I'm still hedging my bets. This habit stuff is hard. (That's been my motto all year: THSIH. It rolls off the tongue.) As I mentioned yesterday, barely a day passes that I don't encounter at least one thing prompting my internal voices to say, "I'm going to write about that." In fact, I generally keep a running list—one that enjoys running without stopping much more than I do; it obviously just keeps going and going even as I ignore it.
Some ideas I deem too old to use now. Some are relatively evergreen, and sooner or later, I will certainly focus on them. Some are extremely timely; if I don't get to them soon, I will disappoint myself and leave them be, but then hopefully they will also drift away and and stop cluttering my brain.
When I began writing this post, I intended it to be a relatively brief, disorganized annotated table-of-likely-contents, describing subject matter that I hope to address in the coming days and weeks. Some may disappear, making an appearance here before fading away and not requiring another word. Others will demand my attention further. No promises either way, and the order that follows barely even signifies any preferences.
As I started writing, though, some things required more description than a a title and two-sentence summary, and the next thing I knew, this post was way too long. So I've broken it into parts—at least two, maybe three. We'll see where we end up.
For now, assuming the habit holds, the following offers a taste of what's clogging my brain:
- Tuesday night at 10 TV: Sundays get all the press because of HBO and AMC, but Tuesdays at 10 p.m. might be the strongest, if not most competitive, hour of television anywhere on the primetime schedule, and all due to three shows that receive far less press or hype than many of the alternatives with smaller audiences. Last week was the third season premiere of the brilliant Sons of Anarchy on F/X. I actually haven't watched the episode yet, but if you have yet to catch the series, check out the first two seasons on DVD. The show is The Sopranos with a California motorcycle gang taking the place of the New Jersey mafia, and arguably often as good.
Meanwhile, tonight is the second season premiere of the surprisingly excellent Parenthood on NBC. Maybe this show's appeal shouldn't have surprised me so much since the show-runner Jason Katims was also the creative mind behind Friday Night Lights, and like that series-spun-off-of-a-movie, Parenthood deliberately takes the themes and general family tree and character types from Ron Howard's 1989 film and then throws the rest away. The writing is tremendous and the casting perfect, even though it would have been fascinating to see Maura Tierney (whom I love) in the role she had to abandon. Lauren Graham brings a very different quality to the role and all the relationships. The sibling relationship between Graham's Sarah and Peter Krause's Adam is vital to the success of the entire series—even though Parenthood has multiple storylines and is very much an ensemble series. Tierney and Krause would have provided an utterly different experience and tone; not necessarily better nor worse, but certainly nothing like what we see now.
And finally, there's CBS's The Good Wife, possibly the best new major network show of last season—yes, better than Glee—with tremendous writing. Many might have been surprised when Archie Punjabi won the Best Supporting Actress-Drama at the recent Emmys, beating five extremely talented (and better known) nominees, including her own co-star Christine Baranski; I was delighted. Punjabi's Kalinda is one of the most interesting, dynamic, strong female characters anywhere on television, and her understated but always riveting performance is one of the many highlights of this excellent series, which has its season premiere two weeks from tonight.
- "Are Films Bad, or Is TV Just Better?": That was the headline to A.O. Scott's piece in this past Sunday's New York Times? I won't blame him for the headline, although by the time you reach the end of the story, I guess this theme prevails—even though it is nowhere to be found through the first two-thirds of the piece—so it's not due to a copyeditor's misreading. I will blame this piece for getting the argument wrong, though. Again.
I think I've determined that the only people who would ask (or answer) this question are certain literati and cinephiles who believe that TV was awful for a long time (at least until The Sopranos and even more likely The Wire) and movies are generally terrible now. The question is not this simple; in fact, the question is absurd, which makes any answer impossible. If Scott (or anyone) wants to compare television movies to feature films, at least you can make an argument, but otherwise he might as well ask, "Are films bad, or are short story compilations just better?" Yes, both film and television are visual storytelling media, but when comparing a feature film to a TV series, that's about where the similarities end, and comparing the qualitative elements of each to the other is inane. (As I've actually written a lot more on this already, I will be sure to get back to it within the next week, most likely.)
- The Unemployment Diaries: I have been out of work since Oct. 2, 2009. Thankfully, the federal stimulus has subsidized my health insurance (through COBRA) and extended my unemployment. The never-ending search for income (even of an unsatisfying variety) has been the worst full-time job I've ever had, and I've thought repeatedly of sharing some of these experiences and encounters here.
- The Moth Storyslams: The Moth is a storytelling organization that has grown immensely since I first learned about it and went to tell a story three years ago. Now with almost-weekly storyslam editions in New York City, I decided to use the themes as inspiration to write a new story and prepare for each show. After the new year, I did just that. For 13 consecutive slams, I prepared, attended and put my name in the proverbial hat ("proverbial" because it's actually a bag), only to gain a some limited notoriety for being the guy who never got picked. Eventually, I let the habit slide some, although I continue to go approximately twice a month. Finally, in June and again in August, I made it to the stage and told a couple of my stories, which I will eventually post here in either written, audio or video form ... or maybe all of the above.
- Why 3D Is Still and Will Always Be Just a Gimmick: It may stay popular, and we may see more-and-more products bringing the technology into our homes, although I believe Hollywood has already started overplaying its hand. I'm not proclaiming that it won't catch-on like those talking pictures of 80-plus years ago, but the 3D issue is actually not the same argument. 3D technology will not now nor ever present an experience that more closely resembles the sensual experience of the real world. (Some sort of multi-sensory, all-encompassing virtual reality experience might, but that's very different from supposed 3D off a 2D screen with the reality remaining in your peripheral vision.) We don't actually see the 3D world in the same way a 3D movie shows it to us. I don't automatically dislike 3D. I think both Avatar and more recently Toy Story 3 used it very effectively. Still, the 3D craze is more akin to that of colorization. It will remain more successful than that misguided process, but 3D is really just an aesthetic choice—not terribly different from placing a colored filter over the lens—that studios have (long-run) mistakenly implemented for its (short-term) economic (and not creative) benefits the majority of the time. Besides, it's a new old gimmick.
- Audiobooks: That Ain't Reading: I listen to a lot of podcasts, and Audible.com seems to sponsor many of them, including, for a long time, both Slate Gabfests,. The "commercial" during each episode would involve one of the hosts recommending an audiobook to download. Now, I'm not denigrating the worthiness nor the viability of audiobooks. One can certainly enjoy oneself listening to a well-performed audiobook, and I know many people who enjoy them immensely. But it's not reading. It's storytelling. It's radio. Audiobooks descend from an oral, not a literary, tradition, although certainly it blends the two.
The audiobook exists in an entirely different medium. Using an audiobook does not even involve the same sensory receivers, and listening to an audiobook will never in any way match the experience of reading the printed version of the same material. You can read a script for theater or film, but nobody would confuse that practice with seeing the play or movie. The effect of passively listening to someone else's interpretation—no matter how limited—while reading to you is more profound than people might consciously realize. As someone whose father taught him from a very early age to love and respect books and words, it troubles me that many people don't actually seem to make the distinction.
More tomorrow …