One of the first TV shows I ever remember liking was Sledge Hammer, the 80s Dirty Harry spoof that lasted only a season and a half before being cancelled. I don’t know why I liked it then, certainly not because I understood all the jokes, but I remembered some funny stuff all these years later. I figured though that watching it today wouldn’t really pay off. But my brother, who reviews DVDs on the side, watched the series again and immediately said I had to watch it.
And you know what? It holds up pretty well. It has some of the problems of an 80s comedy. Too many episodes per season for one, leading to some bad ones. After the opening episode, at least they didn’t use a laugh track. But for the most part, this isn’t bad at all and some episodes are down right hilarious. It’s really a show ahead of its time. It really trusted its audience with all sorts of movie references, some of which that wouldn’t be all that super obvious to the average schlub watching ABC at 8 pm on a weekday night. Told political jokes. Made fun of other ABC shows. Comedies didn’t do these things in the 80s.
But most of all, it just told jokes that worked pretty well. Such as in “Comrade Hammer,” an episode you should watch. Hammer has to escort a Soviet dissident scientist to a conference. That means lots of Cold War jokes.
Dylan Matthews dug up Neil Genzlinger’s New York Times’ original review of The Wire. To say the least, it hasn’t aged well.
It’s all served up in dialogue heavy with police-speak and dealer-speak, sometimes unintelligibly so. The language is supposed to be realistic and maybe it is realistic, but it often feels self-conscious, like an overly thick Southern accent. That’s too bad, because when Mr. Simon and Edward Burns, who are credited with the writing of the first five episodes, pull back a bit, they sometimes achieve a rough eloquence.
”That’s what I don’t get about this drug thing,” McNulty tells D’Angelo in the second episode. ”Why can’t you sell the stuff and walk away? You know what I mean? Everything else in this country gets sold without people shooting each other.”
The real questions about ”The Wire,” though, involve not the style, but the audience’s level of tolerance. This is a series that requires commitment; it’s difficult to imagine a viewer dropping in for, say, Episode 3, then checking back again at Episode 8.
Yet ”The Wire” doesn’t have the pulsating, addictive urgency (or the obvious good guys and bad guys) of ”24,” which just completed a spectacular first season on Fox. It shows us a more realistic version of life, complete with down time, yack sessions, drunken story-swapping. Police officers (and drug dealers) are human!
I want to be fair here. First, there weren’t a lot of shows like The Wire in 2002 and so reviewers weren’t necessarily expecting the sort of long story The Wire was offering. On the other hand, The Sopranos had already pioneered this. Second, there’s probably a lot of regrettable reviews out there of art that was later widely acclaimed. Third, it does take a few episodes to really get into The Wire, although Genzlinger seems to have watched most of the first season here.
But still, to compare it unfavorably to 24. That is a very 2002 thing to do.
When I was growing up, my Dad watched A LOT of Rockford Files, which means I watched a lot of Rockford Files since the TV was always on. James Garner died yesterday and it reminds me of what a pleasant actor he was to watch, in Rockford or the many other projects he was involved with. For me though, he’ll always be associated with Sunday afternoon reruns with my Dad (may not have been Sunday but that’s how I remember it).
It’s also by chance my father’s birthday so wish him a Happy Birthday! He turns 72 today. He’s also a reader of the site so remember that when you tell me how much you hate me, you are telling that to an old man about his son. Of course, mostly his response to that nonsense is like mine.
Here’s an entire episode from Season 2. Classic 70s theme song and opening credits.
Life for a reality TV writer is pretty tough since they have been classified as independent contractors or overtime-exempt and thus can be exploited heavily. The Writers’ Guild is trying to step into the void and organize them.
Tricky bosses, faked timecards, excruciating hours, dangerous scrapes… It sounds like fodder for a reality TV show, perhaps “America’s Next Worst Job.”
But workers say these are the conditions in reality TV itself, known more formally as the nonfiction television industry.
“We are told to be loyal, that this is normal,” said Lauren Veloski of the long unpaid hours she worked for several production companies. “You should anticipate that your workday will be 12 hours long,” one employer informed her.
Veloski said she and her co-workers were required to fake timecards saying they worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. In fact, she said, she often worked past midnight, even until dawn.
The companies didn’t pay a penny of overtime. Indeed, the extra work was entirely unpaid in most cases.
Employees also said the companies, in turn, have no loyalty to their workers, sometimes putting them in dangerous situations.
“They don’t care about safety at all. People climb mountains, do things that are unsafe. If they get hurt they [the employers] don’t answer their phone calls or hire them again,” said 30-year industry veteran Helen Smith, who asked me not to use her real name for fear of retaliation.
Another Decoration Day, another day to remember the Union crushing southerners committing treason to defend slavery.
Two best tweets of this Memorial Day:
But hey, this is a country worth fighting for. Why? This:
Many thanks to the reader who sent me that. Pure 50s gold.
Why did that not appear in Mad Men? Very disappointing. Speaking of Mad Men, last night’s half-season finale was great and really, what an excellent set of episodes. Coming out of a blah Season 6, my expectations were pretty tempered and the new season really didn’t have the buzz of the last few. But every episode has ranged from very good to outstanding. Too bad we have to take a break now for another year, but since AMC has produced 18 bombs in a row, I can hardly blame them for a desperate ploy to stay relevant for another 12 months. And of course:
As for war and memory, this is a pretty great set of pictures of what World War I battlefields look like today. Here’s the landscape of Verdun.
This has been an exciting interlude to escape from a Memorial Day spent trying to tame the last chapter of my capital mobility book, due in a week. The rest of you go eat some burgers or something. Finally, an obligation:
For the 1985 miniseries North and South, the producers hired the greatest actor of his generation to play John Brown. His name? Mr. John R. Cash.
If you are like me, you watched a lot of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom as a child.
Why I thought of this tonight for the first time in years, who knows.
Jesse Jackson on Sesame Street, 1971.
I especially like the line affirming those on welfare. Which I wish was still a relatively robust program, hey thanks Bill Clinton for making political points on the backs of the poor.
Things are looking up for Delaware’s Dogfish Head. Not only were recently voted America’s best craft brewery over at the Daily Meal, there are also murmurs that a sitcom is in the works based on the brewery’s founders, Sam and Mariah Calagione.
The show would feature funnyman Ken Marino (“The State,” “Party Down,” and the Ben Stiller-produced web comedy “Burning Love”) and his writer/actress wife Erica Oyama (“Burning Love,” “Children’s Hospital”) as the husband-and-wife owners of a funky craft brewpub. Marino was Sam Calagione’s college roommate at NYU, and remains one of the brewer’s closest friends.
“It was actually my wife’s idea – she does most of the thinking in our partnership.” Marino quipped to TODAY.com. “We pitched it to Sony TV earlier this summer and they loved it.”
Fox also loved the idea, enough to purchase the exclusive rights to the show, Calgione confirmed. A pilot is in the works, and if Fox likes what they see, the show could make it to the airwaves.
This sounds disastrous. I suppose it would be funny the first time they made a Dogfish Head joke about putting pig snouts, caviar, and truffles in a beer. The 57th time, less so. But hey, I’m sure the woman will have an Asian best friend and one of the people working at the brewery will be black so success is assured.
A few newer readers were having difficulty finding the Game of Thrones specific information posted of late, and since our “tag” categories work as well as tagging “categories” does, I just thought I’d line the most recent ones up all in one place:
- Here’s the “Second Sons” podcast with Steven Attewell, in which I do an adequate job describing eyelines and their importance, which is what leads to:
- The first of the so-called “Game of LASER TAG: You Win or You’re It” posts, which is ironic considering that the director of “Second Sons,” Michelle MacClaren, also directed the episode of Breaking Bad featuring this childhood standby. From here continue to:
- The second of the so-called “Game of LASER TAG: ‘Then you’ll be fucking your own bride with a wooden cock,’” concerns the gratifying results created by the tapestry of eyelines MacClaren established early in the episode.
- Then we moved on to “The Rains of Castamere” podcast, in which Steven and I disagreed about when the titular song begins.
- Then, in my first post on the subject, I noted that the eyelines — lasers or no lasers — align in a manner that should (and does) cause suspicion among the guests, foremost among them Catelyn Stark. I almost discuss when the song begins, but then I don’t.
- I covered that in my final post on “The Rains of Castamere,” in which I defined all the minor elements of Aristotelian tragedy before demonstrating the order and manner in which they cause the maximum amount of pain and keening.
I hope this is less confusing. I know when material’s cross-linked and back-dated and newer posts appear before older ones that I sometimes find myself befuddled. There’s no shame in that. Or if there is, take heart in knowing I share it.
ESPN is a great corporation. It is ungodly profitable. It creates a mere 43% of Disney’s total operating income. Think about that. All of Disney, including Disneyland and everything else it owns. 43%. But you see, ESPN has recently acquired some lucrative properties, like more SEC football games. In order to show us more Vanderbilt-Kentucky football and build a crazy expensive new set, ESPN has decided to lay off 300-400 employees. This a mere 2 weeks after Disney’s stock reached an all-time high.
Potential spoiler alerts ahead.
Let me more or less agree with Coates’ view on season 6 of Mad Men, or at least the first few episodes, which can be summed up by the fact that Draper’s latest affair is not very interesting.
Except he’s lost something. Don is a beautiful philandering stud. That was always there but it was wrapped in so much more–his role as father to a young daughter (gone thus far), his role as a kind of father to Peggy (gone by necessity of plot), his relationship with Roger as some future image of himself (also gone), his relationship with Anna (gone to the grave), his fear of unmasking (seemingly also gone.) What’s left is a dude who makes adultery look beautiful. My impulse is to say that this Don Draper is lot less interesting. But I wonder if this Don Draper is all of what we actually came for. Did most of always think of the literature as gift-wrapping for the style?
Who knows. But I’d rather see the camera shift, and Don Draper give some scenes away to those characters who really are changing, not just relapsing. It’s true that in real life, real people relapse all the time. But stories are not real life. They have beginnings and ends chosen by their creators.
The season’s high points thus far have come when it has focused on the non-Don characters. Betty entering into hippiedom to find that runaway girl. Harry being a massive jerk in the last episode, especially toward Joan who is dealing with the fallout of her choice to prostitute herself for the company and her own personal advancement. Roger’s sessions with the psychiatrist. But Matthew Weiner continues to hold the focus of his show on Don and I don’t think it’s working very well right now. Cheating again makes perfect sense–a depressed serial cheater is very believable. But that doesn’t mean it is all that interesting season after season.
After a time, Deadwood moved away from Seth Bullock as the show’s central character. The Wire did the same with Jimmy McNaulty. Don Draper is far more compelling than either Bullock or McNaulty, but after 5+ seasons of focusing on Draper, there may not be that much else to say. Reading discussions of the great secrecy behind the premier of the show, it seems that the one secret Weiner really wanted to keep most hidden was Don’s new affair, suggesting that was Weiner’s big move for the season. But I think that was probably misguided and might be creating a trap for the show more difficult to get out of than Draper’s season-long depression in the 4th season that seemed to drag things along for awhile.
I’m still watching a well-crafted show with good writing, but so far I’m not watching a very compelling season of that show.
Of course, there’s still 9 episodes to go.