids, not hiding rolled up twenties in his daughter’s diaper bag.

We want all this to happen, but there’s no guarantee that it will. Just like there is no guarantee that all the drug dealers in the country will become a part of the DEA and clean up the streets.

But we can hope.

Can this be true!?

Why this blog? What is the purpose of these postings? And Catholics don't watch television, so why would they read this blog?

None of those are good questions. Well, I guess only the last one is a bad question, so I'll proceed to answer the others.

First of all, television is great. I make this statement as someone who both owns a tv and watches it frequently, and watches many of its fine programming. From the soccer game on my tv right now to old reruns of the Simpsons. From past greats like Lost, Battlestar Galactica and the Wire, to current faves Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones, I have watched my share of the small screen.

Gaudium et Spes tells us we are not to hide from this world and the advancements it offers, even though our true home lies in heaven. Television has fast grown to be a medium full of the creativity and production values normally reserved for movies. It offers rewarding storylines, evolutionary characters and sharp writing, all in the comfort of your own home.

What the television community lacks, and the Catholic community, is a place that offers a unique perspective on TV, one from the point of view of a faithful Catholic.

I am not here to tell you what to watch or not watch. I am simply offering the opinions of someone who knows about television and who knows about Catholicism.