Channel Surfing – My Week in TV

A quick collection of things that I’m finding fascinating, frustrating and fun on TV this past week. 

Remember music videos? 

When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was watching The MuchMusic Top 30 Countdown on the weekends. I wasn’t always all that interested in the music but I loved music videos. The 3-minute short films set to a pop song was a perfect venue for me to see some weird and beautiful filmmaking. Since MuchMusic has since gone the MTV route into perma-reality programming there is no longer a place that exists on TV where I can watch music videos on a regular basis (although apparently the Countdown still exists). But that doesn’t mean they have disappeared. The best place to find music videos now is on the internet and, in fact, that’s where they seem to be flourishing.

Thom Yorke’s new super-group Atoms for Peace has a video for their song “Ingenue” which plays with the ideas of duality and gender through dance. It also has an amazing little, simple visual trick at the beginning that I won’t spoil for you here and is worth the price of your time spent with the rest of the video. Similarly, the video for David Bowie’s video for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” sees Bowie married to doppleganger Tilda Swinton (finally!!!!) living in a very suburban setting – they go shopping, cook dinner, watch TV. All this while young versions of the couple, played by two women, seem to be enjoying themselves much more ferociously than the older versions. In both cases (just like when I was a kid) my amusement with the videos far surpasses any connection I have to the songs.

The Ray storyline on this season of Girls

This season of Girls has taken a lot of heat for moving stories into darker places. Personally, I think the show and the characters are richer for it. The Hannah OCD storyline, for one (which has received the most attention), served to remove Hannah from the rest of the group and served to create a paranoid, incredibly stressed out world. But, for me, the standout story of the season was the evolution of Ray. In the final episode we find Ray at a crossroads, considering in equal measure whether he should continue his shlubby lifestyle of hanging around the apartment in a peace-symbol Snuggie or if he should go out and get a real job to impress Shoshanna. He ends up doing the latter and comes home to tell her the great news only to find her unimpressed. They break up despite clearly caring deeply for each other. The break up scene rivals the scene earlier in the season where Ray tells Shoshanna he loves her as one of the series’ best.

In season one, Ray wouldn’t have considered becoming the manager of a Grumpy’s. Not for himself and certainly not for anyone else. Shoshanna claims that her issue is that Ray doesn’t care about anything aside from her and that’s true. But it’s an improvement. In season one Ray didn’t care about anything. What is lovely about a character like Ray is his movement from peripheral asshole to central figure. And what is equally lovely is the fact that on a show like Girls this movement seems natural. Ray has become just as important as Hannah, Shoshanna, Marnie and (certainly this season) Jessa. The Ray story is a beautiful reminder of the chief joy of serialized television: unexpected character evolution and development.

The title sequence of Kroll Show 

Kroll Show is my new favorite sketch comedy show. Really, it seems designed for me. Almost all of the sketches are parodies of television shows, mostly reality shows, but sometimes odd ducks like the new Degrassi or cable access programs. It’s all perfectly considered parody – the lighting, set design, editing is all precise to whatever kind of show Nick Kroll is lovingly and sometimes cuttingly mocking. In addition to fantastic satire, Kroll Show has a great title sequence, perfect for a show of its strange nature. The title “Kroll Show” show appear probably 50 or so times in quick succession accompanied by dubstep. Each time the title appears it is a different, familiar style. We see Kroll Show in the style of the Seinfeld title, the Miami Vice title, The Nascar logo, etc. It’s the perfect little set up for a show that is a send-up of all things television and it serves to set the table for what comes next. Though, that’s probably just too much tuna.

This weeks episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour

True, this is a podcast but this past week’s episode was almost entirely about television. It includes fascinating discussions and well-considered arguments about the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign and the Vulture sitcom bracket which evolves into a conversation about what quoting (specifically quoting jokes) from television programs says about the quality of the show. If you have never listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour before this would not be a bad place to start. Linda Holmes’ discussion over her concerns over the Kickstarter campaign, specifically, is a perfect example of how to present your position in an argument (even though I disagreed with her on a number of points).

Cheers – season 4 episode 9, “From Beer to Eternity”

As I’ve mentioned before, G and I have slowly been making our way through Cheers from the beginning. We recently started season 4 (the season that Woody arrives) and stumbled upon this little gem. Sure, there are better episodes of Cheers and certainly more famous ones but this episode is sitcom perfection, clichés and all.

The Cheers bar sports team has been losing to the team from a rival watering hole. This prompts Carla to suggest they give bowling a shot. What better sport for overweight and out of shape bar patrons and employees? Woody is apparently a fantastic bowler but has given it up because of a freak bowling accident where he maimed a man. Sam convinces Woody to give it another shot and Woody agrees. The team has its ringer! As you might expect, Woody not only underperforms but completely freezes leaving the team without its star and in a big deficit. Diane, who up until this point hasn’t been playing, claims to have learned to bowl for a physical education credit in college. She turns out to be the star the team didn’t know they had and wins them the game. The episode goes the way you might think and is wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end. However, it could easily be used as an example for sitcom writers on how to write a great episode of TV.

The episode is full of easily recognizable sports and sitcom clichés but I love it because it assembles the entire cast of characters and uses them for a single purpose. Most Cheers episodes divide the cast into different stories despite the fact that everything usually takes place in the same location. There is an A and B and sometimes a tiny C plot. This episode has a single story and one that is good enough to carry the 24 minutes. Additionally, as silly and seemingly convenient as it might be, Diane’s victory is rooted in realism. Of all sports, bowling is one that she could conceivably pick up and through determination become good at. Diane is allowed to be, for once, a jock and a hero and her triumph is awarded and appreciated quite lovingly by the rest of the gang. And as I’ve mentioned before, I love it when Diane wins.

Ryan Hansen as Blaze on Burning Love

No one does that specific breed of plaid, button-down shirt wearing, handsome, blonde, vain and oblivious breed of douche-bag like Ryan Hansen. Veronica Mars, Party Down and now Burning Love; Hansen is 3 for 3. “Just Blaze being Blaze”.

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