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Saturday, Jan 9, 2010
Thoughts on Big Love as its fourth season kicks off on HBO.

The fourth season of Big Love began on Sunday, January 10, and, as I sat down to watch the season premiere, I realized, unexpectedly, that I was very excited.  Perhaps it is because of the brutally cold weather outside, or because nothing “real” has aired since mid-December, but I was really, really excited.  The surprise I felt was due to my ambivalence toward the first two seasons of the show; however, after a strike-lengthened hiatus, last year’s third season was easily the best.


From the first episode, Big Love’s cast immediately stands out as a major reason to give it a chance.  Bill Paxton gives a career-best performance as Bill Henrickson, and his wives – played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin – are even more compelling actors.  I found the plotting of the first two seasons often ponderous, and I really doubted the ability of showrunners Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer to tell a coherent story.  The third season, though, found the show cohering in a way that it never had before and upping the stakes considerably, tackling topics such as abortion, ex-communication, divorce, and murder in ways that had noticeable consequences on the characters.  By finally allowing things to happen – rather than showing how all the characters remained the same despite the turmoil surrounding them – the show took important steps forward and, significantly, allowed its characters to start to grow and change in realistic ways.


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Monday, Jan 4, 2010
Today I am going to look ahead, and make my wish list for what I am hoping to see on television in 2010.

10. Continued improvement of this year’s new shows: FlashForward, Modern Family, Community, and V are solid new additions to my TV lineup, and I look forward to their continued growth. Some of them need a little work, particularly FlashForward and V, but four new shows in a season is something to be thankful for.


9. Double seasons of reality stalwarts: Shows like Top Chef, The Amazing Race, Project Runway, and Survivorare the biggest reality-series that we get double-doses of most years. American Idol and all those horrible dancing shows get usually one season per year, but these stalwarts typically get a Spring and then a Fall run, and I am thrilled at having them around all year long.


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Monday, Nov 30, 2009
The Hills finale airs Tuesday, December 1 at 10PM on MTV. The question, at this point, is whether anyone will be watching it. This intrepid blogger braved the inanity of the most recent season to let you know what has been happening.

Previously on The Hills: Heidi and Spencer got married; at the last minute, Lauren decided to attend the wedding, before leaving the show to pursue life in the real world; Kristin returned to town to shake things up, causing a completely unrealistic wave of whispering and gossip among the other weddings guests; and we all stopped caring and forgot that this show existed.


Yes, the sudden reappearance of Kristin Cavallari, whose presence can only be considered a return for those of us who started watching all of these awful people on Laguna Beach, was the jump-the-shark moment for many viewers. Ratings for the show have plummeted this season, down more than 33 percent from the previous season. As Lauren Conrad went off to try to define herself apart from the show (how is that working out for her?), the obvious engineering of Kristin’s return veered the show even closer to WWF-levels of unreality. In addition, the scenes of Heidi and Spencer had become so obviously scripted, and they failed so utterly to sound like actual humans, that viewers were unable to suspend disbelief any longer. 


I too vowed that the show had crossed that line for me, and so I am proud to say that I survived the past two months without watching a single second of the new season. Then, a funny thing happened. My wife was in the shower, I was flipping through the channel listings, and I saw MTV’s afternoon lineup of “The Hills / The Hills / The Hills / The Hills….”  Like many people (right?), I have never been able to resist a Hills marathon. Even when I watched the show religiously, I regularly spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons lazing on the couch re-watching the same characters engaging in the same conversations about the same things. Had I seen this episode already? Did it really matter? The irony, of course, is that every episode of The Hills is basically the same. Characters hook up, text each other about it, go to a party/opening/concert/fashion show where they fight about it, and then engage in the most sublimely incoherent conversations about everything that has gone on. Each episode ends as we fade out on an appropriately sad/angry/happy song by Kelly Clarkson/Britney Spears/some-crappy-band-the-show-is-obviously-promoting.


So, when I saw those hours of unseen Hills episodes staring me in the face, I could not help but feeling overcome with curiosity for what I had been missing.  And what has been going on, you might ask?


Exactly what you might expect. Kristin is desperately trying to graft herself onto the scene by screaming at every female on the show and hooking up with every male on the show, Speidi continue their rapid descent into obscurity (shown here renting a house, bickering about marriage, and contemplating – seriously – bringing a child into the world), and the ancillary characters continue to orbit the cameras and the leads, keeping the plastic surgeons of Los Angeles afloat as they try to make themselves good looking enough to have their own storylines. Stephanie Pratt is, at this point, approaching Michael Jackson territory. 


I will not lie and pretend that I did not fully enjoy watching this marathon. There were plenty of shouting matches, scenes of obvious acting, and WTF moments to keep me thoroughly entertained. And, as always, there were several sublime moments where I could not help but giving thanks for living in America in 2009. For example, after standing Kristin up for the second time, Justin-Bobby texted the phrase “Sorry boo, strike two.” That actually happened (or, well, you know, it kind of actually happened).


Overall, there is a lot to watch for in The Hills finale on Tuesday night. Will Kristin choose Brody or Justin-Bobby? Will Heidi succeed in her secret plan to get pregnant? Will anyone show up to the “live after-party” that MTV kept promoting during the marathon?


Who knows. I guess the rest is still unwritten.


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Wednesday, Nov 25, 2009
It would be nice if networks gave every show a chance to end properly, allowing them an opportunity to craft a satisfying finale.

Some of TV’s most unforgettable moments have come in the form of cliffhangers. Think of Buffy’s heroic death followed by the words on her tombstone, “She saved the world, a lot”; or the slow reveal of the body of Jeremy Bentham at the end of Season Three of Lost; or Veronica Mars opening her door at the end of Season One and saying to someone off camera, “I was hoping it was you”; or Sydney Bristow learning at the end of Season Two of Alias that she had lost two years of her life. Cliffhangers at their best have been celebrated from the moment we began to speculate about who shot JR Ewing to the shock and wonder at seeing the untoppled twin towers of the WTC in last year’s Fringe. There is, however, a flipside.


Cliffhangers have also led to some of the most irritating moments in the history of TV. The fourth and final season of Farscape ended with American astronaut John Crichton proposing marriage to his alien lover and former space Nazi Aeryn Sun, only to have a spaceship zap them with a ray gun, reducing them to a pile of glasslike pellets while they kiss and embrace. One of the finest finales of the 2008-2009 season was that of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a brilliant episode that changed everything we thought we knew about the show’s characters and created some intriguing situations for the following season. That would be a season that would never materialize thanks to its cancellation by FOX. The terrible taste that was left in our mouths by the end of Farscape was partially eliminated by the miniseries that wrapped up the series, but a similar fate seems unlikely for TSCC, meaning that the game-changing images of the last few minutes will be forever unresolved.


A natural knee-jerk reaction—it is certainly mine—is to blame the studios for these dangling cliffhangers. After all, if the Sci Fi Channel had renewed Farscape, the shocking end of Season Four would have led to an exciting Season Five premiere. Likewise, had FOX renewed TSCC all of the brilliant plot twists in the Season Two finale could have led to something truly exciting in Season Three. I certainly share the frustration that others feel with the inability of the networks to find a formula that enables them to keep first-rate but low-rated shows on the air. My growing belief, however, is that much of the blame has been misdirected, that the real culprits are not the networks—or at least not primarily the networks—but the writers, producers, and studios that produce these shows.


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Monday, Nov 23, 2009
Tired of boring reunion shows? Angry at disappointing series finales? Larry David and his Curb Your Enthusiasm/Seinfeld mash-up provide all the answers.

As the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm draws to a close with the much hyped and reasonably satisfying Seinfeld reunion, Larry David has succeeded in redeeming himself for writing a lousy Seinfeld finale and in the process reinvented the reunion show.


The reunion show was once a staple of desperate TV executives looking to rekindle old love affairs between the fickle viewing public and once beloved shows. People would tune in to see the Brady girls all grown up and getting married. We wanted to know if Captain Stubing could still pull off wearing those Love Boat shorts 10 or 20 years later. The reunion shows themselves were across-the-board awful, but nostalgia lured millions to tune in despite knowing that they were being manipulated by a gimmick. The reunion show, like a visit home for the holidays, necessary but sometimes painful, was the only way to see favorite characters again.


Now, with infinite choices available, nothing disappears long enough for nostalgia to set in. If you want to watch old episodes of your favorite shows, they are almost guaranteed to be rerun on some cable channel and easily added to your DVR. If that’s not immediate enough gratification, try one of the countless websites streaming TV shows. You could always rent or buy the DVD box sets. Or maybe you’ll be satisfied with the remake, the reimagination or the reinvention. Hello V and The Prisoner, my old friends! 


Then again, if you were one of the people who watched reunion shows purely for the rubbernecking, there are plenty of options for you too. You don’t need a reunion show to find out which child stars have grown up to become junkies or which actors had major reconstructive surgery. Celebreality shows cover that ground just fine, thank you. It has never been easier to keep up with the likes of Willie Aames and Danny Bonaduce. Or just slum it with some paparazzi pictures of the Olsen twins.


So R.I.P to the reunion show. Or so it seemed.


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