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Tuesday, Apr 12, 2011
Glee's episode "Sexy" demonstrates how far television has come in its attempts to be culturally relevant.

When I was growing up, television shows used to advertise ‘very special episodes’ which meant that a sitcom character had a friend who got pregnant or a classmate who was being abused. The phrase was a cue that a popular series was going to highlight a social issue that was rarely discussed on television. The stories usually involved the secret abuse/pregnancy/addiction being discovered by a shocked main character. The effect however, was more of a ratings stunt than an important contribution to social dialogue.


Recently, Glee did its version of a ‘very special episode’ where the characters spoke and sang about sex—both gay and straight. It was thoughtful, funny and at times, touching. It didn’t, however, stage a shocking moment or a stunt. Glee‘s approach to the subject not only allowed the series to meaningfully add to the teen sex conversation, but also demonstrated how far television has come in its attempts to be culturally relevant.


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Tuesday, Apr 5, 2011
When considering sexual acceptance in mainstream media, bisexuality is really the last frontier.

In 1952, when Lucy and Ricky Ricardo slept in separate adjacent twin beds on I Love Lucy, but somehow still had a baby together, CBS and the FCC were sending a message to American audiences: You know what’s really going on, but we’re not going to show it. Though clearly not all married couples conceive their children in this particular locale, the twin beds represented a wink from the network to the audience (this issue, and television in the ‘50s in general, is elucidated beautifully in the movie Pleasantville).


Everyone knew that the real Lucy and Desi shared a bed, as did most couples watching the show. But because they did not show a realistic couple doing realistic things together, CBS and other networks fed into a culture of silence that invalidated the life choices of heterosexual couples all across America. It’s small choices like two beds that told mainstream America that sex was taboo, even if it did take place in a marriage.


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Thursday, Mar 31, 2011
The Bachelor does little more than advance silly notions about single women and their approach to relationships.

On this season of The Bachelor, Brad Womack is looking for love—again. In 2007, Brad was also ‘the bachelor’ but rejected both of the women he chose as finalists. In the four intervening years,  he apparently conquered his fear of commitment and is now ready to find a wife. What is surprising about this is not that he’s back on the show, but that this show continues to come back. The Bachelor does little more than advance silly notions about single women and their approach to relationships.


Tagged as: big love, mean girls
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Friday, Mar 25, 2011
As with so many trends, the increasing prevalence of transnational television is either a building block in a utopian post-national society enabled by the democratising power of new media, or the inevitable by-product of the audience fragmentation and personal atomisation occasioned by new media.

With the finalé of the Showtime/BBC series Episodes having been broadcast at the end of February (20th in America, 21st in the UK), a few words about transnational television seem appropriate.  Media sales across national boundaries have long been a part of broadcasting culture.  ITV’s imports of American series drew both criticism and ratings during the ‘60s, and the syndication of American shows remains an important part of Channel 4’s platform.  Likewise, British shows like Dr Who have found regular homes on The Sci-Fi Channel in the US, and telenovelas, produced in Central and South America, have increasingly gained popularity with the Hispanic diaspora around the world.


While these imports and exports laid the groundwork for television’s transnational economy, they are increasingly being superseded by new programmes, jointly funded by companies based in different nations, expressly designed to appeal to audiences across national boundaries, and simultaneously broadcast in several countries at once.  These range from glocalized franchise shows like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and Big Brother, which replicate the same format with different casts, crews and contestants in different nations around the world, to prestigious, big budget drama spectaculars like Rome.  Of course, as with so many trends in contemporary media, the increasing prevalence of transnational television is either a building block in a utopian post-national society enabled by the democratising power of new media, or the inevitable by-product of the audience fragmentation and personal atomisation occasioned by (again) new media, depending on your own degree of technological optimism or pessimism.


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Monday, Mar 14, 2011
TV is better than film. The best scripts, the best acting, and the best directing are deserting the multi-plexes for the freedom of the small screen. But all TV series should die by the end of their second season.

TV is better than film.  It’s almost become a truism that the best scripts, the best acting, and the best directing are deserting the multi-plexes for the freedom of the small screen.  Martin Scorcese is just the latest émigré to arrive at the shores of HBO, where he can tell the story of Boardwalk Empire on the sprawling canvas he wants. Glenn Close, forced out of her role in films as the one you hire when Meryl Streep isn’t available, has found a showcase for her talents on Damages.  A writer like Joss Whedon, dismayed at the film treatment of his vampire-slaying teen heroine, was able to resurrect the concept as one of the great TV series of all time. 


If TV is so much better than film, then what I’m about to suggest is going to sound a little strange: I want to see a lot more TV series cancelled after two seasons.


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