Posts Tagged ‘Television’


It’s hard to see loved ones die, whether they go in their prime or linger. Two deaths this month will affect me and millions of others. Fortunately they involve not human beings but TV shows.

Dexter and Breaking Bad will arrive at their inevitable ends. I’ll be sad. Well, concerning Dexter, relieved. The show has been a Sunday night habit. But Dexter ran out of steam a few seasons back. Fortunately, the concluding episodes provide renew energy as Dexter seeks a new life and his sister Debra clings to hers.

Breaking Bad will be sorely missed. The incredible tale of a high school teacher turned methamphetamine empire builder ranks among the very best of television productions—which ranks it among the very best of dramatic presentations in any form. The scripts—compelling and quirky—the acting and the cinematography all have been spectacular year after year. I put Breaking Bad on a pedestal alongside The Wire, perhaps the best TV drama ever, and The Sopranos.

Not that I’m touting my personal television hall of fame. We all have our favorites. And yes, I still watch The Simpsons—after 24 seasons, the longest running primetime show ever. It graces its own pedestal—assembled out of donuts.

My point is this: People love stories. We get caught up in them. Good stories stir our imaginations. They also let us live other lives vicariously and get caught up in dramas we would never experience ourselves—or want to. These shows and their characters achieve a reality of their own—one that reality shows can never match.

So when a great show finally leaves the air, it’s like a small death in the family. Something familiar and treasured has gone missing. Yet as with all of humanity, one generation departs only to be replaced by another. Death is inevitable, but we find hope and strength in the continuous creation of new life.

And it’s not all or nothing. Before they expire, outstanding TV shows go on hiatus. Their promise to return leaves us with great anticipation. Ray Donovan is concluding its first season. I’ll miss it, sure. Particularly Avi, Ray’s Israeli “handyman.” Meanwhile I’ll catch up with Luther, the BBC detective show starring Idris Elba, back for its third season. And on September 29, Homeland returns.

I’m not looking forward to another season of Mad Men—I stopped watching because I no longer give a damn about Don Draper (if you do, fine)—but I’m in the middle of Netflix’ Orange is the New Black. Early in 2014 we’ll see the return of Netflix’ House of Cards.

There are lessons in all this. For one thing, while it’s fashionable in some circles to scoff at television, stimulating shows exists. For another—particularly of note as we enter autumn this Sunday—spring always follows winter. In the words of the author Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”

And so goodbye Dexter Morgan and Walter White. Welcome back, Nicholas Brody, Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson. And you too, John Luther. But wait. Did I forget someone? Oh yes. As always, Homer. D’oh.

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The TV classic “Seinfeld” (1990-98) supposedly was a show about nothing. But nothing could be further from the truth. Which links “Seinfeld” to Pope Benedict’s resignation and Presidents’ Day, which seem to be something but are really about nothing. And thus something.

Take your average TV show. It’s about something. Cops and criminals, threats to national security and screwball families come to mind. But most shows offer formula scripts loaded with gratuitous violence, sex and jokes on a fifth-grade-level. (My sense of humor functions at least two grades higher.) So they’re really about nothing.

“Seinfeld,” a show about nothing, definitely was about something. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer confronted the small realities of life. This struck a chord throughout the country because few of us experience daily shootouts and explosions or run into an unending stream of incredible sex partners. In our mundane lives, small events come up big—a kind word or a cutting one, an invitation to lunch or a freeze-out, a fresh chocolate-chip cookie or a stale one slipped into the takeout bag while we weren’t looking. These can trigger a variety of emotions, which color our sense of reality and stability.

Pope Benedict’s resignation was rather uncommon. Celestine V stepped down in 1294, Gregory XII in 1415. But it’s really about nothing, because that’s the gist of the question Benedict has raised. What do we do when we can’t—or shouldn’t—continue working? I think of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be?” Hamlet asks whether he should live, not how. Benedict—no suicide for Catholics, of course—turns that around.

Benedict, soon to be “hidden to the world” in a convent inside Vatican City, likely will read if he can. Possibly write if allowed—and his health and mental acuity permit. Doubtless he will occupy most of time doing “nothing”— occasionally chatting with friends but mostly praying and spending hours in silent contemplation. Just being.

Europeans tend to be more adept at doing “nothing” than Americans in spite of the crowds at Starbucks. We define ourselves by our work. That’s why I advise anyone contemplating retirement to retire to something rather than from something. But it’s also important to welcome time spent doing “nothing”—taking a walk, sitting in the sun, reading (which is also very much something) and learning to be with ourselves. “Nothing” gives us lots to think about.

Which brings me to Presidents’ Day. Washington and Lincoln demand study and contemplation. But Americans have turned their memories into yet another three-day weekend replete with blowout sales, closed government offices and empty classrooms. Like the ancient Romans, we demand bread and circuses. So Martin Luther King Day offers a heavy schedule for the National Basketball Association. Memorial Day and Labor Day bookend summer barbecue season anchored by July Fourth. Thanksgiving rolls into Black Friday and the Christmas retail season. With consummate ease, we turn something into nothing.

“Seinfeld,” Pope Benedict and Presidents’ Day. Three peas in a pod. Or, from another point of view, the elements required to write a post about nothing. Which adds up to, I maintain, a whole lot of something.

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