You’d be forgiven for thinking The Wire and Breaking Bad are American television shows — that’s certainly what they appear to be. But actually, they’re 19th century novels — or at least, these days, they’re the closest thing we have to the epic, moral, and popular storytelling of Dostoevsky, Dickens, and Hugo.
Those two shows changed the way I thought about television, and they are just part of a larger trend of high quality, thought provoking programs. Other additions to the movement might include Mad Men, Six Feet Under, and Deadwood.
So pronounced is this trend that I’ve confidently told people television, as a medium, is putting film to shame.
Now, I need to modify my stance.
I’m not completely disowning my earlier sentiment because I don’t want to let the film industry off the hook for its pathetic reliance on sequels and retreads, but I should confess that when I praised the virtues of television I wasn’t actually watching any TV.
To explain: my current household has never owned a boob tube. We had a projector that we could hook up to computers, and this allowed us to individually select television shows and watch them, but it didn’t allow us to sit on the couch with a clicker and let the experience of television engulf us.
As such, our television intake was highly curated.
That changed a few weeks ago when we bought cable to watch the Grey Cup. The cable hooked right up to our projector, so though we still don’t own a physical television, we do now get the “full television experience.”
And it sucks.
True — Conan, Letterman, and Jimmy Fallon have given me a few late-night laughs, and channel 9 offers a refreshingly local take on TV, but by-and-large the virtues are dwarfed by the vices.
The advertising fills me with a type of sadness.
We got cable just in time to witness Black Friday pandemonium, in which commercial breaks were artless montages of loud noises and bright colours urging consumers to paradoxically save money by spending it. I found it irrelevant where one ad started and another one stopped.
Of course the beauty of television is that one can change channels to avoid these interludes. But this creates new problems.
After an evening of changing channels to avoid commercials, I find all I have accumulated is a handful of random audio-visual bytes. I will begin watching one show, and then switch to another, then another. But they add up to nothing — no coherent story line, no sustained analysis.
But the worst thing is that television sucks me right in.
Since getting hooked up I have stopped reading, in favour of slumping on the sofa, mouth agape. I’m an addict.
After a couple hours of this behaviour I find myself irritable and hungry. And my mind is buzzing with so much unconnected stimuli that I can’t put two thoughts together.
It all leads me to believe that the zombie apocalypse might be subtler than The Walking Dead would have us believe.
Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon