TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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Halloween on the Small Screen: 31 Memorable Halloween Episodes

Too old to trick or treat but not popular enough to get invited to a Halloween party? Fortunately, we have the perfect solution to keep you in the spirit of the holiday while keeping your brain occupied enough to forget how uncool you are: a list of 31 great Halloween episodes from throughout TV history. It’s not a complete list, of course, and we’ve left out specials, so leave your complaints about the exclusion of “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” at the door. Instead, just embrace the fact that we’ve found as many clips and complete episodes for your viewing enjoyment as we possibly could. You’re welcome…and Happy Halloween!

1. The Addams Family, “Halloween with the Addams Family”: The Addams family are all busy preparing for their favorite holiday, but their celebration is bolstered by a pair of bank robbers…one of whom is played by Don Rickles…who they welcome as trick-or-treaters.

2. The Andy Griffith Show, “The Haunted House”: Maybe it isn’t officially a Halloween episode, but it first aired in October 1963, and it focuses on Barney and Gomer trying to retrieve a baseball from a supposedly haunted house and finding some strange goings on inside. As far as I’m concerned, that’s close enough for jazz.

3. Angel, “Life of the Party”: Lorne throws a Halloween party for all the firm’s clients and employees, but during the gathering, his advice to his friends starts happening literally: Fred and Wesley get drunk after Lorne tells them to loosen up, Spike and Harmony dance the night away, Angel and Eve do the horizontal bop, and, Gunn, uh, relieves himself after being told to “stake out his territory.” Good times.

4. Beavis and Butthead, “Butt-o-ween”: It starts simply enough, with the guys trying to master the concept of trick or treating, first without costumes, then wearing Beavis’s “monkey sheets” and going as ghosts. Eventually, however, Beavis + Halloween candy = Cornholio. The equation was ever thus, and here it leads to a quest for more candy…and, y’know, some T.P. for his bunghole.


Bevis and Butt-head-Butt-O-Ween

Dreamer Neverending | MySpace Video

5. Beverly Hills 90210, “Halloween”: The stock line is that Halloween costumes allow a woman to bring out her inner slut, and when the gang from West Beverly goes to a Halloween party, Kelly’s seductive costume leads a college student to translate “no” as “yes.” It’s absolutely inexcusable, of course, but – whew! – you can’t say she doesn’t make an impression. Meanwhile, Brenda and Dylan go as Bonnie and Clyde, Steve is Zorro, and Donna comes as a mermaid, a move which seriously hinders her dance moves.

Watch the episode at CBS.com!

6. The Big Bang Theory, “The Middle Earth Paradigm”: Penny throws a great Halloween party, and she makes a pretty kitty, too, but it’s hard to top the meeting of the four Flashes.

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RIP Henry Gibson

I was going to cover some of the usual folderol I cover here today, but, sadly, we have another passing to note with the death at 73 of Henry Gibson from cancer.

Gibson — whose stage name derives from an early character he did with roommate Jon Voight — was a personal favorite of mine. Not a large man, he was the kind of actor who might have one or two scenes in a movie, but was pretty much guaranteed to bring something detailed and memorable to his usually hilarious scenes; a relatively recent case in point was his great turn as the befuddled shocked clergyman towards the end of “Wedding Crashers.” He’s also familar to fans of “Boston Legal” as one of the show’s recurring judges.

With his eccentric but unassuming air, he gained his greatest fame as a cast member on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” a faster paced, but more shtick-laden late sixties/early seventies forerunner of SNL. His signature bit involved him reciting absurd, vaguely counter-cultural, poetry in his ultra deadpan style while holding a giant flower and bowing with exaggerated politeness at the end. (He was famously spoofed on the show by John Wayne, who brought his own unique socio-political sensibilities to his verse.)

Numerous movie and TV roles followed, including probably the closest Henry Gibson ever got to a leading film role, cast brilliantly against type as a controlling and hypocritical country music patriarch in Robert Altman’s masterpiece, “Nashville.” Later, he’d play out-and-out villains, but usually in more comical contexts. Fans of eighties comedies have a special affection for his commanding role as the patriarch of a very strange family who loom in Tom Hanks‘s fevered imagination in Joe Dante’s comedy horror homage, “The ‘Burbs.” He was also the head neo-Nazi in “The Blues Brothers.”

All in all, the loss of Gibson at the relatively young age of 73 is a sad one and hit me personally a bit harder than expected. I’ve loved Gibson’s work since childhood and, whether he was playing a Napoleonic villain or a gentle preacher totally out of his depth, there was an abiding soulful quality to his work that made him all the more funny. Truly original performers like him are few and far between.

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My friend, Zayne, has a very nice remembrance of Mr. Gibson at More a Legend than a Blog, and Edward Copeland shares my appreciation of his work as country music legend Haven Hamilton.

There’s less of him than I’d like on YouTube, but I did find a few fine moments of Gibson, which you can check out after the flip.

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Hey, “24” fans! Got a question for Agent Renee Walker?

Those who block out a part of their afternoon to watch their “stories” may best know Annie Wersching for her role as Amelia Joffee on “General Hospital,” and if you’re like our man Ross Ruediger, then a look at her resume will remind you of her role as a white supremacist on a very special episode of “Boston Legal.” For the most part, however, the average Premium Hollywood reader will look at this woman and say, “Hey, that’s Jacqueline Bauer!”

(John Paulsen will say, “Hey, that’s Freckles,” of course, but, then, he’s always been a little contrary.)

“What? An interview? Look, pal, I’m kind of in the middle of something here…”

Bullz-Eye will be talking to the lovely Ms. Wersching in conjunction with the appearance of “24” on our upcoming TV Power Rankings, and we’d like to give the dedicated readers of the show’s blog the chance to ask her some questions. Whether they’re about her characters, her experiences on the show, or even some other item on her resume, just leave them in the comments section and we’ll add ’em to our list. Then check back here and on Bullz-Eye.com on April 15th to read Agent Renee Walker’s responses…and, of course, to find out where “24” turns up in the TV Power Rankings!

  

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Trust Me”

TNT must be patting themselves on the back for being able to wrangle Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanagh to star in their new drama, “Trust Me.” They’re such instantly recognizable faces – McCormack for his eight seasons as Will Truman on “Will & Grace,” Cavanagh for everything from “Ed” to “Eli Stone” – that they might actually help get the show over the hump of being the first new TV series about an ad agency to appear since the debut of “Mad Men.”

“We’re prepared to deal with the ‘Mad Men’ comparisons,” said co-creator John Coveny, “because we’ve had them for the last year as we brought this to you guys.”

McCormack seemed stunned that anyone would make such a comparison. “Is anybody going to confuse the show with ‘Mad Men’? I think it’s a question that only comes up if you haven’t seen the show yet. Once you’ve seen them both, they’re very different shows.”

Despite having both been on NBC shows at the same time and both being Canadian, McCormack and Cavanagh had somehow never managed to work together prior to being teamed up for this series.

“I remember the first time we rehearsed,” said McCormack. “We literally had not met until the day we rehearsed the day before we started to shoot, and we did one of the scenes from the pilot together. Off the cuff, Tom threw some stuff in; I threw it back at him. We kind of looked over at these guys, and everyone seemed very, very pleased. It was one of those sort of, ‘Please let this work,’ and it was absolutely just a great chemistry…despite the fact that he’s a dick.”

Cavanagh sighed and shook his head. “You couldn’t end it on sincerity,” he said. “Did you see that? What does that say about you?”

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