The World is Going to Crack Wide Open

The World is Going to Crack Wide Open

“HALT AND CATCH FIRE (HCF): An early computer command that sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once. Control of the computer could not be regained.”

Halt and Catch Fire has never been subtle about its view of capitalism. The very first thing that appears on screen at the start of the pilot is a definition of its title, worded to produce a clear double meaning: this is a story about how endless competition causes a system to implode.

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The Rise and Fall of Brooklyn Nine Nine

The Rise and Fall of Brooklyn Nine Nine

To love a TV show is to set yourself up for disappointment.

There are exceptions, obviously – Breaking Bad had a pretty much perfect run – but the serialised nature of television means it has infinitely more chances to let you down. Maybe it’ll be cancelled before it’s time. Or worse, maybe it will destroy itself from the inside out. The Simpsons is the greatest TV show ever made, but that fact is obscured now that there are more bad seasons than good. “Classic Simpsons” and “new Simpsons” are fully compartmentalised in my head. It hurts too much otherwise.

But The Simpsons was allowed be good – be great – for nine years. The greatest tragedy, one that seems to be constantly getting worse and puts me off watching new shows, is for a once great show to destroy itself within a year or two, the length of time it used to take a show to figure itself out. There’s more TV than ever now, and the whole cycle moves at double-speed: a show has to find its feet faster to survive, but it also burns out quicker. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had one my favourite seasons of television ever and then immediately fell apart in season two, True Detective revealed itself to be a bloated pretentious corpse in season two after an acclaimed first season, and Westworld didn’t even make it to the end of its first season before people stopped caring. There are fifteen shows currently on air with eight or more seasons, six of which are procedurals and another four of which are Fox’s animated comedy slate. A show can be long-running and soulless, but it’s telling how few long-running shows there are – how hard it is to sustain a show for that long now.

You’d think the rise of shorter seasons would allow shows to continue on for years longer without burning through as much material – and yet, again and again, once-great shows collapse in what is, to the binge-watcher, a few short hours. The Simpsons had nine great years, but more and more, a show has to be exceptionally sturdy to be good for three or four.  It becomes harder and harder to remember the shape of the show you once loved, because every time you think you catch a glimpse of it, another wave of crap comes along to drown it once and for all.

I really hate Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

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Duct Tape on Armchairs: Frasier and the Working-Class Sitcom

Duct Tape on Armchairs: Frasier and the Working-Class Sitcom

It’s the golden age of TV.

455 scripted television shows aired in America in 2016 – that’s compared to 192 in 2006. There’s been years of back and forth about whether current TV is the best thing ever – quite possibly the central cultural output of our time – or actually not very good at all, because so-called prestige TV is so often shallow self-serious bullshit. The obvious fact that TV has always been good, and that the “golden age of TV” corresponds only to the rise of paid subscription services (HBO, Netflix, Amazon) and cinematography that made TV look like movies, might be mentioned, but is never of concern. We’ll talk about the fracturing of the television audience – how three of the last five TV seasons had football at the highest rating, because sport is the only thing diverse audiences watch live anymore – but we’ll pretend that it fractures more or less at random, and its only implications are for advertisers.

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Five Years in Hell: a Reflection on the Superhero TV Boom

Five Years in Hell: a Reflection on the Superhero TV Boom

We’re five years into the boom in superhero television kicked off by the surprise success of The CW’s Arrow, and business is so good we’ve somehow strong-armed Noah Hawley into making a show based on a minor X-Men property. But at what cost? Arrow has just come full circle by concluding the story of Oliver’s time in exile and bringing us right back to the opening moments of the show, and the genesis of television’s superhero boom.

Now seems an appropriate time to examine and evaluate the landscape of the genre over the past five years and consider what the future may hold.

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Jack of All Trades

Jack of All Trades

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is supposed to describe Master of None’s lead character, jobbing New York actor Dev, not the show itself. And yet.

Master of None has gotten pretty much universal critical acclaim and been nominated for lots of awards, but when you get down to it, it’s a pretty okay show with a handful of very good episodes. I rarely complain about things being derivative, because art being original is less important than its being well-executed, but it’s frustrating to watch Master of None get praised for inventing things that I’ve seen on TV or in movies many times before, from being a romantic comedy where the man has feelings (the works of everyone from Chaplin to Apatow mustn’t count, I guess), to doing a Slacker episode, which I felt like I’d seen a hundred times before and I haven’t even seen Slacker.

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The Last Slapstick Artist

The Last Slapstick Artist

If you know Kaitlin Olson at all, you know her as barmaid and failed actress Dee Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the best show on television. The only comedy actress on television in the same league as Kaitlin Olson is Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld and Veep, and in a better world, their rivalry would be the Emmy story of the past six years. We’d all hold our breaths right as they announce who’s won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – is this Julia’s year or Kaitlin’s? Everyone would politely clap for Lena Dunham and Edie Falco and the other nominees, but we’d know it came down to Julia or Kaitlin, and if anyone else won, it would be the biggest upset of the night, like when Jeff Daniels won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for The Newsroom, a show that I like way more than the average person and which I would definitely never give an Emmy for anything.

Instead, we’ve had five years of Julia Louis-Dreyfus waltzing away with the award because her one true rival wasn’t there to challenge her.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Nostalgia

What We Talk About When We Talk About Nostalgia

Save the Tiger is the story of Harry Stoner, the owner of a clothing manufacturer in Los Angeles, as he tries to keep his company afloat through a season of hardship. He goes to numerous ethically dubious lengths to do so, and worst of all, he spends the whole time pining for the simplicity of his youth, when baseball players would put the spikes of their cleats right in your face and you knew how a plane stayed in the air because you could see the propeller on the wing. Even Jack Lemmon, the most charming man in history, can’t make Harry Stoner’s meandering trips down memory lane anything but annoying.

Then Harry stands at a podium to shill for his company’s new fashion line. He looks out on the crowd and his face turns white. His audience of middle-class drunks have been replaced by a legion of war dead, young men that Harry saw blown to pieces and shot to stillness in the Second World War. They stare at him in total silence. Harry tries to speak, but he can’t.

This is what we talk about when we talk about nostalgia.

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