Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cultural Wasteland?

A recent, semi-regular search for info on David Lynch projects gave me some good news; Twin Peaks Season 2 will finally OFFICIALLY be released on DVD stateside in a few months. I've been waiting a very long time for this-the first season came out over five years ago. I've long held Twin Peaks in a special regard, and I still consider it to be my favorite television show ever. Still, despite the place it will always have in my heart and imagination, I've had to admit that the show may no longer be the high watermark of the medium it once was.

Yes, I have to admit, television has improved. In my lifetime it's grown by leaps and bounds, and it's no longer the cultural wasteland that it often gets accused of being. It was tough going there for awhile, with the preponderance of bad reality TV(I'm looking at you, Fox!), and networks that seemed committed to cancelling high quality, intelligent shows in favor of cheap,
mind-numbing programming(I'm still looking at you, Fox!). To be sure, most of those shows still exist(anything on Fox outside of House and the Simpsons), most of the stuff on CBS. Reality shows, though declining, are still big events that are usually every bit as exploitative as they have been.

Outside of those examples, television today is more thought provoking than it was in my youth, and actual serious issues are being addressed in some very popular shows. Take the new Battlestar Galactica. I haven't seen any of season 3, airing now, but the first two seasons rank among the best television has ever produced. Making the humans polytheistic, persecuted by the cylons and their fanatical belief in one true god was an inspired bit of storytelling. The parallel is obvious, making the human heroes a sympathetic stand-in for Iraqi insurgents is only the tip of the controversial iceberg. In fact, I truly believe if this show were more popular, or on network TV instead of basic cable, the show would be the subject of some serious picketing. And I don't just mean from geeky fan boys obsessed over Starbuck being a woman. The show never takes the easy way out by providing a cut and dry answer to problems that are obviously meant to mirror our problems of today, rather portraying each side of an argument so equally that my knee-jerk liberal reactions are put to the test. One episode in particular dealt with abortion. I myself am pro-choice in theory(I agree it's a woman choice), but pro-life in action(I think it's a horrible thing). The episode dealt with a woman wanting an abortion, and the liberal president having to go against her feelings and make abortion illegal, because when the human race is whittled down to less than 50,000 people, every life is important.

And this show isn't alone in this new trend towards the thought-provoking, although it heightens the political more than most. Lost continues to be twisty and entertaining. It's true that this season seems to be suffering from a general lack of purpose, but it's still engaging, and the cold open on the season premier had me shouting 'what the hell!?' at my TV screen. Something I've actually done once or twice this season. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, with the Lost producers in talks with ABC to set a cancellation date, which will allow them to work towards a specific ending instead of just stalling for time, which it feels like they've been doing for the last half season or so. The show returns from hiatus in a couple weeks, and I'm fairly excited about it. It isn't the show I've been awaiting with the most excitement, however. That honor belongs to the lovely and witty Veronica Mars.

This season got a lot of flack from fans angered by the CWs decision to market the show to the same audience as the Gilmore Girls. What this involved was a lot more excuses to get Veronica into skimpy/sexy clothing, a blessedly short lived segment where a group of coffee drinking girls discussed which boys they liked on the show during commercial breaks. This fits a lot more this season than it would have last year, because another change seems to be an increase of focus on Veronica's love life(although thank god they got rid of her love interest of the first season and a half... I'm no big fan of Logan, but at least he's not so boring). Most damningly, However, was the wrapping up all of the mysteries left building up from seasons one and two in basically the first few minutes of the first episode. Anything left unresolved has so far been ignored. This last one hurts the most, largely because the mysteries were by and large INTERESTING, and you just know the way they ended isn't REALLY how the producers wanted things to go. However, after the highly convoluted and storyline clogged second season(I watched it in one week on DVD and was lost for large chunks of it) I'm sure the network wanted to draw in as many new viewers as possible, and that means making the show as easy to jump in and understand as possible. And, if this trick works, all will be forgiven, because as of now this looks to be the last season we get.

Looking back on the first few episodes of this new season(the show is airing in story-arc blocks, 6 weeks for one story, a few weeks off. Six weeks of a new story, a few weeks off...) the offenses listed above seem fairly minor, because the show turns out to be better than any single episode would lead you to believe, and was in retrospect quite genius. With a main mystery revolving around a serial rapist on the college campus, each episode explored abuser/victim relations and what absolute power over another person could do. This ranged from the subtle-a kidnapping case at Hearst college with a cameo by... Patti Hearst, that most famous example of victim-abuser relations- to the not so subtle-a class experiment where half the students are guards at a Guantanamo bay-style prison, and the other half are prisoners. This season may not yet be reaching the highs of season one(one of the best, most perfect seasons TV has yet produced), but for my money it's still beating out season two(which is still excellent), if only for the sake that it's nowhere near as confusing. The shows mysteries are all intriguing, even when they're pretty lightweight affairs. This succeeds where most P.I. shows fail; showing the actual detective work. Most detective shows involve the hero stumbling onto the answer by accident, in the final few minutes of the show, but Veronica Mars shows us exactly how these cases are solved. We may not get all the info we need to solve it ourselves, but we do get to see how the clues are put together and therefore don't feel cheated when the revelation seems to come from nowhere.

If you can't tell, this is probably my favorite show airing right now(I don't have cable, so don't bother bringing up any HBO series like The Wire or the Sopranos), and one I want everyone reading this to watch. Rent season one, or just jump in now while a new mystery is about to start, either way just START WATCHING THIS SHOW! If the ratings don't improve, the CW has made clear it's plan to cancel the show, and this is by far the best thing the network has going for it. Now if only everybody else would see that.

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