Monday, December 7, 2009

Pop Culture Quick Hits: 'Men of a Certain Age,' TV as Art & the SNL-Woods Controversy

Men of a Certain Age on TNT

Okay, okay TV reviewer people. I’ll program my DVR to record the premiere of TNT’s Men of a Certain Age tonight at 10. It’s a dramedy about three men -- one divorced, one single, one married -- dealing with a variety of dispiriting events that have happened to them as they flounder about in middle age. You critics have convinced me that Ray Romano demonstrates a degree of depth as the sad sack of a guy who’s been left by his wife and is trying to figure out where his life’s dreams went. You've indicated that this program -- also starring Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula -- is worth an hour of my time. You better be right.

The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley said, “Men of a Certain Age is not violent, exciting or fast-paced, but the series has a quiet charm of its own; it is a believable, sharply observed portrait of ordinary men who, through all-too-common bad breaks and missteps, feel that they are backsliding.”

But they had me at Andre Braugher.

TV as Art

When this decade began, I had twin toddlers at home who were joined by a baby brother in mid-2001. Needless to say, the decade was marked by a lot of TV watching in my house as we didn’t want to have to obtain a second mortgage in order to afford babysitting for our very young children. And while I was watching said TV programs, I noticed the same thing that Emily Nussbaum of New York Magazine did, that TV has evolved into art (which is why when people act as though TV’s just for dummies, I bristle. Have they not seen Mad Men?) In New York Magazine’s ode to the decade of the 2000s, Nussbaum penned a love letter to this new generation of TV series, of the ilk that people like me obsess about on blogs like this one:

“. . . [F]or anyone who loves television, who adores it with the possessive and defensive eyes of a fan, this was most centrally and importantly the first decade when television became recognizable as art, great art: collectible and life-changing and transformative and lasting . . . It was a period of exhilarating craftsmanship and formal experimentation, accompanied by spurts of anxious grandiosity (for the first half of the decade, fans compared anything good to Dickens, Shakespeare, or Scorsese, because nothing so ambitious had existed in TV history).”

She continued:

“But as this decade began, it had already begun to dawn on viewers that television was something that you could not just merely enjoy and then discard but brood over and analyze, that could challenge and elevate, not just entertain. And a new generation of prickly, idiosyncratic, egotistical TV auteurs were starting to shove up against the limits of their medium, stripping apart genres like the sitcom and the cop show, developing iconic roles for actors like Edie Falco and Michael C. Hall. As the years proceeded (and technology inspired new styles of storytelling), even network TV could stage an innovative series like Lost. On pay channels, especially HBO, it was a genuine renaissance: Show-runners like David Chase and Alan Ball and David Milch and Michael Patrick King (and his Sex and the City writers) reveled in cable’s freedom, exploring adult themes in shocking, sometimes difficult ways.”

Among the shows Nussbaum singled out as having elevated the craft were some of my favorites: Lost (of course), Six Feet Under, The West Wing, Alias, and a small show I might’ve written about here a few times . . . Mad Men.

SNL-Tiger Woods Controversy

Saturday Night Live went there. With the Tiger Woods scandal. And when they went there, they went, in the opinion of some, too far. With Rihanna, one of this year’s most famous victims of domestic abuse, as the musical guest, SNL had a skit making fun of Woods and domestic violence. The cue cards at the end of the skit where the actor playing Woods had written on the back of them that he was scared and feared for his life at the hands of his abusive wife . . . that was the point at which I was sure they’d gone too far. Several bloggers took umbrage – and rightly so – over the skit and the horrific timing with Rihanna on the show. NYT Arts blogger David Itzkoff has a round-up of quotes from several bloggers who thought the sketch was in poor taste.

What DID I like from SNL this past weekend? The White House party crashers skit. Spot. On.

Image credit: TNT.

1 comment:

Cooley Horner said...

I really enjoyed your link to the Nussbaum article. She cited lots of my faves, too: LOST, Alias, Buffy, Mad Men, Deadwood, and so forth. I didn't realize how good the last 10 or so years had been to TV until I saw it all laid out like that. The article gives me hope that we can maybe survive the reality TV age...