Let’s Talk Television

Let’s Talk Television

I rarely talk about movies and tv here at The Wine Dark Sea; but that’s not because we never watch. Although I do go through periods where I don’t watch much, right now there are a few shows that I’m enjoying very much and I’ve been wanting to jot down some ideas about them. Perhaps also I wanted to combat the impression that recent posts might have created that we’re all highbrow all the time here at Casa Bettinelli.

With the exception of Downton Abbey, which I watch during nap times, I do all my tv watching with Dom after all the kids are in bed. So the shows that we watch are the ones that are mutually interesting to us. Dom isn’t at all interested in period pieces so I keep my Downton Abbey habit to myself, though I have tried to get my mother and sister hooked on it.

1. Once Upon a Time
I’m really surprised at how much I’m enjoying Once Upon a Time. When I heard it was a show about fairy tale characters that was being produced by some of the people who were involved with Lost, I thought it was worth checking out. When I learned it was a Disney product and realized they were going with Disney versions of characters, I became skeptical. I’m not a huge fan of the way Disney adulterates my favorite fairy tales. But I’m glad I gave it a chance. Although there is a distinct Disney flair—such as the dwarves named Sneezy and Grumpy and the prominence of Jiminy Cricket—still, they have taken many bold steps away from the Disney versions of the fairy tales to make characters and stories that are new and unique versions of childhood favorites.

One of the things I loved about Lost was the multi-layered effect they got with the flashbacks (and later flash-forwards and flash-sideways). It allowed for much more complex storytelling and character development.  Once Upon a Time has taken the same idea and uses it to move the story forward on two different levels. First, there are all the story land characters who have been magically transported to the small town of Storybrook Maine where none of them remember who they once were. There a little boy, the grandson of Snow White and Prince Charming, and the adopted son of the Wicked Witch—cleverly named Regina in the contemporary world—who has discovered the truth about who everyone is. There is his mother, Emma Swann, who magically escaped the curse and was raised as a foundling in the modern world not knowing who she was or where she was from.

And then there are all the backstories. Each episode jumps back and forth between Emma’s investigations in Storybrook and the history of one or more of the fairytale characters as they were in their former lives. Here we revisit familiar fairy tales and find all sorts of twists. At first I was a little worried about the revisions. It seemed more of the same trend to make fairytale princesses into “strong” women who don’t need rescuing. Really? Snow White as a Robin Hood sort of character, attacking Prince Charming’s coach? However, it soon became clear that the writers are doing more than knee-jerk revisionism. They are building a world and creating an overarching history that connects all these various characters together. It’s a bold move and some of the stories are more successful than others; but I really love that I never know exactly what to expect.

Every episode draws me in further and just when I think I know where they are headed, there’s a new, surprising twist.

Just one thing irks me a little and that’s the fact that Prince Charming is married to another woman in the Storybrook world. That puts me, the audience, into the uncomfortable position of at once wanting to cheer on his relationship with Mary Margaret (aka Snow White) because they are, after all meant, to be together while at the same time neither of them know that they aren’t committing adultery. I don’t think there’s a very nuanced handling of the adultery issue, either. It seems that adultery really isn’t supposed to be a big deal anymore. We’re all supposed to just see it as another turn in the road. (Kind of like this Washington Post story that Mrgr Pope responds to which claims that divorcing your brain-damaged spouse and marrying a new love is the real way to honor the vow “in sickness and in health.”)

Is anyone else watching Once Upon a Time? And am I the only one bothered by the adultery issue?

2. Person of Interest

I started to watch because it sounded like it might be interesting and because it starred Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson (Benjamin Linus from Lost), but Person of Interest has developed into one of my favorite shows. The show is built around the premise that Emerson’s character, Finch has built a computer which was built to predict acts of terrorism. As a side effect it is also able to predict violent crime; but the government isn’t interested in that information and so Finch decides to take the law into his own hands, enlisting ex-CIA operative John Reese as his accomplice. The premise is interesting but not enough to hook me in. What does bring me back week after week is how the show presents a complex study of character, of guilt and innocence, of crime and punishment and redemption.

The computer only gives Finch a social security number and no other information with which to stop the crime that is about to take place. I love how the show lives in this tension of ambiguity. You always get to know the “person of interest” first before learning if they are the victim or the perpetrator. So you are allowed to develop sympathy before passing judgment. The title is so revealing because the emphasis is on “person”. You see the full humanity of each person. Even if they are a villain, they are never a monster.

This article captures some of what I like best about the show. Saving the Part of Yourself that Matters Most.

Are you watching Person of Interest? What do you think of the show?

3. Castle

Now Castle is a show that has far fewer pretensions than either Once Upon a Time or Person of Interest. I’ll confess I started to watch primarily because I fell in love with Nathan Fillion’s character Mal in the series Firefly and movie Serenity. Oh how I wish there had been more episodes! But Castle is a fun show in it’s own right. The basic format is a police procedural as mystery writer Rick Castle follows homicide detective Kate Beckett around in order to collect material for his next novel. Sexual tension crackles between them, witty repartee flies. Castle has a brilliant daughter and a flighty actress mother and Kate has two sidekicks, Ryan and Esposito. Not every show needs to challenge me. There’s plenty of room in the roster for light fare and Castle fits the bill.

4. Downton Abbey

Yes, everyone’s watching Downton and I’m no exception. I’m a sucker for period drama, for all the lovely dresses and the big manor house. And Maggie Smith alone is worth the price of admission. Sure the second season has become a little like a soap opera, but I’m still hooked. I’m always far behind everyone else though as I download the show from iTunes and then watch in the little bits of time I can steal here and there when the boys are napping and the girls otherwise occupied. Since Downton isn’t Dom’s kind of thing and I’m always showing up to the online conversations a few days late, I’m rather languishing for someone to chat with about the show. For one thing I seem to be the only one who is bothered by the Bates and Anna storyline. As with Once Upon a Time, I’m annoyed with the fact that I’ve been roped into wanting to cheer for the adulterous couple. I was kind of able to ignore it last season when Mrs Bates was offscreen; but when she showed up it really hit home for me that he’s a married man. For better or worse—and really it does seem to be for worse because she’s a rather nasty character—still, he made vows to her. It was especially egregious when there was a scene with Mr Bates and Anna kneeling in a church to pray right after talking about their relationship. As if the writers were trying to convince me that really everything was ok, pay no attention to the wife behind the curtain, see these are really nice people who pray they aren’t really committing adultery.

Oh there are so many other things I could say, all sorts of good bits of things to mull over; but I have to get to bed. There is so little time between the time the kids go down and the time I must go to bed. And that is the only time we have for watching shows, spending alone time together, and it’s also the only time I have to write with no little people distracting me.

But if you’re watching my favorite shows, please leave a comment and tell me what you like about them. I’d love to have a good chat.

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