TV vs. movies: Round two!
Back in the summer of 2006 I wrote a column arguing that the quality of television — once considered an artistic wasteland — had finally, inarguably surpassed that of the movies. While the cineplexes were overstuffed with tired sequels, remakes, and adaptations of, yes, old TV shows, television was offering much more daring and different fare like Lost, The Wire, The Shield, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos, and Rescue Me. And the debuts of Friday Night Lights (even better than the movie), 30 Rock, and Heroes were just around the corner. I expected a lot of debate about it. Shockingly, there was none. Even hardcore movie buffs couldn’t help but agree.
Fast-forward 15 months, and it appears to be a different story. As I write this, TV writers are picketing outside studios, being treated to doughnuts by Jay Leno and concerts by Rage Against the Machine. (Wow, maybe I should go on strike!) But some would say the season was in trouble before the writers walked out. For one thing, there were no new breakout hits this fall (ABC’s Samantha Who? does fine, but still loses more than a third of its Dancing With the Stars lead-in audience). Not only that, but several faves stumbled badly out of the gate: Heroes got caught up in a pair of awful lovey-dovey romances, Friday Night Lights went all Lifetime-movie-of-the-week on us with a dead-stalker story line, and The Office opened up shop with some painfully drawn-out hour-long episodes while turning Michael Scott into an even dumber version of Homer Simpson.
Meanwhile, on the silver screen, theatergoers have been treated to a string of dramatic triumphs, including Into the Wild, No Country for Old Men, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and Michael Clayton. Is TV becoming film’s cultural bee-yotch all over again? Was the boob tube’s age of dominance really that brief?
I’m not quite ready to hand back the crown. A closer look reveals that Heroes and Friday Night Lights have finally gotten back on creative track. Even more encouraging is the resurgence of several shows that had fallen on hard times. Mired in a two-season slump, Desperate Housewives has been positively electric this fall, thanks in no small part to the genius addition of Dana Delany as a returning neighbor packing a secret beneath her smile. A lot of people figured Survivor‘s torch had been snuffed for good after last spring’s snooze-inducing Fiji season, but its latest China edition has featured some of the best drama — scripted or unscripted, big-screen or small — anywhere. (Ditto for The Amazing Race, which has reemerged from its two-year Family Edition hangover to become a must-DVR show, once again.)
ABC’s gleefully addictive Dirty Sexy Money may not be a hit, but the tabloid-flavored tale should be, and as far as laughs go, I’ll put 30 Rock up against all feature-film comedies, especially any that include the words Balls or Fury in the title. Over on cable, Showtime’s Brotherhood remains the finest TV show that no one — and I mean no one — is watching. Seriously, check out a few hours of this political/Mob drama, then go get an ice pack to apply to the area where you will no doubt end up kicking yourself for not tuning in sooner. And I may not have known what the hell was going on half the time on FX’s Damages, but Ted Danson’s performance would be pure Oscar bait had it been in theaters.
So it turns out my TV’s just fine, thank you very much. That said, the recent strong run of movies may have narrowed the gap to the point where the battle for quality control could be closer to something of a dead heat. And you know who that makes the ultimate winner? Us.
NEXT PAGE: Obsession of the Week, The Five, and Reader Mail
OBSESSION OF THE WEEK
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! May you eat lots of turkey, and take in lots of football and scary oversized parade balloons. But I have another assignment for you this long weekend: Watch the new two-hour Battlestar Galactica installment titled Razor. Airing on Saturday night, Razor tells three different stories from three different times: William Adama’s first mission as a pilot, Lee Adama’s first mission as commander of the Pegasus, and the events that transpired on the Pegasus just after the big Cylon attack. Regular readers know I’m a big Battlestar fan, but I was a bit worried about this movie, which the good people at the Sci Fi Channel are for some reason refusing to call a movie. The second half of season 3 seemed a bit off to me in terms of intrigue and storytelling. With Razor, BSG appears to have its mojo back. It’s complex. It’s challenging. And it’s also exciting as hell. Unfortunately, the ending is a bit of a creative letdown, but all in all it’s a great way to spend two hours while feasting on leftovers. And so say we all!
Head on over to The Glutton video to get my picks for The Five Most Memorable Death Scenes Ever Put on Film.
You have overwhelmed me, dear Glutton readers. Last week I sent out the call asking which was a better film: Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink. Well, over 2,000 of you answered that call, flooding my inbox with responses. And I can’t tell you how happy I was with what I saw. By about a 10-1 margin — crossing across both genders, I might add — you all easily recognized the superiority of Sixteen Candles. (Take that, Blane, you spineless, unsexy loser!) As Farmer Ted himself would say, ”Very hot! Very hot!”
I’m a female and I completely agree with you. Sixteen Candles is the far superior John Hughes movie. I believe it’s possibly one of the best movies of the ’80s. Jake Ryan is hotter, more popular, drives a cooler car, and has a better name than Blane. Farmer Ted (another great name!) is the coolest nerd around. And, hello, there’s even the great brother/sister Cusack team! What’s a-happening hot stuff, indeed! —Brandie
Ten floppy discs says you’re right, Brandie! As for Jake Ryan, kinda makes you wonder why actor Michael Schoeffling never made it. Last I saw him, he was rocking a Mohawk and cruising around on a motorcycle in Vision Quest, and that was 22 years ago. Word is he went back to Pennsylvania and became a carpenter. Ironic, considering he seemed to possess all the tools to become an ’80s version of James Dean. Oh well.
I am female and I’m shocked by this debate. I had no idea there was any doubt that Sixteen Candles is the superior movie. The argument can be won with the simple comparison of Jake Ryan to Blane McDonnagh. Aside from the much cooler name, I don’t know how any self-respecting female could possibly like whiny, annoying, ”I’m too much of a wimp to take you to prom” Blane over hot, drives to your sister’s wedding and buys you a birthday cake Jake Ryan. —Krista Zaleski
I’ve dissed and dismissed Andrew McCarthy so many times even I’m starting to feel sorry for the guy, but you’re right. There is nothing even remotely appealing about Blane, except maybe his money, and Andie Walsh didn’t seem like the gold-digging type to me. Maybe his nonthreatening nature was comforting to little teenage girls (kind of like a New Kids on the Block-era Joey McIntyre), but he reminds me of every lame-o high school senior who picks up a hot 14-year-old freshman because he’s too uncool to date someone his own age.
Pretty in Pink is truly the superior movie. It also show the true caste system high schools have and how cruel they are. Believe me, it was hard as hell being a punk/new wave kid (1987 graduate) in a school whose students are all in Future Farmers of America or jocks/cheerleaders. —Steven Nungaray
Well, Steven, as a punk/new wave kid who graduated from high school in 1989, I can relate. But I’m not sure the caste system is better defined in Pretty in Pink than in Sixteen Candles. I mean, that scene in Candles with all the dorks in the bathroom who’ve paid money to see a girl’s underpants pretty much says it all as to their social standing — as does Farmer Ted’s self-given nickname of King of the Dipshits. He’s actually seen as cool by his air-bass-playing, floppy-disc-trading friends, but as a complete loser spaz by the rest of the school. The pecking order is pretty clear. King of the Dipshits. Perfect.
I’m quite the lady, but Sixteen Candles barfs all over PIP. I’ve never liked that movie, partially because ”everyone” thinks it’s sooo romantic — as if!! Thanks, Dalton, for finally setting the record straight. —Elizabeth Cowan
Elizabeth, I have to be honest — I’m only printing your letter because of the phrase ”Sixteen Candles barfs all over PIP.” It made me laugh. I have no other comment.
Sixteen Candles all the way — but I’m a male. And given the choice between watching Sixteen Candles for the 37th time, or The Breakfast Club for the 137th time, I’ll take The Breakfast Club. Thompson Twins might trump OMD, but Simple Minds trumps both. Plus, there’s Ally Sheedy in shabby-sexy chic. —Dave Slifer
See, I knew some Breakfast Club fans would write in. And Weird Science fans. And Ferris Bueller fans. But here’s the thing: YOU’RE ALL WRONG! Fine films, all three of them, but they simply don’t match up. And all you romantics out there have to bow down and worship any film whose climactic first kiss scene begins with the following line: ”Thanks for getting my undies back.” Yes, thank you, Jake Ryan. You are a true gentleman. And, by all accounts, a fantastic carpenter as well.
Any more thoughts on the great John Hughes debate? How are you feeling about the current TV season and how it ranks compared to the movies? Have a favorite death scene you’d like to nominate? Send your questions, comments, and quibbles to firstname.lastname@example.org, or just fill out the handy-dandy form below. See you next week!