I admit to watching an extraordinary amount of internet television, something that I figured out yesterday when I was taking a survey about TV shows and they asked me how many hours a week I watch. Right now, I follow faithfully eleven TV shows that are on the air right now (and two more come back in June/July), but the shows that I watch have been picked very carefully, and if something doesn't pique my interest anymore, I do stop watching. I think, though, that television nowadays is more of an art form than it ever has been, and despite many cliched, hackneyed bullshit that networks air (Rock of Love, anyone?), there is at least one show that is interesting, thoughtful, intellectually stimulating, and appropriately dramatic that makes me feel less guilty about being a fan.
The shows that I would consider in this category, in order of my own interest:
Mad Men: This show is fantastic. Thankfully my dear friend Abby told me to start watching it about a year ago, which I did, and I immediately became a fan. The production team has done an amazing job recreating the 1960s, and every time I watch, I imagine Sally as my mom, who would have been approximately the same age during the 1960s (and how cool would it be to have Don Draper as your grandfather?). More so, however, is the fact that Mad Men doesn't pretend to be over the top dramatic. What is so interesting about it is that in some episodes lots of plot twists occur - Don gets caught up with a new love interest, Pete makes yet another stupid decision in order to advance his career, a secretary runs over a guy's foot with a lawnmower... But in many episodes not much happens at all - it's a lazy dramatic pace like that which actually makes the show more exciting, in my opinion. It is really like life - the characters don't seem to be terribly archetypal like they are in so many other shows. Instead, they are both good and bad, revered and hated, and our sympathy as an audience is torn from one character to another. We used to feel badly for January Jones, but now we feel badly for Don, who may deserve what's coming, but he's always come out on top! Or Pete, my favorite character - despite the fact that he's an absolute tool, he's so endearing, even when he's being a terrible person. Mad Men is certainly a new kind of show, but I think that the way it experiments with more well-rounded characters and a slower pacing makes it successful, brilliant, and worthy of 40 minutes of my time each week.
Lost: Yes, many people out there are probably tsking at this being #2 on my list of amazing dramatic shows. But Lost has proven its brilliance time and time again. Yes, seasons 2 and 3 were pretty disappointing, and I admit that I stopped watching it for a few years until I realized that it was getting good again. But despite its ups and downs, Lost has really paved the way for a number of new shows. Of course, the show itself certainly would not have existed if it hadn't been for the ever infamous Twin Peaks by David Lynch, a show that, like Lost, depended on large casts, cliffhangers, and seasons long mystery plots that are sometimes left unresolved. What I like about Lost, much like Mad Men, is that the characters are somewhat ambiguous - few are genuinely good or bad, and exist in a kind of purgatory (har har, for those of you who have been impatiently awaiting the show finale in a few weeks). Jack, for example, started out as the hero, the protagonist, but has only proven himself just as weak and vulnerable as the rest of them. He even makes some pretty poor decisions that get more than a couple of people killed. Hurley, who started out as a the archetypal comic sidekick, may become the catalyst for the rest of the show with his unique ability to communicate with the dead (sorry, spoiler!). The female characters also all started out as fairly weak, highly sexualized (from a male perspective) characters, but they have also evolved. I wouldn't say that Kate has made much of a transition - going from the object of sexual desire to a mom-figure to Aaron - but Sun has certainly proven herself to be a strong willed character, and Juliette was a wonderful addition to the show in season 3(?). So what I like about Lost, on the surface, are the cliffhangers and mysteries and the philosophical allusions - but underneath, the characters all have a completely different role to play, and almost all of them have subtly transformed from archetypes to very human figures.
House: I've been a little disappointed - okay, maybe very disappointed - with this show in the past few seasons. Not only have they pretty much stuck to the routine script (person gets sick, sicker, sickest, then recovers after a miracle idea comes to House), but they have also reverted to rehashing the same plot points over and over - House was a Vicodin addict for the first few seasons and has now turned to alcohol, which this last episode implied - how original! Nevertheless, the reason I keep watching this show is because, despite the overall problems with the story, House's character (and Hugh Laurie's acting) are absolutely perfect in every way. I really can't think of a better main character than Gregory House - the cynicism, the attitude, the zingers, the pranks - make for really good television. I don't think that this show is going to last much longer, although they'll try to make it go for at least one more season. It's too bad that the supporting characters have become lame caricatures: Foreman is the disgruntled employee who rarely lets down his guard, Thirteen is the hot lesbian with an incurable illness, Taub is the sleazy cheater, and Chase is the soulful Australian. Most of the jokes made on the show exploit these stereotypes, and that's too bad, because the show used to be so much more than that.
Bones: Similarly, I love Bones. I got into this show a little over a year ago, when I was bored, and began watching older episodes online. There really is something about watching a TV show all at once, rather than waiting for weekly episodes. I really felt like I knew all the characters pretty intimately after I watched seasons 1-4 in about a month and a half. What I love: the sexual/emotional tension between Brennan and Booth (who doesn't love that??), although that has turned into something very different in recent episodes. I also love the same between Angela and Hodges, who are almost more worthy of my sympathy, since they are clearly more aware of their emotional issues than Brennan. I also love Sweets - the cute psychiatrist who's 25 years old, always trying to get attention and praise from his colleagues. The more recent problems with this show come less from poor characterization and more from the fact that the episodes just aren't as creative anymore. So many of the 'in between' episodes (meaning the ones that aren't the beginning, climax, and ends of the season) are just so boring and pointless - it is so easy to pick out the villain, and the ways in which people's bodies are being found is just getting more and more ridiculous. Like House, I think this will last for one more season, but I'm not sure what they're going to be able to do with it once Brennan and Booth get together - and it sure seems like they're gearing up for that in the near future, if not at the end of this season.
The Tudors/FlashForward/24 I am going to save for later.
Glee: While not exactly a drama, I need to rant a little. I loved this show when it first aired. The teaser episode that they had on hulu a year ago was fantastic, and I couldn't wait for more. I loved every episode of the first half of season one (it went from September through December of 2009). Glee has recently returned to FOX and I am completely shocked at what a terrible, boring, half-assed show it is now. I have actually stopped watching it!! (And I rarely do that). What I loved about the first half is that so many of the characters drew upon my sympathy, and were also hilarious. The show knew that it was playing with stereotypes and made jokes that made sure that the audience knew that they were aware. This kind of self-awareness permeated every character introduced. The use of music was pertinent and modest - they didn't just throw in music for the hell of it, but rather crafted episodes around songs that would add to the plot. Sure, it was overproduced and kind of cliched, but it was easy to look past all that because of all the amazing things going for it. NOW, however, Glee has just turned into drivel. The characters are no longer sympathetic (Rachel is obnoxious beyond belief, especially now that she has two hot guys chasing after her; Quinn is just a sullen faced pregnant girl; Puck has been completely MIA; Finn is turning into even more of a tool; and even Mr. Schuster is no longer the poor dude with a heart of gold - he's just another sleazebag. The use of music is also ridiculous - the Madonna episode pretty much summed it up: here are 12 Madonna songs that are famous, let's see how we can weave a threadbare plot around them so that we can hear a bunch of lame teenagers belt them for absolutely no reason. I'm sorry, Glee, but you've lost my interest since you decided to sell out: now you're just an overproduced, plotless, pointless, superficial waste of time.
I'll continue this later...