I often hear and read the advice that writers should unplug their televisions. That the only thing TV can be is a distraction and a time suck, a detriment to your writing (and, some claim, to your brain).
I will readily admit that there are things on TV that are not worth my time. Most “reality” television fits into this category, with apologies to the friends of mine who have actually been on reality TV shows. Maybe it can be a study in human nature, but too often it amounts to voyeurism that is so heavily edited as to alter the cause and effect of the participant’s actions to fit into a predetermined narrative anyway.
But there is much on TV that is very much worth anyone’s time, and even particularly the time of a writer. TV shows, when done well, can teach us storytelling, help us to recognize what gives us a sincere belly laugh and what hits us hard in the gut, and show us how to develop a character (and how not to, in the cases of characters that are two-dimensional). They can also be truly beautiful, and as evocative of imagination as any work of art.
So, that said, three recommendations, shows I’m watching now that I think are worth your time.
Community (NBC, Thursdays, 8/7 central) – Seven friends at a community college deal with the surreality of life in a flurry of pop culture (and even high culture) references. I will admit I haven’t been watching the current season (shoved into mid-season replacement, which probably means it is the last season, which is a shame). I only discovered the show recently through Netflix, but after seeing the first disc of season one, I went out and bought all three seasons on DVD. The comedy is some of the best I’ve ever seen, the dialogue is awesome, and while the characters settle into tropes (Jeff Winger’s inspirational speeches, Abed’s “coolcoolcool”) they are ruthlessly self-referential at the same time they dive into and appropriate popular culture. Imagine Terry Pratchett writing for television.
Elementary (CBS, Thursdays, 10/9 central) – Sherlock Holmes in modern day New York, who solves crimes while teaching his former sober companion Joan Watson (brilliantly played by Lucy Liu) the art of deduction. Tight storytelling and amazingly crafted characters with great depth and credible development.
Hannibal (NBC, Thursdays, 10/9 central) – A gifted yet psychologically frail FBI special agent and serial killer profiler hunts down murderers and submits to mandated therapy with pre-incarcerated Dr. Hannibal Lecter. This show has only had two episodes so far (and it airs opposite Elementary. I watch Elementary when it airs and Hannibal On Demand). It is, however, strikingly beautiful while simultaneously efficiently horrific. The characters haven’t had much time to show depth, but they are intriguing so far.
What shows would you recommend and why?