Friday, March 7, 2014

True Detective, Diversity and a Medium Coming of Age


The Internet was abuzz yesterday after Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan published a thorough – and thoroughly depressing, if unsurprising – assessment of behind-the-scenes diversity on cable dramas. Though the article focuses on HBO, home of critically-acclaimed shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Game of Thrones, Ryan also looks at AMC, FX, Showtime and Netflix, which all combine to form the forefront of modern-day so-called prestige television.

             Long story short, it’s not good. To summarize:

  • Over the past 40 years, HBO has aired precisely one original, hour-long drama series created by a woman (Cynthia Mort’s Tell Me You Love Me).
  • Since 2008, HBO has not aired a single one-hour drama or mini-series with a creator or “narrative architect” that is female or non-white.
  • In the last 12 years at the five aforementioned outlets, only 12% of drama series creators and narrative architects have been women.

Essentially, we’re not experiencing the Golden Age of TV so much as the Golden Age of White Male TV. If you asked someone what the best shows of the past decade were, he or she would probably rattle off a list that includes The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, all of which not only revolve around central male protagonists but are also produced, written and directed predominantly by men. This is not to diminish the artistic quality and cultural significance of those shows in any way; even though I have my personal preferences (Mad Men forever!), few would deny that they have all, to some extent, altered the way we view, think about and discuss the medium, elevating it from “fun” escapism for mass audiences to something more refined and ambitious.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Historic Snoozefest


        Last night, millions of people around the world gathered in front of their TVs to watch Hollywood’s biggest, grandest pizza party awards ceremony. Hosted for the second time by Ellen DeGeneres, the three-and-a-half hour long fête of movies and the people who make them saw talent recognized, asses kissed, egos inflated, and history made. Yet, as fantastic as the slate of nominees was and as glamorous as everyone present looked, it was a night that became less devoted to celebrating, or even acknowledging, films from the past year and more interested in taking the world’s most popular selfie (see pic above). The Oscars turned into a giant slumber party, one the rest of us ugly mortals – and even most of the people in the actual auditorium – didn't seem invited to.

        It’s an unpopular opinion, particularly for a woman, but I generally liked Seth MacFarlane’s hosting job last year. Sure, he was on the crass side and had several questionable jokes that didn't land, but he seemed interested in trying to put on a show, and I thought it was a mostly entertaining night that breezed by with relative ease. At the very least, he got people talking, a rarity in our social media-saturated age of short attention spans. Apparently, the Academy didn’t approve of the controversy (some of which consisted of actually worthwhile discussions), because they selected Ellen, who’s the definition of likable but bland, as a follow-up. While she provided one or two good yuks, Ellen seemed oddly ill-prepared and lifeless. She was often absent from the stage whenever the show returned from the commercial breaks that interrupted it every five minutes and spent most of the time when she was around making halfhearted comments about costume changes and rubbing elbows with a select handful of celebs seated in the front rows.  Offering pizza to starving A-listers and (successfully) trying to break the Twitter record for most retweeted tweet are all well and good for one-off bits, but when you stretch it out over three hours instead of moving on to more engaging and inclusive material, it becomes lazy, self-indulgent, and worst of all, mind-numbingly dull.