Lounging around in front of our our dream machine computer box is what we do best. We travel to distant planets and to various points in history and to make-up fanciful worlds we know we’ll never see.
And it is there that I absorb “funny” with great cartoons like “Futurama” and “Adventure Time”. And it is there that I see true passion in doc films like “American Scream and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”.
And it is there that I know I’ve wasted oodles and oodles of time, but it’s also where I find so much of my inspiration.
It is in front of that big flat screen that stories come to life.
Storytelling has so many intangible aspects, but seeing a character announce himself on screen and interact with the made-up world that was created to support the story arch around him has a certain element of magic to it.
If anything is magic, it’s TV, which resurrects entire worlds from scratch for us — in hopes that they’ll hold our attention long enough for us to decide to give them a good review on some survey someday.
Behind the velvet curtain, TV shows (as fictitious as they are) are actual real places, with real people on the back end who are tirelessly pulling the strings and have been, for months and even years before you know the concept for a show existed.
The penny dropped for me on a field trip to see the Breaking Bad exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image one fine Sunday, with my brother, his wife and the Mister. It is there that I saw each element of movie creation and production parsed out a way that I had never conceptualized before — from costume design to sound editing — with each function that was someone’s life’s work featured in a separate interactive area of the museum.
Building any TV show, whether it’s good or bad, takes teamwork — a shared vision about a temporary reality that everyone is willing to fully put their all into with blood and sweat and time and money — usually over the course of many years.
I can see how it can be insanely fulfilling when you get it right (like Curb Your enthusiasm), and incredibly embarrassing when you get it wrong. One cinematic example of that, which Patton Oswalt has delightfully exposed to me, is “Death Bed: The Beds that Eats People”. These guys apparently got it REALLY wrong.
”They hired a crew. Caterers woke up at dawn and sliced bagels and boiled coffee for people to have the fuel they needed to make the movie “Death Bed: The Bed that Eats People.” – Patton Oswalt, “Death Bed”.
If asked to judge, i think I’d have to go ahead and give them a thumbs down to “Death Bed” without having watched a lick of the film and with absolutely no sense of remorse. Even bad TV can be good, when you’re in the mood for trying to see the forest for the trees.
I find reality TV shows to be fascinating. The subtle acts of compassion and discomfort that you can pick up between characters are priceless. AMC’s “Small Town Security” is one of those shows seems pretty run of the mill until hidden pockets of truth pop up out of nowhere and then suddenly, your mind is blown.
These people are putting their lives on display, and while it feels voyeuristic at times, (like that dreaded period of wedding planning when we had to watch Bridezillas to make me feel better about myself) — on the other hand, Hitchcock’s creepy predilections toward voyeurism brought with it an entirely new experience with film.
So to those people out there who make me feel guilty for watching as much TV as I do (whoever you are) I ask of you, is getting to know the 5 million characters on the “Wire” in order to get a slightly better understanding of the complexities of the drug trade economy and the frustrations eating away at the police force — how can you possibly tell me (by nature of those of you who raise your eyebrows when I’ve quoted one too many TV shows) — that TV is a waste of time?
You can learn a lot about different types of people you might not otherwise encounter by watching reality TV. And yes, using the word “types” implies that I’m being stereotypical and judgy in assuming the personalities I’ve seen expand any further than the character I’m seeing on screen (as the editors have chosen to present those characters to me), but whatever, I’m sticking with it.
Watching TV, in conclusion, has taught me how to be a better storyteller. Over the years of admittedly being a couch potato with the Mister, I can proudly say that I’ve enjoyed seeing dozens of character dynamics flesh out (ahem, “Downton Abbey”), and watching dozens of weighty story plots unfurl (*cough cough* “Game of Thrones”), and laughing at the same jokes dozens of times (“Arrested Development”), and meekly shedding a tear for dozens of heartfelt moments (my heart literally fluttered when April and Andy got married).
TV is, and always will be, a very cool friend of mine.