It’s essentially an unscripted answer to HBO’s Big Love, but unlike that show, in which the harried patriarch is practically crushed under the weight of his tripled domestic duties, Sister Wives casts a more favorable light on polygamy.
I suspect the hushed public response to Treme has more to do with our low tolerance for shame. I’ve joked with friends who ask me what I think of the show that it’s the cable-drama version of being chided for not having donated to the Red Cross after Katrina. In Treme, characters will say, explicitly, that NEW ORLEANS MATTERS—in a way that may not break the fourth wall, but certainly chips away at it.
But now, having seen the premiere of The Real World: Return to New Orleans, which couldn’t be less like Treme, I wonder if there’s any serial approach to the new New Orleans that I would want to watch consistently. For its 24th season, MTV’s reality granddaddy ambles back to a city it already visited, back in its ninth season. But, obviously, it isn’t the same New Orleans it once was. There’s still a bit of a pallor, for such a colorful city, and the tragedy of Katrina is a wet blanket over the Mardi Gras frivolity that once characterized it. That’s no reason not to have eight self-absorbed kids see if it’s still a city in which they can thoroughly debauch themselves.
Not even 24’s breathless pace compares with True Blood, which doesn’t even bother to let its narrative breathe between seasons. Each episode builds to a cliffhanger—many of which involve a shrieking Sookie—which bleeds right into the next episode. Even after publicly swearing off the second season, I watched it all the way through—mostly because of Michelle Forbes’s feral, game-for-anything performance as big-bad Maryann—but also because it’s just so darn frantic. Beyond that, True Blood is absolutely the weirdest popular show out now, and possibly the weirdest popular show ever. By that, I don’t mean that it’s a genre show; Buffy and Angel stayed relatively grounded. True Blood vibrates at a level of inspired wackiness so high that its consistency is hard to determine. Intellectually, I know that I’m suffering from tonal whiplash multiple times per episode, but it doesn’t feel that way. Why? Because there’s so much WTF distracting me from such pronouncements.
If a 13-year-old steals a car and goes joyriding, he can have the records of his deeds sealed by the court, lest a childhood mistake cast a pall over the rest of his life. Child actors don’t get the same latitude. So the most someone like Coleman could do is try to live out the rest of his life with some semblance of peace and solitude, and do his best not to make too much of a mockery of himself. Coleman, for the most part, did that. His co-stars on Strokes, Todd Bridges and the late Dana Plato, had much more spectacular downfalls than the 4’8” guy in whose shadow they worked. Coleman’s legacy, therefore, is not the catch phrase—though in truth, it’s invariably funny, even now—but rather the idea that there’s life after child stardom. He certainly made choices that society didn’t approve of. But, y’know, what might be right for you may not be right for some.
For decades it was a given that whenever the president traveled, a charter plane packed with members of the press would travel with him. But the press flights have been sharply curtailed in recent months, a victim of cost-cutting by news organizations that are struggling to stay profitable.
As a result, fewer reporters are tagging along with President Obama and his aides, limiting the number of news sources at a time when Americans are acutely interested in White House policies and personalities.
“The sole reason is money,” said Edwin Chen, the senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News and the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, who called the cutbacks alarming.
The budget cutbacks — by news organizations as varied as USA Today and ABC News — are catching up with White House coverage, traditionally job No. 1 of the news bureaus here. It is the latest sign of retrenchment, years after many regional newspapers stopped assigning reporters to the White House. Now even the big networks are feeling strained.
“The prices are exorbitant,” said David Westin, the president of ABC News. Seats on a press charter plane can run $2,000 for a domestic flight and tens of thousands overseas. ABC appears to be watching costs as it reshapes the news division, which eliminated 25 percent of its staff positions this spring.
The descent from superhero president to a leader who is inept at best and villainous at worst is mostly rooted in 24’s tendency to raise the stakes with every season. Bauer is the ultimate rogue agent, constantly squaring off against his superiors when they lack the stomach for his brand of instinct-driven, red-tape-cutting heroics. In order to make up the ante, the writers had to give Bauer’s oppressor higher ranks and more authority, so it was only a matter of time before the one of the terrorist plots unleashed each season trickled down from the very top. Much has been made of what 24 has to say about jingoism, torture, the war on terror, and what, if anything, it has to do with Islam as a religion. But more often than not, the writers weren’t espousing a world view, they were trying to do whatever would make for the most compelling, suspenseful series. Because the show sprang from the mind of co-creator Joel Surnow, a vocal conservative and the subject of a less-than-flattering New Yorker profile, 24 has been viewed, often unfairly, as a dramatic delivery system for a warmongering, neoconservative message. Just as the audience assumed the show was trying to “say something” about terrorism, many viewers assumed the show was trying to make a damning statement about the presidency and the corrupting influence of power.
In “The Man From Tallahassee,” the 13th episode of the third season of Lost, tropical shyster Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson) conducts a mental exercise with island devotee John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). “Picture a box,” says Linus. “What if I told you that somewhere on this island, there’s a very large box, and whatever you imagined, whatever you wanted to be in it…when you opened that box, there it would be.” That scene is probably the most efficient summary of the whole of Lost. The epic series about a diverse group of damaged characters who wash up on a not-quite-deserted island has been a peerless, character-driven story, a riveting adventure, and a head-scratching sci-fi geekfest. But for all the things Lost was, the show was always measured by its potential: the engaging questions it raises and the mind-blowing answers they could yield. The obsession with Lost wasn’t about what it was, but what it could be.