Inspection- Does TV Suck… or What?

“Does TV Suck… Or What?” Looks like a flippant; easy to answer, question. But… it’s not.

I was in Ohio when I wrote this and, while tearing down another show, they had on the Disney Channel… well one of them. Apparently there’s at least two. I have always found Disney production values superb, but their scripting sucks. Take the show they had on around noon with live actors. I never bothered to find out the title because, to Yoda-ize it a bit, “Masochist am not I.”

Two supposed teens carrying a supposed 10 or 11 year old with a neck brace. The 11 year old says something pithy and teens say, “OK,” and they just drop the kid from what must be two to three feet up in the air. “Audience” laughs via the sound guy’s addition of “canned.”

What the Hell? A kid in a neck brace gets dropped from up high; intentionally, and that’s “funny?”

After that atrocity I thought I might actually find something good with weird flying creatures beasties who do a take on classic tale out of antiquity: flying to close to the the sun. Not all that bad… until one poops in the face of another with that annoying laughter in the background that, in this case, figuratively and literally arrives out of “the can.” Once their wings melt they crash and, get this… they’re impaled on various objects: Vlad the Impaler style; only without the blood and gore.

This is “children’s entertainment?

Maybe as a children’s entertainer myself I’m “too sensitive?” I don’t get this. I have been using Jay Ward like puns in my shows since I started in the early 80s and some; very few but some, think that’s “inappropriate…” not because there’s any swearing or sexual references: there’s not. No, because “they won’t understand them:” even though they laugh almost as much as the teachers. Indeed, sometimes they get it when some of the denser preschool teachers don’t.

So Disney is “OK?” “Safe?” Getting impaled and pooped on is “good clean fun?”

Yet, when it comes to more adult fare’, I think the “or what” in the title applies a bit more than “suck.” Back in 60s something as complex script-wise as House, Caprica or Six Feet Under, would never have been on TV. That’s sad. I’m not claiming “very” complex, just “more.”

I can only use references I am personally familiar with, so excuse me if I don’t touch upon your TV favs. Try, if you can, to transfer my comments to programs you like. One example I’ll use will be comparing Battlestar Galactica in the 70s, and the one that ended just few years ago. Go back and look at the characters in both cases: the acting, the scripting. There is simply no comparison. The older program simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The first Battlestar had cardboard cut outs for characters and villains who somehow damn near destroy humanity, but could never shoot, or think, straight. I have watched a few episodes of the new V and the comment is still valid, though I’m far less a “fan” of the V series as a whole.

OK, not a Sci Fi fan? What about programs about families. Father Knows Best? The Partridge Family? Even back then I wanted to become TV anorexic; if for no other reason than to get the taste out of my mouth. I think I understand why Othello really poked his own his eyes out: forced to watch one too many episodes of The Brady Bunch.

Compare those shows to one that went off a few years ago: Six Feet Under. What a marvelous, complex, interesting portrayal of a family… and if you watched and didn’t see the last episode, you must. You really must. I can’t imagine a better way to say goodbye in the last five minutes of any program has ever existed, or ever will.

Yes, I am cherry picking. But we have to. No one can watch everything of all that’s aired, unless you wish to found dead from starvation, or Swiss cheese for brains. And I know that the influence of cable plays into this. Yet Flash Forward: not a cable show, for example, also had more complex family situations.

Let me clarify a bit more. My “better than suck” take doth not apply all the time. And the present being better than the past doesn’t always apply either. Why did the original Star Trek: for its time; and one must qualify it that way, have the best scripts compared to much of TV from the 60s. Simple: they were often written by professional Sci Fi writers… despite the fact that Harlan Ellison was so mad about what was done to his Guardian script he broke into Gene’s office and was found there: standing on the desk; eating Gene’s office plant.

It took quite a while for the new Treks to even come close to having that quality scripting; again “for the times.” To this day I still feel like emptying my innards at some of the more “modern” takes of Trek scripting: like when the computer core became “sentient” and they had to eject it. Or the very confusing last Gen episode. And I am glad they eliminated the short skirts and lowered the frequency of all those “Captain, I sense something(s).” And while she’s gotten a hell of a lot better, Marina Sirtis still needs acting lessons… or pursue her true talent: being a somewhat flirty waitress at Dennys. I always found her early acting more than…

Yeah, I’m going to “there.”

…a little “Troi-ing.”

So going back to my scripting comments; using classic Trek as an example: it’s not that they couldn’t write great scripts back then. Still, even those scripts suffer a bit due to… changes in society? Hindsight? The arrogance we always suffer from when using the present to judge the past?

Or, is this evidence that we are we actually maturing as a society and TV is reflecting that? Hard to imagine with our pols and pundits having televised tantrums that would embarrass a five year old, teabaggers carrying white faced Barack signs, and the unreal, barfy, nature of “reality TV…” Hard to imagine, indeed.

I certainly welcome and “But Ken…” comments, because the conundrum baffles me. What “conundrum?” Well, to restate the question: hoping you might chime in…

“Does TV suck… or what?”

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

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