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December 8th, 2009


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10:18 am - Top TV
Article in the NY Magazine (thanks for the correction Abigail) arguing that in the noughties, TV became Art. The argument - and I think it's a good one - is that there is a business model to create high class drama, which repays investment in DVD box sets. While the noughties were arguably an excellent decade for film, they have been inarguably an excellent decade for TV.

My top five American TV shows were/are

Deadwood
Mad Men
The Wire
Firefly
Breaking Bad

Each one bloody outstanding - outstanding. I feel privileged to have seen any one of them, let alone all. Furthermore there were others, such as the Sopranos and Battlestar Galaactica, which were surely very good but I just never got around to watching.

My top five British TV shows were, it's more difficult, but I think:

Life on Mars
The Office
Spooks
Doctor Who
Spaced

I've left something obvious off there haven't I? I've got a nagging feeling. These are different from the high investment US shows: less grounded, more absurd. They rely more on winging it. That's not a very clear way of expressing what I mean.

I think that TV has been art before now, but it's more consistent, and there's more money invested in it, now that the philistines have figured out they can generate income from quality. Of course there is another business model, which is churn out any tatty old crap which is supposedly 'real', while being nothing like reality. However, you don't have to watch it do you? (By 'you' here I am addressing myself)

I would like to put in a word for British short drama series, which come and go, perhaps never make as much individual impression as these great shows, but cumulatively add up to something worthwhile. That includes BBC classical adaptations like Crime and Punishment, and ITV's bleak crime dramas like Wire in the Blood and Rebus.

(18 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:altariel
Date:December 8th, 2009 10:31 am (UTC)
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I think that this is true for US TV drama. I don't think so for British TV drama, which I think is in a pretty bad way at the moment: what it's gained in production values, it's lost in complexity of storytelling.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2009 10:41 am (UTC)
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I agree that the best British shows are not as complex as the best American. There isn't the same sense of sustained artistic investment in an artefact that is highly developed on all levels. But I am reminded of the difference between the sex appeal of American and British actors - the Brits are not as symmetrical, but they have a certain je ne sais quoi. Or perhaps, they have to have something hard to express, because in what can be expressed clearly we can not compete.

Put as much of this down to my partiality as you wish :-)
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From:altariel
Date:December 8th, 2009 10:52 am (UTC)
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An excellent case for the defence :-) Actually, that reminds me of the one recent drama that I've really enjoyed: Garrow's Law.
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From:dfordoom
Date:December 8th, 2009 11:07 am (UTC)
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that in the noughties, TV became Art

TV became art at least as early as 1967, with the original The Prisoner TV series. And Callan, which also started its run at about the same time. I don't think current British TV is any better than the stuff British TV was doing 40 plus years ago. Which isn't a criticism of current British TV, but a tribute to how good the stuff of 40 years ago was.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2009 11:29 am (UTC)
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The change is certainly less marked in British TV than in American, perhaps because the business model was never so pre-eminent over here, for good or ill. I think the NYT are mainly talking about American telly, and I think there's more of a case to be made on that side of the ocean.
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From:dfordoom
Date:December 8th, 2009 12:15 pm (UTC)
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Our tastes in British TV coincide fairly closely, but strangely our tastes in American TV differ spectacularly!
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
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I always expect the best when I see it's from HBO. Looks like I need to add AMC to that shortlist.
From:egretplume
Date:December 8th, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
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I loved the UK The Office.
To the Americans I would add The Shield.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
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The Shield is excellent. In contrast, I am a bit fan of Criminal Intent, but watching it after The Wire or The Shield it seems ridiculously shallow.
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From:watervole
Date:December 8th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)
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The obvious ommission to me is the West Wing.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
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Another one I haven't seen, but it does get mentioned in these lists a lot.
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From:andrewducker
Date:December 9th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
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That would be down to its sheer brilliance.

Buy the complete box set - you won't regret it...
From:abigail_n
Date:December 8th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)
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Small correction: that article is from NY Magazine, not The New York Times.

I certainly agree that TV gained credibility and came into its own in the aughts, but I think the foundation was laid in the nineties. That was a decade of a lot of formal experimentation, a lot of groundbreaking series (many of them genre shows) that paved the way for a renaissance. You'll notice that several of the shows that get namechecked in that article started in the late nineties, so though their main artistic accomplishments were products of the aughts, they were a product of the nineties.

The flipside of this is that I'm more than a little nervous about the future of the medium. Most of my favorite TV shows are from the early to middle parts of the decade, and there have been very few recent productions that have captured me. It feels as though we're sliding back into formula on the one hand, and trying to imitate the new forms created in the nineties and the early aughts without capturing their spirit on the other. Certainly in genre TV there's nothing currently on screen that's a worthy successor to Firefly or any of the other excellent shows of the early half of the decade.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
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I do agree that the nineties laid the foundation. Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure, the X Files all awesome and original shows. Genre I think has fallen away a little lately. But Mad Men is inestimable in my opinion, and it's still going on right now. I haven't even seen season 3 yet.
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From:vilakins
Date:December 8th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
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I would highly recommend The Sopranos. I think it was by the same people as Mad Men and has the same high quality, intelligence, and complex "iceberg" characters. The main character, Tony, is someone you can sympathise with and loathe in the same episode or even scene: a lovable monster. You'd also enjoy the violence, which is very well done. It was a brilliant series.

West Wing I haven't yet seen, but so many people whose taste I trust have recced it to me, I have bought the first season DVDs.
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From:communicator
Date:December 8th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
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Yes. I am almost reluctant to find another show I 'must watch'. I want to go to bed now but Breaking Bad is starting in a few moments... I am a telly victim.
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From:vilakins
Date:December 9th, 2009 08:22 am (UTC)
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I wouldn't say you must watch it, but I know you'd enjoy it. When you get the time, maybe just give it a go with the first couple of episodes.
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From:communicator
Date:December 9th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
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I didn't think you were telling me I had to - I just know what I am like - I get hooked

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