Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Crackpipe Remote OR Yes, As A Matter of Fact, I Do Watch Too Much Network Television

t-shirt graphic is from glarkware

This show used to be cutting-edge political and social satire, but it's gotten lobotomized by a... broadcast network hell-bent on doing nothing that might challenge their audience. We were about to do a sketch you've seen already about five hundred times. Yeah, no one is going to confuse George Bush with George Plimpton. We get it. We're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry! It's just thrown in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn't include the courting of twelve-year-old boys. Not even the smart twelve-year-olds - the stupid ones! The idiots - of which there are plenty, thanks in no small measure to this network! So why don't you just change the channel? Turn off the TV. Do it right now. Go ahead.

There's always been a struggle between art and commerce. But I'm telling you, right now art is getting its [butt] kicked, and it's making us mean... It's making us cheap punks and that's not who we are! People are having contests to see how much they can be like Donald Trump? We're eating worms for money. Who wants to screw my sister? Guys are getting killed in a war that's got theme music and a logo? That remote in your hands is a crack pipe.

Wes Mendel, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip


The Amazing Race

  • spiritual relevance: low (thankfully, there's no Christian contestants like the Weavers or the Fogles)
  • quality level: pretty darn good
  • warnings: language & people being mean to each other
  • network: CBS (8 pm Pacific)

Thankfully, The Amazing Race is once again amazing, as they've changed the non-elimination rules (now you get to keep your stuff/$ but you will take a 30 minute time penalty if you don't finish 1st on the next leg), made the clues back into clues rather than Mapquest directions, and found some interesting challenges again. It doesn't hurt that most of the contestants are reasonably likeable - with the notable exception of Peter.

If you gave up on The Amazing Race due to the debacle that was the Family season and/or the goofball fest that was last season, it's OK to come back now.


My prime viewing night... and also my gaming night. Thank goodness for my trusty VCR. (Yes, I realize that "hip" people would be using Tivo, but that would require our little town to be wired for cable - which it isn't.)

Prison Break

  • spiritual relevance: very low
  • quality level: pretty darn good (if you can ignore plot holes big enough to drive a prison bus through)
  • warnings: some language, drug use, and heaps o'violence
  • network: Fox (8 pm Pacific)

The second season of this soap opera crossed with every prison movie you've ever seen (and an added pinch of X-File-ish government conspiracy for flavoring) is actually bopping along at a reasonable pace. They've managed to kill off 4 major characters in the first 6-7 episodes, which means they must be getting notes from the same folks who are behind the last season of 24.

It's not great TV, but I find the story interesting & unpredictable. It's also interesting how they are beginning to deal with Michael's guilt at the fallout from his plan. (This is one of my favorite things about good TV shows - they actually allow character's actions to resonate throughout their lives. For a great example of this, check out Boomtown on DVD... sigh, just one season.)


  • spiritual relevance: it's got potential
  • quality level: sweet (which is better than "pretty darn good")
  • warnings: occasionally violent and/or gruesome, generally kind of dark (except Hiro)
  • network: NBC (9 pm Pacific)

It's the X-Men meet the X-Files... which would only be mildly enjoyable - except that the guys plotting this thing are doing some creative stuff with that "high-concept" pitch. And they didn't hurt themselves with the character of Hiro, who is a complete delight. (Note: say "thank you" to Lost for making it cool to subtitle all of a character's dialogue.)

This one's doing well enough that is has a full season order already (that means the network is buying the whole season.) Don't miss out on the online graphic stories each week, too - on NBC's website. They add bits to the story that aren't in the episodes.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

  • spiritual relevance: extremely high (Harriet is the best written Christian character on television)
  • quality level: top notch
  • warnings: language, adult things discussed, lots of humor that will anger rabid right-wingers
  • network: NBC (10 pm Pacific)

Shari & I were huge fans of Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night"... and this feels like Sports Night, only twice as long & with lots more cash. It's a "dramedy", much like The West Wing was in it's best moments, all with the trademark Aaron Sorkin whiplash dialogue.

If you bailed out on the show after the second episode (the weakest so far), it's time to come back. The show has finally found a groove that is sweet & enjoyable & promises interesting things to come. And if you were worried about getting your heart broken when it got cancelled, don't. It now has a full-season order. (Yeah!)

Again, I want to make sure everyone is clear that my love for the show, the storylines & the characters does not necessarily extend to the political/cultural views expressed therein. What I do like, however, is that the debate doesn't feel one-sided... and not all of the "kicker" lines in the discussions are given to the folks on the Left.



  • spiritual relevance: none
  • quality level: decent (the acting is great, but it's standard So Cal cop show locations & direction)
  • warnings: language, some light violence, sexual situations
  • network: Fox (8 pm Pacific... for now - there's some talk of it moving again)

Shari compares this to the early episodes of Alias, which took a potentially serious thriller story & made it light & fluffy. What Alias did for spies, Standoff does for hostage negotiation. It works, mainly because of the likeability & chemistry of the two lead characters.

Over the last few weeks, it seems to be establishing a pretty comfortable vibe - a cop show with a dash of humor & romance. It's not gonna set the world on fire, but Shari likes it and I like watching it with her.

Veronica Mars

  • spiritual relevance: on occasion
  • quality level: pretty good (the writing & acting are great, but the set/location quality is just so-so)
  • language: language, alcohol & drug use, occasional violence, sexual situations
  • network: CW (9 pm Pacific)

I really like the oddball combination of noir, Buffy sans the supernatural & bits of The O.C. that makes up Veronica Mars... and after a rough start (the first three episodes were pretty weak), the show looks like it is back to the high standards of the first two seasons.

I'm hoping this season maybe cuts back on the "let's show teens having sex" thing... I understand it as a story element but that doesn't mean I want to watch.



  • spiritual relevance: high (predestination, freewill, where does evil come from, how do you forgive?, etc...)
  • quality level: astounding
  • warnings: violence, sexual situations, language
  • network: ABC (9 pm Pacific)

I watched the first season of this religiously... but the 2nd season started slow & when I missed taping a couple of episodes (about the time Ana Lucia shot Shannon), I gave up. Thanks to the magic of DVD & Netflix, I picked up where I left off - only to realize that I'd ditched the show just as it got REALLY good. Sigh.

So, I've been staying up with the third season... which is driving me crazy! Where are Sun & Jin? More Hurley, please! Who are the new pair that went to Pearl Station with Mr Eko, Desmond & John?

The Nine

  • spiritual relevance: potentially high (forgiveness, revenge, consequences of our actions, etc...)
  • quality level: pretty good
  • warnings: violence, sexual situations, language
  • network: ABC (10 pm Pacific)

The Nine is a pretty serious Lost-ish take on a bank robbery & the fallout in the lives of the hostages & hostage-takers. While the acting is very good & the ideas are interesting, they're going to have a problem on their hands if they don't pick up the pace of the story a bit.



  • spiritual relevance: mixed (while there are some interesting questions about trust & honor, they're all pretty much undercut by the game-ish nature of the show)
  • quality level: excellent
  • warnings: language, pixellated body parts
  • network: CBS (8 pm Pacific)

While the whole "racially divided tribes" thing got most of the early press, this has actually been a very interesting season of Survivor. There's been some intriguing people on the show, some good plans gone awry, and new elements (the jury starts at 12... and before "the merge"?!) that are making things harder to predict (and therefore more fun).


Amy said...

Ok, can I just say that you watch toooooo much TV. We have a hard time keeping up with just one show, Heros. I really like it, but the whole "save the cheerleader, save the world" slogan has got to go.

Anonymous said...

Amy took my "fire" away. I have to agree... you watch too much TV.


Jonathan said...

Why do you watch TV anyway? Nothing better to do? Or do you think the shows you watch are the best way to spend your entertainment time?

Anonymous said...

Ok, now that you've got me saving episodes of Hero for the summer, and it's clear you have good taste (similar to mine—Alias, Studio 60), and it's obvious that you don't have enough T.V. on your plate, here are a couple more for you. (We only get broadcast tv at our house, otherwise our tv comes from the internet.)

Battlestar Galactica

spiritual relevance: there’s quite a bit of discussion about what it means to be human and how we maintain our humanity in horrible situations; and interestingly enough, it’s the robots, well most of them, who believe in one god, and the humans who worship the 12 of the Greek pantheon; some interesting religion’s role in government issues come up too

quality level: sweet

warnings: bit too much semi-nudity and sex (is it wrong if you’re lusting after robots?), and a bit of gun play/war violence

Probably familiar with the premise from the 70’s version of the show, but the similarities stop there. We created the cylons (robots), who eventually decided they should exterminate us. Intergalactic war follows leaving most of the human race dead, and the remaining few ships on the run and looking for the mythical earth. You could really do anything with that kind of premise. The creators of Battlestar have choosen to go with a tense military drama that deals with the issues mentioned above.

SciFi Friday?

Life on Mars

Spiritual relevance: what is the nature of reality, why are we here?

Quality: pretty darn good

Warnings: cop show, vulgar cop banter, but much of it you can’t understand until you get your ears attuned to the British English

BBC – looking forward to next (2nd) season

A 21st century British detective is run over by a car. He wakes up in the 1970’s. Much of the fun of this show is watching a modern day detective try to work in a system that is void of any modern day forensic evidence, as well as any respect for the British version of Miranda rights. Of course he’s also trying to figure out if he’s crazy, in a comma (most likely) or really back in time.

30 Rock

Spiritual relevance: zip

Quality: pretty darn funny

Warnings: none off the top of my head

NBC – Thursday

Your lists lack any sitcoms. (I know they were dead, but after a steady diet of drama, reality, and game shows, a little pallet cleansing comedy is just what the doctor ordered.) It may be too early to tell, but the first couple episodes of this one, written by Tina Fey, were laugh out loud. The entire cast, and especially Alex Baldwin, are hilarious. The premise revolves around a female oriented sketch comedy show (The Girlie Show) being taken over by microwave oven executive Alex Baldwin.


The Office

Spiritual relevance: well, it deals with interoffice relationships, and how different people learn to get along with each other. It’s not totally unrealistic that a 5 minute clip could be used to introduce a sermon

Quality: pretty darn funny

Warnings: some adult humor

NBC – Thursdays

I’m sure you have heard of this one. It’s in its 3rd season. The first 2 seasons are worth adding to your netflix queue. I’ve only seen one of the British originals. Should probably track those down myself.

That’s it. Happy viewing.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

First... I admitted I watch too much TV.

Second... I pretty much don't watch ANYTHING when it's actually being shown. I videotape pretty much everything & watch it late at night or during my lunch break (when my wife & kids are out).

Jon - you asked why I watch TV? I like well-told stories. (I also read books - both fiction & non-fiction - as well as graphic novels... yeah, Fresno Public Library!) I'd love to see more movies, but
a) I have a limited budget
b) I have a 19 month old & a 5 year old

I can spiritualize this with "I use the content of these shows in my teaching" (which I do) - but it's just like board gaming for me. I game (and watch certain TV shows) for my own enjoyment & relaxation... and I'm really glad God uses those things for His glory.

Matt - I've watched Battlestar through the end of Season 2.0 thanks to Netflix and I'm right with you on this one. The other shows sound fun but I can't follow EVERYthing, right?

huzonfirst said...

It's probably been three years or so since I watched anything regularly on TV, Mark, but Studio 60 has me hooked. And I also like the fact that there's a well rounded Christian character. One of my favorite authors, Orson Scott Card (who is Morman), has stated several time that authors traditionally avoid writing about religious issues, since they're afraid of antagonizing anyone. This, he says, isn't a reflection of real life. I agree wholeheartedly, particularly if the message isn't overly blatant (which Card *usually* avoids). So it's nice to see a spiritual character who is neither treacly nor angelic on the tube.

I think the show's message has been pretty balanced so far. Given the industry, a little bit of left leaning isn't surprising, but as you say, it's anything but one-sided. I had real problems with the screenplay Sorkin wrote for An American President, which was great until it veered off into liberal fantasy land in the last 30 minutes. I think he's done a much better job of keeping his politics (which are probably very similar to mine, but I still don't like them being stuffed down my throat) in check.

Scott Rushing said...

Hmmm...where to start?

If not for the advent of television on the internet, I probably would not be watching any new shows this year. I would not have kept up with Heroes, Studio 60, or Friday Night Lights. But as it is, has a fantastic streaming video site for its newest shows, and so I have been able to stay current with those 3 shows even though I never watch them "live".

I have to agree with the above comments on Battlestar Galactica. I think that it is, hands down, the best show on tv.

Concerning Heroes - I'm sticking with the show, and at times that is very easy to do. Like Mark, I love the Hiro character. But right now I just think the show is good. However, it has potential to become great. I'm really anticipating the time when all of the characters come together and we find out who the villain is. I'm still not sure about Claire's dad - villain or good guy???

Adam said...

We're just about to see the third week of the Family edition of Race Around the World here in Australia.

Yeah, thanks for ruining it for me Mark. A "debacle"? I admit the first few shows were like watching a rollercoaster ride full of bickering families - hard to keep track of what was happening and the four-team format watered down some of the personalities. Should I continue watching this once there's fewer families?

Yeah, I agree with Matt. The Office is very good. Like everyone outside the US (I'm in Australia) I prefer the British version, but the American series was surprisingly good. Only thing against it is the characters are caricatures; a bit cartoonish at times.

We haven't got any of the other shows yet and I have dial-up, so no streaming for me - but only Studio 60 sounds of great interest.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Sorry about the spoiler for Family edition - I really didn't like the "challenges" that weren't challenging... and don't get me started again on the Weavers. (After you watch a few more episodes, check out my comments on this blog some time back... At a certain point, you'll want to finish the season, only to find out what happened.