In general, television gets a bad rep. What with today's brainless reality shows, gormless quizzes with idiots lining up to win toaster ovens and ridiculous soap operas clogging up the schedueles, it's no wonder that watching televsion is seen, in some circles, as being a lowbrow form of entertainment, akin to mud-wrestling or bucket-spittin'. While it's true that the majority of tv is brain-cell killing, addictive trash, there are a couple of programmes that I genuinely love and think are as well-made, enjoyable and informative as any film, book or play.
"Arrested Development" (2003-2006)
Comedy takes many forms. From the the multi-layered (The Simpsons) to the wacky (Monty Python), satire (Father Ted) to sketch ( the awful Little Britain) and everything in between, the art of making-people-laugh on camera has been tried and tested since the dawn of time. Or, at least, the dawn of cinema. In 1895, the Lumiere brothers showed off their comedy short, "Le Jardinier " in which a gardener gets sprayed by his own hose, which presumably was the height of hilarity back in the 19th century. But I digress. My point in all this is to highlight The Greatest Comedy Of My Time. I exclude The Simpsons only because it's peak was in the mid '90s, which I do not consider "My Time".
Arrested Development follows the turbulent life and times of a formerly wealthy family, comprised of the biggest bunch of dysfunctional freaks you'll ever lay eyes on outside of the Big Brother house. However, unlike the washed-up celebrities and whiny attention-seekers that habituate BB, the characters in AD are all loveable in their own, screwed up way. Jason Bateman is the show's centre, as the continously put-upon Michael Bluth, the only sane member in a family full of alcoholics, convicts, magicians and "Never-Nudes". The dialogue is witty and sharp, the action is interspersed with supposed "archival footage" like police records, security camera videos and newspaper clippings, and Ron Howard is the voice of narration, calmly explaining the events on screen. The humor ranges from satire to slapstick, intricate word-play and utter nonsense in glorious, convoluted storylines.
It's hard to pinpoint one standout character. A personal favourites of mine include Dr. Tobias Funkee, a closeted, flamboyant psychaitrist with acting aspirations who is a "never-nude", a serious and rare condition which prevents him from ever being completely naked, even in the shower. "There are literally dozens of us!", Tobias protests, defending his condition to a disbeliever.
Arrested Development was seriously mistreated during it's short time on air. Cancelled time and time again, shoved to erratic time slots much to the annoyance of fans, the series finally grinded to a halt in 2006. The first two seasons are already out in Ireland and are amongst my most watched dvds. It's hard to accurately convey the brilliance of this show, so y'all better watch it yourselves!
"The West Wing" (1999-2006)
Okay, I haven't seen too many episodes of TWW, but I'm working my way through Season One on boxset and Season Two on More 4, plus I've watched assorted episodes here and there over the last few years. Already, I count it among my top three favourite shows, so I feel the right to wax lyrical about it.
American politics has always fascinated me, and with The West Wing I finally came across a show dealt with politics in a truthful, moving and witty way. With the brilliant writer Aaron Sorkin at its helm this political drama set in the White House tackled big subjects with empathy, humor and pathos. Featuring a brilliant ensemble cast (nearly all my favourite programmes have large ensemble casts, they seem to lend themselves to complex, emotional storylines), the West Wing informs and entertains without ever being preachy.
The pilot introduces us to the main characters, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry and his boyish Deputy Josh Lyman, Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, Director of Communications Toby Ziegler and his deputy Sam Seaborn, each with their own individual quirks, traits and foibles. As the episode draws to a close, Martin Sheen makes an appearance in what has to be one of the greatest onscreen entrences, bursting through a door to intone "I am the Lord your God. Thou shalt worship no other god before me."
Jed Bartlett is probably the best president America never had. His skewed humour, intelligence and genuine concern for his country will never fill the position of Commander-in-Chief in real life, but in the show Jed Bartlett does his job beautifully, aided by his dedicated team of workers. Critics may angrily point out its "Liberal Agenda", but the leftwing bias is not as rampant as it might seem. Anyway, as most of The West Wing aired during Dubya's reign, it's understandable that the writers yearned for something the polar opposite to the way their country was, and is, going.
W.G. Snuffy Walden's rousing theme tune, coupled with the intense faces of the cast in the opening credits accomplish the considerable feat of making me feel hopelessly patriotic towards a country I've never been to. God Bless America!
I could also write about other television shows, but for the time being my fingers and brain are becoming jaded, so I'll stop. Only to say, this post was inspired by another programme which I've only recently started watching (eh, last night...). I'm talking about the weird, the wonderful Twin Peaks, the first series of which I've just rented. After the first five episodes, I'm hooked. Whatever David Lynch is taking, I want some!