Good and evil in the garden of television
Published 7:29 am Sunday, December 4, 2011
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
Don Draper! Liz Lemon! Come back to me! Every time I let my guard down and embrace a current television show it disappears for months like Lemon’s “30 Rock” and Draper’s “Mad Men” or it’s canceled. I’ve never recovered from Fox ripping “Arrested Development” out of my arms in 2006. In fact, I’ve been doing the “Sophie’s Choice” silent scream ever since.
If you don’t count “Happy Days” and “Little House on the Prairie” reruns, I don’t watch much TV, but when I do, I commit. I fully invest myself, and I expect the show to deliver in return. I want to feel compelled to watch a program because I can’t get enough of its story and characters, but that doesn’t happen often. For the past few years the only thing I’ve seen grow in the television landscape is weeds.
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I get sick of watching baking contests, hair salon dramas, sing-offs, dance-offs, stories about people with peculiar phobias and bizarre psychoses, contrived relationships in false realities, kids behaving badly, adults behaving badly and pets behaving badly.
I get sick of watching everybody cry over everything. Why, just last night, I found myself yelling at the television, “Pull yourself together! It’s only a modeling competition! Did the Ingalls family cry when a hailstorm wiped out their crops? No, they walked that catwalk with their heads held high.” It was late, and I might have gotten my shows mixed up, but you get the idea.
It’s not like I don’t give the current programs a chance. I watch that “CSI” “NCIS” “SVU” stuff, but 20 minutes into it, I’m bored. Columbo could solve those crimes before lunch with only his wits and a rumpled raincoat. I watch the hospital dramas, and I can’t help thinking that the doctors on “M.A.S.H.” saved more lives drunk than that crew on “Grey’s Anatomy” saves sober.
Because a girl can only watch so many ’70s reruns, I gave a couple of the new shows a chance this year. I expected to find tired formulaic drivel, but I found unique, clever, challenging drama.
“American Horror Story,” Wednesdays on FX, never fails to push the envelope as well as the stationery, stamps, letter opener and ink blotter. Every week I say I’m never watching it again, too scary, too creepy, too downright wrong, but the next week I’m right there with one eye closed and my first communion cross pointed toward the television.
The horror takes place in the mother of all haunts, Murder House. A struggling dysfunctional family has just moved in angering the scads of lost souls who wander the halls and camp in the basement. Very bad things happen to people who live in Murder House, not the least of which is having Jessica Lange as a lunatic neighbor. If you are offended by, well, anything, don’t watch “American Horror Story,” but if you like to be scared, shocked and slightly disturbed, give it a whirl. It’s a lot of fun after you get over the fact that you’ll probably spend a thousand years in purgatory just for tuning in.
“The Walking Dead,” Sundays on AMC, is not really a new program, but the post-apocalyptic zombie drama aired only six episodes last year, which made it more like a miniseries than a regular show. Whereas the moral compass in “American Horror Story” was probably swallowed by the devil, “The Walking Dead” has its fully intact. The problem is that every week, true north is a little harder to spot than it was the week before.
If the world ended tomorrow, would we lower our behavior to match the desperation of our circumstances or would we insist that our new reality rise to a level worthy of a civilized person?
That’s the question “The Walking Dead” asks in every episode and answers with increasing ambiguity. It doesn’t take long to realize that the zombies are merely set dressing, a plot device. After you get used to them, they’re not even scary anymore. The human beings, on the other hand, are terrifying.
So, friends, that’s what I’m watching as the cold nights set in. I’m happy to have found something new to watch, but it’s a long winter. I’m sure I’ll find time for the Fonz and Half Pint, too.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.