For my more bookish readers, who have the strength and determination to rid your homes of television (but hey! it does not count if you just “watch tv only on your computer!”), this post is probably not for you.
Actually, I feel ever-so-slightly sorry for folks who don’t watch television. Last Saturday some girlfriends and I got together for celebratory margaritas in honor of a friend who had recently weaned her first child, and a small part of our conversation focused on just how much better television has grown since we were kids. Arrested Development! Homeland! Mad Men! We all agreed there is too much great television happening but we weren’t going to let it ruin our reading habit (did I mention we all attended the same M.F.A. program for creative writing?). So, basically, we spent a few minutes mourning the television we didn’t have time to watch while discussing the shows we do actually manage to catch, and then I pitched them my idea for “The Real Housewives of Pittsburgh” wherein there would be fights over things like whether to co-sleep or not, or whether Jonathen Franzen is as great a writer as he is celebrated to be. Our housewives would often be seen wearing tall rainboots and carrying umbrellas, and vacationing in the Outer Banks. Anyway.
Anymore, I record television with the DVR and watch it as I can, which truthfully isn’t that frequently, but I think I am finally at a point where I can write about some of the television I watched this year – other reviews will no doubt be coming later.
Hart of Dixie
I’m not entirely sure what the correct classification for this CW show is – maybe it’s a dramedy? At any rate, it’s an hour-long program somewhat in the vein of Gilmore Girls, Bunheads or Dawson’s Creek, where the setting proves to be as much a character as the actors. The plot is classic “a stranger comes to town” – and the action centers around Dr. Zoe Hart, a young doctor from New York who inherets 1/2 of a physician’s practice from her (previously unknown) father in Bluebell, Alabama. Much of the show focuses on Zoe’s love life (naturally) but it’s a credit to the writers and actors that while her love triangle moves the show forward, the sub-plots are equally, and sometimes more, interesting. From southern belles trying to strike out on their own, to May-December romances, from rebellious teenagers (both in music and in love), this show has more than enough intrigue to keep me watching while falling into a category I lately have begun categorizing, probably to the chagrin of actual television people were they to find out, as nice television. By nice television, I mean there are no grown, wealthy women warring with one another, no brutal, sexualized murders, no endless gray landscape or evident self-destruction. All of which probably makes it sound unexciting, but it’s not! Real and wonderful love stories are happening in this show, and the deep south provides a great setting. I particularly like the emphasis on inter-generational relationships, something I experienced a lot of growing up. Dr. Hart is befriended by a couple of the teenagers in town, the elderly intermingle with the young twenty-somethings at the local bar…I think this is more true to life than we realize.
Kristina Braverman’s battle with breast cancer this season was one of the most true-to-life breast cancer storylines I have ever seen – and I talk to and work with breast cancer patients almost every day. While she might have remained a smidge too pretty (what about an allergic reaction to Taxol? Or bloating from steroid treatments?) the way she and her family dealt with her cancer rang true to life -enough so that I found myself claiming to a couple of co-workers “The Parenthood breast cancer story line is making me cry as much or more than the stories of people I actually know!” They agreed. Also, I’ll watch ANYTHING Lauren Graham and Dax Shepard are in. I found last season’s conclusion a little too tidy for my taste – apparently that is because NBC never knows whether or not to renew Parenthood until the last minute (but hundreds of hours of weight loss contests, we get) but I’m really hoping they are able to relocate Ray Romano’s character back to California.
The New Normal
I recently learned that NBC canceled The New Normal – no doubt to make room for more singing and weight loss competitions (I actually love The Voice but am completely unable to make the time commitment to it). It’s a shame, because this television show more than any other I watched set its characters up for an exciting second season, full of possibilities. The premise, (the lead female character, Goldie, serves as a surrogate for two gay men, Brian and David), at first didn’t feel like it could survive a season two but the writers did such a great job setting up Brian and David as parents, and really giving Goldie the gift of determining her own future after her surrogacy, that I am saddened the show won’t continue. I think the show would have grown more realistic and tackled important issues, including how to co-parent when both parents have full-time jobs. Apparently, though, Americans likes to hear weight loss coaches yell at the obese more than thoughtful shows about identity, parenting, race and homophobia. Who would have guessed?
The Mindy Project
I think The Mindy Project is the best new television show out right now. I’ve been following Mindy Kaling’s career for a while now, ever since she started writing for and acting on the American version of “The Office.” She’s been interesting to follow, from the creation of shallow, boy-and- clothes crazy Kelly Kapoor to the substantial articles she’s written for “The New Yorker,” hers is the career I sort of wish I had (but writing about cancer and preeclampsia is fun, too…)
With “The Mindy Project,” she has managed to weave together a tight-knit, hilarious cast of comediens. The show centers around a small gynecology practice in New York City. Mindy Kaling plays, obviously, Mindy in the show, a single gynecologic oncologst in her mid-thirties who was hopelessly influenced by romantic comedies when she was younger and maintains a steadfast faith that her happy ending is around the corner. I have a feeling I’m going to be writing a lot more about this program and Mindy Kaling’s work in the coming weeks (I have one post I’m thinking through that discusses my favorite female comedians, and another that reviews Kaling’s latest book) and since it is incredibly difficult to tell why something is funny, I’ll just ask that you watch this show and see for yourself. I maintain there is no funnier episode of t.v. out there than when the practice volunteers at a woman’s prison.
When my long-time friend from college told me about this “reality” show while I was visiting her prior to the birth of her twin girls, I hadn’t heard anything about it. I quickly found out that I was basically the only person in America who hadn’t at the very least heard about the show because even Ian, who watches nothing but sports, knew about it. We decided to check it out together because, hey, we love the south and hunting and the outdoors and antics! Well, first of all, let me say this: This show is much, much easier to swallow as soon as you accept you are watching a scripted comedy, NOT a reality show, and that you are in the hands of some incredibly gifted businessmen who understand what sells, from duck calls to reality television to pre-packaged breading mix. This show loosely follows the Robertson brothers of Duck Call Commander, the family-owned company whose patriarch, Phil Robertson, created one of the best-selling duck calls of all time. His son, Willie, turned the small company into a multi-million dollar organization. Okay, so. The show follows the Robertson family (3 of the 4 sons, their wives, their children, and the family patriarch and matriarch) as they embrace their self-admitted red neck lifestyle, which includes hunting, fishing, frog-catching, animal-skinning and the blowing up of things. And it is FUNNY. I recently heard a reviewer on NPR trash the show and basically claiming the era of good television is OVER if Duck Dynasty is the most-watched television show in the country, but I think he missed the mark. I think the commitment of family, God and land is something a lot of Americans identify with, and it’s nice every so often to watch a family that loves one another, instead of plotting to kill each other, and it’s refreshing to see a family at prayer instead of at war. Ian and I will probably keep watching this show as long as it runs because, for every silly donut eating contest the brothers have there is a sweet, kind moment to counter it.