Monday, August 27, 2007

If Shakespeare was alive today he'd write for TV

"...That's what the universe gives us every morning. No matter how far we have veered from reverence for the miraculous fact that we exist in a universe that we don't understand, every day we get a chance to start over..."
-Steve Hawk

"...all I ever had, redemption songs..."
-Bob Marley

I know that the proper pose for the educated man is to say "I don't watch TV" or "I only watch PBS." So I run afoul of that guideline by professing my ongoing, if tempestuous, affair with the tube. (In truth, a plasma screen doesn't have a tube, but I'm sure the nickname will keep its currency for a few decades. ) I remember the excitement when a new television station signed on in my hometown. (September 2, 1967 - you can find anything on the internet, you know?) It was KUHI, Channel 16, using the daring new UHF broadcast band, and giving us the grand total of three channels to choose from rather than the two channels we were used to. Oh, the glorious array of choices to be made!

All this by way of saying that the quote from Steve Hawk above is a reference to the theme of a TV series that I have watched for the last 10 weeks or so, a show I have watched with a slack jaw, called John from Cincinnati. (I wrote about this show back when it started. The word this week is that there will not be a second season.) Although I don't know anyone personally who can say definitively where this show was going, it seemed to be about redemption, about cleaning your slate, about having the power within yourself to start over again today. And along with its elevated theme, it delivered a quality of language, a beauty of dialog, that rivals anything being done on the "legitimate" stage these days. Much like Deadwood, another favorite series, both of which were the brain-children of David Milch.

If I were more outwardly the pompous, didactic, bloviating ass that I am inwardly, I would smack down those people who say "Oh, I only watch PBS" when the subject of TV comes up, and point out that most of the great theatrical art of the past that we revere was produced for a mass audience, not for the elite few. Shakespeare is a good example. He was commissioned by the Queen but wrote for the commoner - like today, it's the regular folks who make up the bulk of the audience (at least when the performance doesn't cost $100 a seat.) And I might make the case that our favorite TV today echoes the themes we've been soaking up since before Chaucer - probably the same themes cavemen scratched on their walls - star crossed young lovers, the seduction of power, jealousy and envy and the search for the true identity, heroes seeking their great challenge that reveals their destiny - as someone who wrote for the masses once said, "there is nothing new under the sun." TV is just the current medium for delivering the message.

When I am caught up in the language and the story telling that is so captivating in the best television today, I feel a little sorry for those people who only watch PBS. There's not much chance of a cleansing catharsis watching "Wildebeests of Katmandu." (Then again, Ken Burns' new mega-documentary on WW2 is coming in a few weeks, so I will be there for that.) In the end, I think there is redemption enough to go around, even enough for those who turn up their noses at television, that product made for the commoners.


Jaime Barrett said...

BM, this is a great post, very true. And I should know because I'm very smart...I watch PBS ;-)

Are you going to write about health care anytime? That is, the health care "crisis"?

Your golf buddy (are you ready for a rematch?), James

Barry Martin said...

I don't know much about any health care crisis. I just go to Kaiser and get my meds like they tell me. Sometimes they work pretty good, other times I hear the voices.