Monday, September 20, 2010

The Big C Gets a C+

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on September 20, 2010. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

It is no longer necessary to make the point that television is currently a lot better than film. TV series are drawing not only A-list actors (Glenn Close and William Hurt on Damages, Sally Field in Brothers and Sisters, Holly Hunter on Saving Grace, to list just a few), but also A-list directors (Agnieszka Holland has directed episodes of The Wire and Treme, and most recently, Martin Scorsese directed the pilot of the much-anticipated Boardwalk Empire, which premiered last night). Television has come a long way, and TV viewers are richer for it.

To a large degree, the increasing richness of television can be traced to its overall honesty – television’s willingness to show us things which are uncomfortable or ugly, and its ability to illuminate the details which make the lives of our favourite characters so intriguing. But there are shows with all the right ambition, shows which, despite their potential and intriguing subject matter, fail to live up to their own promise. The Big C is one of these shows.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Rough Guide to New TV: Fall 2010 Edition

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on September 4, 2010. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

I have always welcomed the beginning of September with a real tinge of excitement. As a kid, I learned quickly that September didn’t just mean going back to school: it also promised the new fall television season. At the centre of this excitement would be TV Guide’s special Fall Preview edition, its digest-sized volume extra-thick with glossy photos and enthusiastic descriptions of every new upcoming network program of the year. The photos that accompanied the shows followed a strict pattern: sitcoms all smiles or fists raised in faux conflict, cop dramas all scowls and intensity, prime-time soaps smouldering sideways glances. And I loved it all—eagerly turning back the corners of the pages of shows I would plan to watch. On those pages, all shows were equal—all promise and hope, for that spare moment, before the first episode aired.

Perhaps that palpable aura of possibility is why (no doubt to my mother’s dismay) I would dutifully collect the Fall Previews, year after year—taking care to keep them from the trash bin as the week came to end. By the time I left for university, I probably had a dozen years’ worth tucked away on the top shelf of my closet. I have no idea where my small collection ultimately ended up, but I wish that I could flip through some of those pages now—take another glimpse into a world where, for a brief instant, The Charmings and Manimal stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cheers and Hill Street Blues.