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Catching Up with Depeche Mode

May 26, 2011

One of the nicer things about having gone through a burned-out-feeling phase lately was that, since all I wanted to do was flop out on the couch and watch TV, and since there seems to be exponentially less worth watching the more channels you subscribe to, I was able to catch up on so much of what I’ve tuned out of all these years.  I’d seen The Shield while it was on, have always been a faithful follower of Dexter, and I’d finally seen The Wire about two years ago, albeit on an iPod screen while I was traveling frequently for work, but other than that I was pretty much out of the loop – basically had I had a job with a water cooler, I would have been the guy standing around smiling stupidly while everyone else discussed last night’s episode of whatever. 

Some of this was sheer stubbornness – I read books, I am an ahhhtist, television is merely company in the background while I read, blah blah.  Some of it was economics – why should I pay that much money every month to watch a TV show and a handful of movies repeated over and over?  So other than spurts of free HBO after each move and cable reconnect, I only had everyone else’s word to go on about how fantastic this stuff was (with the exception of Dexter, for which I turned my Showtime off and on 12 weeks a year).

This last year I finally saw (and got hooked on) Breaking Bad, and during my recent sloth I caught up on all of Damages and am now nearly done with The Sopranos.  I saw enough of Nip/Tuck to see the appeal but also to see it run off the rails into wearyingly soap operatic storylines. 

And I do get it now, how great some of this stuff is, but I’m also glad I waited until these shows were either over or there were enough episodes in the can that I could watch them in batches either via Netflix Instant or (in the case of The Sopranos) the new HBOGO.  What most of these shows have in common is a 12-episode season that makes each season in effect either a miniseries or a very long movie, take your pick.  You’re able to immerse yourself in them just as you would with a novel – especially the way to watch The Wire, the most “novelistic” show of them all. 

Most importantly, it lets you avoid the letdown that comes when you commit early to a show that runs off the rails or, worse, ends with a whimper (as it seems Lost did, according to so many of its fans – I’ve never seen it, mostly because it seemed more like a cult that required extensive Internet participation to unravel WTF was going on, less like a coherent stand alone story with a satisfying arc).  And yes of course I know how The Sopranos ends without having seen it, if you spend any time at all on the Internet how could you not?  But it sounds to me like the kind of ambivalence I can live with; what I can’t stand is the “neverending story” problem that turned me off to fantasy series long ago, the knowledge that “the journey” will never fucking end as long as the author can pump a few dollars more out of another book in the series.  Or, in the case of a TV series that runs out of ratings, veers off the rails the way the X Files did.  Having to answer the question for myself as to whether or not Tony gets capped at the end, that I can live with.

As I tentatively feel my way back towards writing a book (a “tentatively” that has admittedly been going on since I started the blog), I’m starting to appreciate how these shows are constructed, the short sharp scenes bouncing from one set of characters to another, the way a change of (TV) season allows you to make boring but necessary changes in the characters and their condition offscreen to keep the story fresh, and I have to think what a relief it must be to script something knowing that, unlike a novel, you can rely on other people to finish the work of communication – the actors, the director, the cinematographer and editor all working from your map, the burden of proof not entirely on you the way it is in printed fiction.  I know you can’t learn by osmosis how to do this stuff, but since dialogue has always been the easiest part of writing for me, I can see myself writing for TV (I know, who can’t, who doesn’t have a script on their laptop, like Christopher in The Sopranos). 

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if all this TV watching influenced the novel – if the scenes in the book moved like they do in the best TV, if I was able to think about the story in terms of all its moving parts rather than dwelling on the intimidating monolith of its whole.

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