Thursday, December 29, 2011
Channel Cruiser: The 2011 Wrap-Up Rant
I've been betrayed by cable TV. We all have. Back in the early days--before most of us were old enough to appreciate what we'd soon be missing----the new medium promised so much. Niche broadcasting at its best: the arts, documentaries, bold programming offered day and night without regard to ratings. But Alas, nothing lasts forever. And that's the best way to sum up where we are today, bitterly flicking through every one of Bruce Springsteen's 57 channels, finding nothing on. Except drivel: reality and sensational crime and political hectoring.
Okay, I exaggerate. There's more than a smattering of quality shows--dramas and documentaries, quirky comedies that couldn't survive elsewhere, too. But most of them are on the premium channels like HBO ( "Boardwalk Empire" "Treme" ) Showtime ( "Nurse Jackie," "Homeland") and more recently Starz ( "Boss"). But AMC has the Emmy Award winning "Mad Men," and TNT has forayed into dramas. But I'm miffed at the basic cable stalwart for pulling the plug unceremoniously on "Men of a Certain Age," right after the special dramedy picked up a Peabody and left us hanging at the end of the second season. TNT added bitter lemon oil on my ire when it also ditched the quirky detective drama "Memphis Beat. "
I was, in fact, feeling a little like a TV jinx. But I tossed off my scarlet TVJ when HBO spared the critically acclaimed but low-rated "Enlightened." This genre-busting gem takes on corporate greed, self-help and human relationships--inside the office and out-- with such fresh and timely humor and unexpected compassion. The show has already nabbed Golden Globe nominations as Best Comedy and for Laura Dern as Best Actress. I hope Dern and co-creator Mike White ( who also does a nice supporting turn as office mate Tyler) get the recognition they deserve. Awards help. Just ask Matthew Weiner.
Speaking of the "Mad Men" maestro, junkies, still fuming from the bad Blakenship karma will finally get their fix of the oft-decorated, still low-rated drama when it finally returns to the small screen in March.
Other highlights of 2012 will likely include:
"Luck, " HBO's latest drama about the continually changing fortunes at a race track. From Michael Mann and David Milch, the show's pilot already displays the network's golden touch. A star-studded cast featuring Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina will surely help propel this timely discourse on the vagaries of luck.
"Magic City," is Starz latest drama about the early days Miami. If "Boss" set the standard, this one could take the network to a new level.
HBO also ushers in the third season of "Treme," rolls out the film version of the political bestseller "Game Change" about the 2008 presidential election; you know the one with Julianne Moore playing Sarah Palin. Saw the preview and yes, kids, she's got the look and voice down.
And Julia Louis Dreyfus stars in "Veep" a new HBO show about the first woman Vice President. Let's hope she's not doing a Palin impersonation.
I also look forward to more music shows, most found on PBS. 2011 highlights included "Paul Simon at Webster Hall" and "Buddy Holly: Listen To Me." Grand shows for music fans; would be even grander to watch without the pledge breaks ( but the programming doesn't pay for itself).
On broadcast TV: Both "The Good Wife" and "Harry's Law" keep getting better, while both "Pan Am" and "Revenge" flamed out too soon. I'm also just ( year two or three?) getting into "Parenthood" and find both the writing and acting among the best and most authentic.
On a personal note: I'm toying with the idea of reviewing in the voice of Pauline the Bargain Shopper, a long lost radio character who somehow found her way into my play "Psychic Chicken Soup," as the main character's sister. Pauline (not to be confused with Pauline Kael, who's probably doing cartwheels in her grave about now)is blunt, boisterous and can always spot a bargain and convince you to buy it even if it doesn't fit.
I'll try it on for size. If it doesn't work out, I can always shove her in the back of the closet among all the other non-returnable clunkers.
Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.
And pass the remote