By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Life magazine, the official gazette of our age, has just published, in a handsome, perfect-bound special edition you're sure to treasure for weeks to come, its authoritative estimation of the 100 most important events of the last 1,000 years. The invention of television comes in at number 14, right between the smallpox vaccine and the theory of evolution - and who couldn't have predicted it? Well, all right, it does seem a little low. But remember that a millennium is a long time, and that TV is yet in what the giant floating, disembodied brains of the future will consider its infancy. Even our most ambitious, technologically sophisticated productions will to their hideous "eyes" look as backward as cave paintings, as unformed as a toddler's scrawl.
As to the television of A.D. 2999 . . . I mean, the laugh-track technology alone . . . The mind reels. It boggles. It swells with envy. It defensively contracts. Some things, however, will surely remain unchanged a thousand years hence: "TV will lie to you," said Bill Cosby on the first show of his current series' third season. (Does this mean he was lying?) "TV doesn't care about you." And all TV's protestations to the contrary, that does seem to be the case. It provides stimulus without warmth, company without compassion, information as a commodity. It has never so much as helped with the dishes, other than to offer conflicting advice on which detergent I should use. It's not what you'd call a healthy relationship. But even though I don't trust TV any farther than I can throw one, I won't deny we've had some good times. I won't say we haven't been through some stuff. Oh, yeah, the stories I could tell: the one about the two dates for the prom, the one about the lost borrowed diamond necklace that turns out to be paste, the one where the boss comes to dinner with hardly any warning. And that mistaken-identity thing - now that was hilarious. And god knows but we go back, way back, all the way back down memory lane. History counts for something. And what's "healthy," anyway? It can still work. I know it can. High five. Big hug. We're survivors. Here we go again.
Excuse me: I appear to have been having an episode. Let's just call it the season opener. In this not so very special episode, I have an . . . episode. (Rated TV-MA for language, dammit, adult themes and partial nudity - I'm writing this barefoot.) I'd blame it on the start of another new TV year, but actually, most of what I have seen of the Broadcast Six's incompletely unveiled fall line looks to be, if not particularly divine, certainly not disastrous, and if not remarkable, at least professional. Costello, Sports Night, Will & Grace, Encore! Encore!, Conrad Bloom - none of these programs will do you any more harm than TV does anyway just by being on. We will speak more of some of them in the weeks to come as it becomes clear where they're headed, and what they have to say, and what I have to say, apart from "harmless." Other series (see ya, The Army Show; later, Holding the Baby) will, I am quite sure, never be mentioned here again. Meanwhile we are being offered, indefinitely, the two-dimensional electronic company of Joan Plowright, Glenne Headley, Dan Lauria, Joe Morton, Kellie Martin, Debra Messing, Faith Ford, Jon Lovitz, Christina Applegate, Frank Whaley, Jeremy Piven and (shifting briefly to daytime) Marie Osmond, not to mention a small army of returning old reliables, and for this relief, much thanks, for 'tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart.
Come to think of it, I have seen one truly remarkable - and rather divine - thing this season: six TV teenagers, some of them actual teenagers, singing along to a remake of Big Star's 1972 "In the Street" as if it were a bona-fide classic-rock classic, like "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Go Your Own Way" - which it was in my parallel universe, but not where most earthlings live. This astonishing sight occurs weekly under the opening credits of Fox's inelegantly named That '70s Show, and if it is reminiscent of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" sequence in Wayne's World, that might just have something to do with the fact that that film's co-authors, Bonnie and Terry Turner, are in charge here. As in the '70s themselves, small premium has been put on "reality" (what is it, after all?), and that is not surprising given that the Turners are also in charge of the burlesquesque 3rd Rock From the Sun. Apart from nods to the gas crisis, the Equal Rights Amendment, Todd Rundgren and Chico and the Man, and some terrifying togs and upsetting wallpaper, the show has substantially no more to do with its titular decade than Happy Days did with the 1950s. And apart from its shyly lovestruck principles (geeky but groovy Topher Grace - I don't make up these names, I just write 'em down - and wide-shouldered Laura Prepon, approximating perfection), who get reasonable dialogue to speak and human emotions to play, it's all cartoons in a cartoon land: the dumb hunk, the ditz, the haplessly comical foreigner. Riverdale with (implied) pot smoking.
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