Hook Up the Cable

TV Tuesday now takes a slight detour from the public airwaves and shows of our past to consider what’s been happening in the cable TV world. Some of the shows mentioned here deserve their own article, but in this post I’m going to fly over the landscape as quickly as I can manage (those who know me are laughing their ass off about now). If I don’t (at least try), this will be even longer than my usual lengthy longitude.

The problem is that the landscape has gotten huge! Even taking just the “premium” cable channels, such as HBO and Showtime, I find a large selection of shows to mention. In fact, HBO and Showtime each offer so many shows, either one alone offers much territory to explore. With that in mind, the flight won’t be stopping at any one destination very long. We have a very tight schedule today!

As I said in yesterday’s “Reality TV” rant, I love stories. Storytelling is an ancient art, and it’s one of those things that makes us distinctly human. I imagine we’ve been telling stories as long as we’ve been talking.

So this won’t be about cable sports or standup comedy shows, but about episodic storytelling. I’ll exclude movies, even though they are stories; any movie deserves separate consideration. This is about some of the cable TV shows I love — and a few I don’t. There are even a few for which I have some mixed feelings.

That’s the flight plan. Seatbelts buckled? Trays in the upright position?

Here we go.

HBO

The Newsroom. I think it’s safe to say that I like just about everything Aaron Sorkin has done. This is the writer behind A Few Good Men (originally a stage play) and The American President (bonus points if you know who directed both films). He’s also had a hand in other gems, such as Bulworth and The Rock. And he co-wrote the screenplay for the recent Moneyball, which is a must-see film (and a must-read book) for any baseball fan.

[Pop Quiz: What two very good movies did I leave off that list? I’ll reveal the answer on Saturday’s show.]

Sorkin’s television record ranks even higher with me. Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip were wonderful shows and utterly Sorkin. If you’re not familiar with these TV gems, treat yourself; you won’t be sorry! And then there’s The West Wing, I show I almost revere, a show in my All-Time Fave Five. I’ll be talking more about TWW on Saturday.

Given his track record, I looked forward to his new show, The Newsroom, with both anticipation and trepidation. Would it be on par with the rest, or would this be the one that stunk?

The first season just concluded, the results are in: It’s another home run for Sorkin!  The man hasn’t lost his skill, and I think he has more of an edge in this one. We seem to be seeing more of Sorkin’s point of view here, but as it’s a point of view with which I agree, I’ve been loving the show.

We’ve stayed a bit too long at this destination, so let’s move on…

Veep. I’ve always liked Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She was the one person on Seinfeld I wouldn’t have immediately thrown out of my house had they shown up at one of my parties (though Elaine, too, was a piece of work).

And her character on Old Christine was incredibly sexy to me for some reason.

So I looked forward to her new comedy, Veep. It apparently is highly regarded, but it leaves me cold. I watched a few episodes, didn’t like it at all and gave up.

Given the acclaim it’s received, I went back and watched the rest of the episodes. Nope, sorry; don’t like it at all.

It’s like the polar opposite of The West Wing. It features a cast of idiots (not the actors, the characters). I hate idiots. I don’t watch TV to see idiots; I get enough of that in my daily life.

And, unlike Seinfeld, I’m just not seeing anything in the writing that’s breaking new ground. I’m just not seeing what other people are seeing.

Game of Thrones. You’d think, being a science fiction fan, I’d like this show. My sister likes this show, and she’s not a science fiction fan (at all). That really says it right there. From what I’ve heard about the George R.R. Martin books, I don’t believe I would like them either.

I’ve sat through both seasons now (thank heavens for OnDemand) trying to see what I might be missing. So far I haven’t found it. From what I can tell, it consists of a bunch of Royal Assholes constantly stabbing each other in the back (medieval betrayal and butchery; not really my thing). And, in two seasons, damned little actual science fiction. A little bit of dragons and even less of magic, but mostly betrayal and butchery.

Only one thing has kept me going through those two seasons: Peter Dinklage‘s Tyrion. He provides what has been the only enjoyment for me in the series (possibly because his is the only truly intelligent, educated character in the series). The rest can vanish in fire and ice for all I care.

Two quick stops before we fly to Showtime land…

The Wire. Thumbs up! I like cop shows, and I like grit. Great acting, great writing, great show.

Sex and the City. Yep, I have actually watched the entire series (curious to see what the fuss was about and then got kinda snagged by it). My take: Carrie Bradshaw is a vapid asshole, but I’ve  had a thing for Kim Cattrall since Big Trouble in Little China. Charlotte was a nice gal, but not my cuppa, and I think Miranda was the only one I would actually get along with.

Showtime

As usual, our flight has taken longer than expected (damned chatty pilot). I think the Showtime shows may deserve an article of their own given, what seems to me, to be a common underlying theme. Many of the shows feature main characters operating in very questionable moral grounds. I’ll touch on those I’ve been enjoying and perhaps you’ll see what I mean.

Weeds. This is the show that pulled me into Showtime episodic TV. A friend raved about it back in season one, so I checked it out. It’s been a lot of fun over the eight seasons (the eighth is just about done). I confess to slightly losing interest in the last three, but by this point I’m completely hooked.

With regard to moral themes, we have a windowed mom who takes up selling weed. And as we get to know her, it turns out she’s a major thrill-junkie, and the decision to sell weed pales beside other choices she’s made! I will say this: each season the show veers off on a new and unexpected course. The loss of interest may come just from familiarity, and there’s no question I’ll continue to follow where it leads.

The Big C. This is a show about a wife and mother, played by the marvelous Laura Linney, who is diagnosed with skin cancer and imminent death. For a long time she keeps this a secret from her family (the questionable moral choice).

The also marvelous Oliver Platt plays her husband, and the supporting cast, which includes Gabourey Sidibe from Precious, is excellent (I really miss Marlene).

Nurse Jackie. What can you say about a show involving a pain-pill addicted nurse who’s cheating on her husband and not even revealing to her hospital co-workers that she’s married? Fascinating show with a great cast, starring Edie Falco as Jackie and Eve Best as her best friend.

Episodes. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) is back! LeBlanc plays himself… sort of (at least I hope it’s sort of). It’s a show about a show, and it’s a satire of Hollywood television.

In the reality of the show, LeBlanc was Joey on Friends, although so far there’s been no mention of one of my guilty pleasures, Joey (mainly for Drea de Matteo).

House of Lies. Here’s a new one, starring  Don Cheadle, in a very dark satire of the management consulting business. These people are well beyond being morally questionable (a bit like Dexter that way, I guess).

Well, I know this got skimpy at the end. Bit off more than I could chew, but my reach always did exceed my grasp. I’ll just call it fodder for future posts! (And I never even touched on the TNT shows I like!)

Please stay tuned. We’ll be back after these messages from our sponsor…

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

5 responses to “Hook Up the Cable

  • dockfam

    *GASP*! You ARE going to be watching Dexter come Sept 30th right?? I’m going to dedicate a blog day per week to my Dexter addiction once Season 7 starts. Dexter is by far the best on TV ever and when the series finally ends (rumor is season 8 will be the last) I will go into a deep depression for God knows how long until I can get over the loss. I’m a bit obsessed you might say….

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I understand that Dexter is an excellent show, but I’ve never gotten into it (so many shows, so few hours). I know enough about it that I’ll be able to follow your blog posts and enjoy it vicariously!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Belated update: I like Julia Louis-Dreyfus so much I have followed Veep for all three seasons and look forward to more. The characters are really stupid (which I dislike intensely), but so it goes.

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