TV Forever <3
Last week, Amy Poehler’s poignant “I Love You Boston” video made its way around the internet. Amidst anxiety and trauma, she answered teenage Millie’s submitted question: how can we positively engage with the constant images of our media-saturated world?
Old “Smash” had lofty goals. The brainchild of Steven Spielberg, the show focused on the creation of a fictional Broadway musical. It was originally purchased by current NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt at his previous post at premium cable network Showtime, home to critically acclaimed series like “Weeds” and “Homeland.” Though “Smash” inevitably took on a different tone when Greenblatt moved the project to NBC, it was still poised to become an acclaimed network drama. And early on, critics had hope. It had flaws from the start, but reached legitimately cathartic moments. Episodes came together in songs that deftly captured the struggles of being young and confused and trying to make the dream work. But as the series continued, Rebeck ignored the most compelling aspects of the show, focusing instead on an array of storylines featuring Julia’s relationship with her son Leo, a pointlessly whiney, emotional teenager who is possibly the worst written character in television history, and Ellis, a scheming young assistant who ruins everyone’s lives just for the sake of being an annoying, evil human being. The great moments that “Smash” could achieve occurred with less and less frequency.
On the surface, “Enlightened” is about Amy Jellicoe, a corporate employee trying to take down her morally corrupt company from within. But as Todd VanDerWerff at The A.V. Club notes, one of the show’s biggest issues—one that most likely cost it potential viewers—is that it’s nearly impossible to describe. I spoke with someone recently who’d seen every episode and still told me she couldn’t quite figure out the show: “What’s its mission statement?” It’s a valid question. “Enlightened” will regularly dictate a moral philosophy in an introductory voiceover and completely challenge it by episode’s end. If anything, the series is about the limits inherent in offering a single point of view. Its mission is to not come down on one clear side of anything.
I would like to put on my optimistic hat for a moment and come out in support of the binge release with a dream of what could happen in a future Netflix world. Yes, it’s possible that the shift will move the medium toward film in problematic ways. Unlike traditional networks and premium cable channels, Netflix doesn’t prescribe the number and length of a TV season’s episodes. Critic Jaime Weinman predicts an unavoidable trim down: writers free from restriction will condense what was once a 20-hour season into a three- or four-hour chunk. But while this shift is technically possible, I’d argue it’s far from inevitable. Could the events in the twenty-hour first season of “The West Wing” happen over the course of three? Probably. But would I (and so many others) have fallen in love with Josh Lyman, one of its characters, in just that small amount of time? Probably not. Likewise, Walter White of “Breaking Bad” wouldn’t so devastate viewers with his moral decay if we’d only known him as an upright citizen for the underside of an hour. Length is an integral part of the television experience. It allows viewers to get to know a world intimately and to gain familiarity with its characters to the point when they feel like real people.
But what has puzzled me the most about the discussions of privilege surrounding “Girls” has been the absence of dialogue about Hannah’s atypical Hollywood appearance. While I do think that the complex rendering of the show’s characters is progressive in itself, on the most surface level, it’s true that the experiences of wealthy white people in New York is not new territory for television. However, focusing on a female protagonist that lacks typical body privilege is.