Monday, November 29, 2010
What Shakespeare meant figuratively, I mean literally: Now is the fall of our discontent, at least when it comes to television. The golden age is over, the empire is crumbling, and the huns at the gate look conspicuously like zombies.
Yes, that is a shot at the bag of clichés known as The Walking Dead. Frank Darabont’s name didn’t scare me away, but boy, do I wonder why I keep coming back to a less fun Lost. It’s so lifeless, you see, because it’s on the very serious prestige network once home to Rubicon, an infinitely smarter show about epistemology, and still home to the drama of our times Mad Men. But Dead is empty as art, boring as thriller, and obvious as horror. What I appreciate about The Walking Dead has nothing to do with this particular incarnation as cinema. The best parts are conceptual, though it’s some kind of triumph that Darabont and company crafted a zombie story without sociopolitical commentary.
Now, I’m behind on several shows, like Friday Night Lights and In Treatment, that may well be the remedy I’m looking for, and plenty of greats are on hiatus right now, like Mad Men, Archer, Parks and Recreation, and Treme. I’m also behind on a few that, from what I’ve seen so far, are pretentious hype monsters. It’s hard to build up the caffeine level required to catch up on Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire.
So I admit that I'm probably overstating. That said, there are precisely three good comedies on the air. Well, two, now that Bored to Death has completed its fantastic second season. You already know what I’m going to say: 30 Rock, in something of a resurgence that further separates it from the pack, and Cougar Town, an endlessly inventive show that’s all the more so for being set in the real world unlike other obvious contenders.
But since you brought it up, are you really digging Community this season? Despite remaining one of the most promising comedies on the air (and despite airing the phenomenal bottle episode), the space parody was unfocused, the zombie parody spare, and much of the rest depends upon unbelievable characterization. It’s not The Office, which has one virtue and her name is Mindy Kaling, but it’s not living up to its potential, either, and your mom and I are just worried about you, that’s all.
What else you got? Modern Family? Even the mainstream critics are starting to admit it’s the latest incarnation of Full House. How I Met Your Mother? The good episodes are hollow victories, and I can’t even watch old seasons any more. Glee? As scattershot as ever, though it’s certainly capable of scoring higher highs than most of this mediocrity. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Is anyone seriously going to hold up this season next to its first couple? Weeds? Okay, Weeds actually had a fantastic season, but only relative to itself, not television entire.
Even Conan is only excellent sporadically, good if unsurprising news for Jon Stewart. There is one bright spot, the excellent documentary series Moguls and Movie Stars on TCM (which airs the ‘40s episode tonight along with Casablanca), struggling like Atlas to carry the rest of this dead weight. It’s always tough to make an end-of-year top 10 list. This year it’ll be even harder, and sadder.