Sunday, February 26, 2017

Television Done Right

I'm finding that, contrary to my oft-stated desire to rid myself of the albatross of Time-Warner, that I really didn't need to change cable providers so much as I just needed a newer and better TV. I have a smart TV now, a nice 32-inch flat screen that is more than enough for our little household. It is turning out to be the best $130 I've spent in years.
And not only because of the difference in picture quality, etc. Simply put, there is no reason to get a package with a hundred channels I will never watch, because I can simply get Netflix and other services that don't cost a lot. When Lauren came home a few days ago, she told me that she had had Netflix in her apartment last summer, and Sabrina has had Netflix for some time, too, and together they convinced me to check things out. And for five nights now, we've sat in the living room after 9 PM and engaged in an activity I thought I would never really want to again--watch excellent television for hours at a time.
We spent two-plus nights watching American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson. It was spectacularly good, faithful to the events I remember, yet also studded with information I didn't know. And it's been fascinating to watch it with someone that doesn't remember anything about the circus that was the Simpson arrest/murder trial. A few times, we hit pause as I explained something about the time and place that neither Lauren nor Sabrina understood. And the producers did a tremendous job casting the show. A lot of famous actors and actresses are part of it, and all of them except John Travolta did a fantastic job (and even he isn't terrible, especially for viewers that do not remember Robert Shapiro themselves; it's just that you're always aware that this is John Travolta playing a role, not thinking about the place in the narrative of the character). The actors playing Chris Darden, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Gil Garcetti, and Lance Ito, in particular, are amazingly good. But the star of the show, the one revelation, the one who pulled off a complete career revival, in this series is David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian. In the first episode, I was thinking, "Ross?" By the middle of the series, I was completely transfixed, and by the series' end, I was thinking that this is one of the best performances I have ever seen. It's simply remarkable, fantastic stuff, almost indescribably good work. I think another Emmy is in Schwimmer's future.
And one of the many little thought-provoking delights of the show is seeing people like the Kardashian clan as children. Whatever one thinks of them as adults, it had never, ever occurred to me before now to cut them some slack because of this tragicomic spectacle dominating their grade-school years. Yes, they grew up privileged and as part of a culture where the superficial was overvalued--but the fact also is that their parents' social circle had to deal with the brutal murder of one of the adults in their life by another one of the adults in their life, and the slow coming to terms with all the implications of that. Of course they were negatively, even bizarrely affected who would not be? I'm still no fan of the Kardashian clan, but I'm no longer going to take gratuitous shots at them, either. I'm not sure I would have turned out any better had I grown up the way they did.
The one drawback of watching this series is that almost by definition, everything after it is going to be a letdown, something we've experienced the last two nights already. But as problems go, it's a real good on to have. And I never really thought I'd enjoy watching television so much ever again.

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