Sigh

04Feb08

I’d planned to do a post-Super Bowl post, commenting on the ads and broadcast of the game. But as a longtime Patriots fan, I found the results of the game too depressing and mystifying to dwell on. Plus the ads were quite underwhelming – my own favorite was the NFL’s ad about Chester Pitts, the oboe-playing lineman. So instead of anything of substance, let me just link to a nice profile of me that ran in Sunday’s Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus, two local Vermont papers. The author, Susan Youngwood, is a friend of the blog and a great journo-fan who was interested in finding an academic studying and teaching about popular culture. I also contributed a sidebar list of TV picks, which I’ll repost below the fold.

TV for TV snobs By JASON MITTELL

American television gets a bad rap for its lowbrow, hyper-commercial and formulaic tendencies. But the best of television is as artful, thought-provoking and entertaining as great film and literature. Here’s a list of some great TV programs from the past decade, most of which are easy to get on DVD or online, if not on your cable lineup:

  • “The Wire” (HBO) – If I could persuade people to watch only one new program, this would be it. Arguably the masterpiece of contemporary serialized fiction, “The Wire” combines striking commentary on urban America, searing portraits of the type of people you never see on television, and a brilliant ear for the way people talk. Although it may sound like “green vegetable television,” “The Wire” also offers bleak humor and emotionally engaging storytelling to make it both eye-opening and enjoyable. Start from the beginning of season 1 on DVD, and you’ll be hooked.
  • “Battlestar Galactica” (Sci-Fi) – The name is goofy and brings back memories of 1970s cheese. But like all great science fiction, BSG uses a futuristic setting to comment on the present. With provocative critiques of the Iraq War and twisty narratives questioning the idea of “us vs. them,” BSG is science fiction for skeptics.
  • “Lost” (ABC) – Consistently risk-taking and groundbreaking, the show destroyed long-held assumptions that network audiences wouldn’t embrace complex ongoing narratives. While the highbrow references to philosophers and theoretical physics can seem like a pretentious mess at times, at its core “Lost” is a great pulpy adventure serial that makes your head spin.
  • “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” (MSNBC) – While the writers’ strike has made Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert less potent, Olbermann remains a bright spot in the world of television news. As Fox News encouraged all channels to skew rightward, Olbermann’s show demonstrated that there is an audience for opinionated journalism from the left, mixing righteous anger, deep knowledge of history and a soft spot for popular culture.
  • “Friday Night Lights” (NBC) – I was late to this series, now in its second season, but I’ve become hooked. A deep and leisurely portrait of a Texas town with little else to be proud of but football, the intense acting and beautiful visuals offer much more than you might expect.
  • NBC Thursday night comedy – In the 1990s, Must See TV gave us “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “Frasier,” but the current lineup is more consistently innovative with no filler. While I love the shaggy storytelling of “My Name is Earl,” “The Office’s” brilliant ensemble and the shifts from wackiness to sentimentality of “Scrubs,” this year “30 Rock” grew into the most reliable source for truly hysterical moments since “Arrested Development.” Three words say it all for fans: Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.
  • “Pushing Daisies” (ABC) – The best new series of the shortened 2007-08 season looks and sounds unlike anything else on television, with fanciful art design and fairytale narration. It’s an acquired taste, but worth hunting down if you appreciate charm, whimsy and magical realism.
  • “The Backyardigans” (Nickelodeon) – Much television viewing in my home is targeted toward my three kids. Children’s television is also much better than you might think, with copious research on how to entertain, engage and educate young viewers that elevates a lot of kids’ TV above most animated films. My personal favorite is “Backyardigans,” with a multicultural (and multi-species) group of friends acting out their imaginations to fabulous music, fun genre parodies and witty dialogue.
  • Honorable mention of some TV DVDs worth adding to your NetFlix list: “Six Feet Under,” “Veronica Mars,” “Weeds,” “Firefly,” “Rescue Me,” “The Boondocks,” “Angel,” “Alias,” “Damages,” “South Park”


  • One Response to “Sigh”

    1. No Simpsons? I think a Giants fan would’ve remembered The Simpsons.😉

      Seriously, my condolences on the loss (and you wouldn’t believe how many “I’ve got strep throat/flu/cold/etc.” excuses I got from students missing class today!)


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