Thursday, December 7, 2006

TV on a rainy night, back then

It is true: There was a time when televiewers' choices were extremely limited. Prime time was for one thing or the other, and only those two: canned shows or local ones.

It was not possible to get news, and sports, and a documentary, and current affairs coverage. No chance of sneaking in a Bollywood movie. Or a French drama with subtitles. No prospect at all of BBC crime dramas or Japanese anime. Not in just one time slot, anyway.


"Impressions," TV Times, 20-26 August 1978


On many a rainy night, I find it positively depressing--this responsibility to watch, and write about, prime-time television. One searches for some good thing to say, some beautiful phrase to put together, some profound emotion to summon from the depths of the soul, about some two-bit plastic bauble displayed on the screen by a battery of talents as if it were the queen's own royal gems.

It is not even the violence angle: violence on the small screen does not traumatize, it only turns you off. That is, once you have safely reached the age when you can look at somebody else's fantasies with more amusement than engagement.

It is neither the crime-does-not pay-reward-to-the good-woe-to-the-evil storylines: one takes it all in proper cool. Reality can be downright contrary, and we shape our lives according to the totality of our experience, irrespective of many things we see on television and the many "moral lessons" they are supposed to teach us.

On such a rainy night, when--like me--you almost feel like chopping your television set into small pieces and grounding each piece to powder with the sharp heels of your favorite sandals, try sprightly cynicism instead.

Then, you may be able to see Police Woman for what it really is: not another cops-and-robbers series competing with Kojak for local color and feisty acting, nor with Starsky and Hutch for insensitivity and gore, but just a vehicle for a once-fabulous old jade who is drinking her final toast to the young life before she settles down to acting and dressing her real age. What other reason can there be for a series like Police Woman except to satisfy Angie Dickinson, or those who like Angie Dickinson? Unless it is to play up to the feminist audience, in which case I, as a liberated woman, would hazard that a police woman's job as it is portrayed in the series is hardly the crowning point of womanhood's long struggle to establish itself.

And with enough cynicism, you can also join in the sheer fun of Logan's Run and be charmed to the tips of your true woman's bones by the delightful Rem, even as you close your eyes to the tiring, over-agitated Logan and Jessica. There is a certain gleeful absurdity in the series that makes even your "What will they think of next?" seem like an honest query.

Like Star Trek, Logan's Run catches travelers through life--a winsome threesome driving against the stream of a mechanical society devoid of emotions and passions. Are we not all travelers in our hearts--with feet walking from one point in time to another, eyes looking out for shattered-mirror images of ourselves, minds reaching out for a distillation of essence and existence?

But then, I am losing my cynicism, infusing a show with far more seriousness than it deserves. The truth is that, as long as one does not look too closely for the pockmarks on the face--the fact that all the searching for that elusive something that the three protagonists in Logan's Run still have not stumbled on can be pretty boring for the viewer; the realization that, as in the other week's episode, the good seemed more oppressively evil than the evil and the castouts (the bad ones) more humanly discerning; the feeling that each episode is going to be even more absurd than the first--Logan's Run can be an adventure tale of the first order. Perhaps it lacks the fantastic dimensions of Star Trek and the astounding color and brilliance of Space:1999. But as sci-fi lightweight, it is enjoyable enough. It provokes no intense emotions of rejection or dejection. That, within the black-or-white world of program quality on television, is an acceptable gray.

As for the family programs, one can have too much of them. And this season is such--too much. A daily dose of the one-hour family shows--The Waltons, Family, Little House on the Prairie, Eight is Enough--can kill you with blandness or destroy your innate appetite for a bitter, tragic, powerful, invigorating drama every now and then. So if you are of my generation, I recommend you go slow on them--not too much, not too often.

But the standing rule on a rainy night--or any night, really, of watching prime-time television--is still to remember that the screen in front of you is only a small screen, too sadly constricting to reproduce life, too mindlessly slick to distill it. Do not give this small screen the seriousness only life deserves.

Unless it is life you see there, on the screen, just as it happens, when it happens. Or a strong likeness of it. On such rare occasions, you can splurge on your emotions.

-- NBT
No title in original published column

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