Saturday, September 22, 2012
Fall TV and Grad Students: What do we watch, and why?
Fall is in the air in NYC! It's a season of reuniting with old familiar faces, and meeting and assessing new ones -- no, not the start of a semester -- I'm talking about FALL TV! Graduate students do not have time for a ton of TV watching, but when we do have free time, we often turn to TV -- mostly because it is less expensive, more reliable, more comforting and easier than other kinds of entertainment. We'd rather budget for Cable, Netflicks, or DVD's on the weekend than fancy dinners out in the city or getaway trips to Miami; and after all those hours hashing out theoretical arguments and scientific data, it's nice to have something easy on the brain to turn to during downtime. But, as it turns out, the appeal of TV might not only be its comforting entertainment quality but also its ability to stimulate us intellectually, after all. A recent article in The Chronicle of Education, "Storied TV: Cable is the New Novel," offers the provocation that "long-form, episodic television" may be on its way to being today's premier literary genre. The writer of the article, Thomas Doherty, calls it "ArcTv," which he defines as "the dramatic curvature of the finely crafted, adult-minded serials built around arcs of interconnected action unfolding over the life span of the series." Doherty postulates that the shows being created and consumed today -- "shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Homeland, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones—the highest-profile entrees in a gourmet menu of premium programming—are where the talent, the prestige, and the cultural buzz now swirl."
Lost, which is not cable but still amazing for its character development and mythic story-telling, American Horror Story, which carries on the tradition of American Gothic short stories in a sexy, post-post modern way, and How to Make it America, which was cancelled by HBO before it reached its full story-arc but started out telling a cool updated version of the American Dream story in NYC. What blows my mind about these kind of shows is the quality of writing taking place in the TV format -- somehow the arc is crafted to survive months, years, season across season -- without losing quality or creativity. That, to me, is the literary achievement of these wonderful shows. They also portray characters in stirring lights, avoiding or sometimes confronting stereotpyes of representation in ways that really good novels did, could, and do. For me, a good literary work also has to create an emotion that was not there before -- and that is certainly what these shows accomplish, as well. With long-form episodic TV, viewers latch onto the characters in ways that don't happen when watching a movie; these characters keep coming into our homes, on a regular basis. We become attached.
Revolution seems to be one that speaks to the post-apocalyptic literary genre; Elementary is yet another re-imagining of the Sherlock Holmes archetypes and story-lines; 666 Park Avenue combines Miltonian good versus evil type questions with a seemingly anthropological view of urban Americans. Which will be your new favorite? And do you agree with Doherty's claims about Arc-Tv? Weigh in!! And be sure to "like" the blog's new Facebook page!
Until next time, Liza