A Few TV Reviews

I enjoy my expanded satellite TV service immensely and am richer for the experiences and education it provides me at its best. I learned long ago to totally ignore commercials and to use the remote’s Mute button when they’re running. Practically all the TV I watched is time-shifted anyway on to my TiVo so I can fast-forward anything I wish. In today’s economic system there can be no TV content without commercials. That’s the way capitalism works whether we like it or not. I turn away and pet my dogs who have learned over the years to ignore television, something I don’t want or need to do. I don’t deprive myself of enrichment opportunities.

I like the Ovation channel for its performances of classical music, opera and ballet. The Ovation Channel devotes different weeknights to blocks of shows about different arts including music, fine arts, opera and dance.

National Geographic channel for the Dog Whisperer and numerous other shows;
Sci-Fi channel for fun escapist programs like Doctor Who and Flash Gorden, and the emotional power of Battlestar Galactica – a drama about people under incredible stress;
USA channel for the fun of detective Monk;
Animal Planet for Emmy-nominated Meerkat Manor, one of the most amazing programs currently on television (more about the show later);
Science, History, Discovery, and BBCA channels.

I don’t receive the five major networks but it’s no loss. There’s almost nothing on them that I want to waste time on anyway.

Flash Gorden on Sci-Fi channel. Talk about fun! This is a completely updated and re-imagined version of the old clunker from the 1950s. Dale Arden no longer cries “Oh, save me, Flash!” Dale is empowered. If someone grabs and attacks her, she’ll slug them. Dr. Zarkov is a bit nutty. A marvelous actor portrays Ming with depth. Yes, he’s evil but no longer a racist stereotype Asian. He doesn’t cackle or rub his hands together like a mad scientist. He’s brilliant. Hawkmen don’t have feathered wings. Mongo looks real and you don’t reach it with a rocket ship. Fans of classic Science Fiction will love this show. The first season is just winding up this week but there will be reruns for sure.

Doctor Who is a top recommendation. It’s all grownup now and in a good way. The Daleks, Cybermen, and other traditional baddies are back too. The effects are professionally done and believable now. The thinly disguised racism and imperialistic themes, which occurred so often on the series 20 – 30 years ago, have totally disappeared.

Meerkat Manor on Animal Planet. Unexpectedly dramatic and decidedly not cutesy except for the names the writers give these hardy animals. Leading characters have died by sacrificing themselves to defend their babies. These little creatures can only survive within a cooperative mutually supportive community, a Matriarchal society. They exhibit surprisingly human-like traits including sibling love and support, communal feeding and caring for their young, and other strategies that have enabled them to survive in a very harsh environment.

A recent episode of Meerkat Manor was wrenching as Flower, the complex, charismatic Matriarch of the group sacrificed her life while fighting a deadly cobra who threatened her pups. Everything on this show about a family of wild Meerkats in South Africa is real. Only the narrator’s dialog is scripted. Meerkat survival strategies, interrelationships, sibling love, cooperative care and nursing of newborns, and more, cause me reflect on the wonders and perfections of God’s creations — how everything has a place and a natural balance, and the meanings of life in the animal kingdom.  Tributes to the passing of a Meerkat Matriarch was originally written up in the LA Times but the URL is stale now; they apparently don’t archive their stories.

Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi. This may be the most dramatic show on contemporary TV. It bares almost no relation to its namesake, a silly wooden “Ponderosa in Space” that ran for one season in the 1970s.

The fleeing survivors of the human race were defeated by their own technological hubris and creations. Their technology, excluding faster-than-light space travel, has fallen back to our 1950s level. They don’t travel by beaming; neither do they have communicators, shields, phasers, or advanced sensors. Their religion has failed them and regressed back to very ancient beliefs. Finely crafted characters endure unbelievable stress under wartime conditions. Groups of them try to survive dictatorship, betrayal by a Quisling genius, and sometimes by the people they love.

In a special mini-movie that ran last week a young woman was traumatized by a wartime event. She became hardened and then callous and brutal. In the end she attempted to redeem herself, imagined for a moment that she met God, and willingly sacrificed her life.

There is nothing else that I know about like this show in recent science fiction. The show is very light on special effects because that’s not what it’s all about. Battlestar Galactica is about a quest for ancient roots, survival, and brotherhood. Its third season begins this coming March 2008.

Monk on USA Network. Monk is an Obsessive Compulsive detective with deductive powers greater than Sherlock Holmes. He has to see his psychiatrist twice weekly. Monk limitations and fears limit him severely so you begin to pity him. He even needs a nursemaid. There is a mild comic aspect too. Monk can be frustrating and annoying but you can’t help but like him. Check it out; he’s a classic existential outsider.

Tin Man, a recent miniseries on the SciFi Channel. Tin Man is definitely not for children. The many commercials that Sci-Fi Channel ran gave the impression of a charming fantasy, which is misleading. There are scenes of torture and violence. There were tastelessly skimpy costumes in two scenes that are gratuitous and added nothing to the storyline. At least the scenes where people die aren’t graphic or drawn out. They were necessary for plot development and thematic impact. Nevertheless, I recommended Tin Man for some good reasons:

1- The female protagonist, Zooey Deschanel, is strong, smart, proactive, and resourceful, bordering on charismatic.
2- It’s a creative modernistic view of great mythic themes.
3- Such mythic themes include an archetypal quest story, sibling love, parental sacrifice, separation, and love.
4- The theme of rising up against oppression is universal and meaningful throughout the ages.
5- The “Outer Zone” (OZ) that Tin Man invokes is beautifully and convincingly rendered.
6- Without giving away a ‘spoiler’ I can say Tin Man is ultimately redeeming and uplifting. The show will rerun this afternoon at 5pm EST and again on Dec. 24.
7- The writing and plot development is excellent and original. It never gets maudlin, sentimental, cutesy or trite.

The main female characters in two recent highly acclaimed series were horrifically flawed. I’m thinking of the devious and dangerous character played so well by Glenn Close in Damages. The second one is Holly Hunter’s adulterous, heedlessly sinful character in Saving Grace, a mockery of religious superstition (literal angels who physically meddle in people’s lives), law enforcement, and well, almost everything else. They don’t represent a step forward for image of women.

CSI: Miami, the most watched television show on the planet, currently airing in 212 countries. David Caruso’s Clint Eastwood-like stoicism, resolve, and idealism save this show. The cinematography is dramatic, stylized, and beautiful. The show uses stylized cinematography, split screen effects, computer generated imagery, and gold tinted warming filters to create a unique look. Eva La Rue, one of the show’s stars, is a Bahá’í. Most of the show’s women have idealized (statuesque) Hollywood bodies. They seem a bit unreal. Except for the show’s stars women on the show typically wear overly revealing costumes. Oddly, a great many of the extras look exactly like each other. Sometimes I had to avert my eyes because the autopsy scenes were too graphic for me. The two other CSI network shows deal with a lot of perversion and graphic violence and hold no interest for me. I feel the same way about Law and Order:SVU. I won’t watch it.