i Need Media

i Need Media

I’m a lazy person. Shocking for a guy who writes about television, right? Even for an avid screen-gazer, I’m pretty dang lethargic. Not necessarily physically — though no one would confuse me for an actual active person, either — but in terms of my viewing habits. In my last column, I wrote about my enduring appreciation for COPS. I dressed up my explanation-slash-defense in a bunch of fancy language, but the truth is this: I like COPS because it’s easy as shit to watch. And frankly, that description fits about 80 percent of the shows I watch regularly.

Oh sure, I consume “challenging” entertaiment, too (well, “challenging” in the relative sense). I watch long-form dramas with multiple character arcs, layered sitcoms and the occasional PBS documentary. But if there’s a film about cinematographer Gordon Willis on one channel and a compilation of wild police chases on the other, there’re going to be some difficult choices to make in my future.

In other words, I’m a junk TV addict. I prefer “aficionado,” but that’s probably not what general society would call me. And I don’t feel the least bit ashamed about it.

A good friend of mine often says he doesn’t believe in so-called “guilty pleasures.” He usually states this in the context of pop music. No one else in this hemisphere simultaneously appreciates Pavement and Katy Perry to the degree he does. I feel the same way about television. Those of us who actively scan the cable guide for episodes of 1,000 Ways to Die and 16 and Pregnant needn’t cower in the shadows. It’s said we are currently in a golden age of TV, what with Mad Men and Breaking Bad and basically anything on HBO that isn’t Hung, and that’s great. It’s still called the idiot box, though. And there’s nothing wrong with flipping the thing on and getting stupid.

Seriously, all the shows regularly maligned as symbols of America’s decaying sense of decency, I will gladly turn on and expose myself to. Cheaters? Sure. Gigolos? You bet. American Ninja Warrior? All eight hours of it. Even something with the Kardashians? Yep, especially Khloe and Lamar. Anything related to The Real World and/or Road Rules? Especially anything related to The Real World and/or Road Rules. Mind you, I’m not emotionally invested in any of these shows, but that’s what makes them perfect. As someone weaned on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the act of consciously absorbing a piece of garbage, then fully processing it through my brain and out my mouth in a stream of snark is a uniquely satisfying and, yes, addicting experience. There is probably another full essay that could be written about what MST3K did to a generation that can no longer tell the difference between irony and sincerity, but I’ll have to save that for another column. I’m just not in the mood for writing it right now.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to
Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just filling the void until Breaking Bad starts again. Follow him on Twitter @mpsinger.

i Need Media

i Need Media

As I write this column, it is Sunday afternoon and I am staring at the recorded contents of the digital cable box shared by my roommates and I. It is 85 percent full. Among the programs saved for eventual viewing: Veep, HBO’s great new political satire helmed by the brilliant writer-director Armando Iannucci; Frozen Planet, the latest nature-doc series from the makers of Planet Earth, featuring the hilariously gruff narration of Alec Baldwin; and a handful of random edited-for-TV action movies starring Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Jean-Claude Van Damme. (We are nothing if not a House of Dudes.) Taking up more space than anything else, however, is a folder containing about two-dozen episodes of COPS.

Yes, that COPS. You might know it as the show “filmed on location with the men and women of laaaaawwwww enforcement.” It premiered in 1989, long before the term “reality television” had any meaning and predating, by four years, the debut of The Real World, largely considered the first modern reality TV show. You probably had no idea it was still on the air, or that anyone still watched it at all, let alone cared enough to set up a Series Record for it on their DVR.

Our friends are a bit puzzled by our house’s COPS obsession. They see the show as aggrandizing America’s police force, conveniently sidestepping the pervasive issues of brutality and corruption, and exploiting drug addicts and the desperately impoverished for entertainment.

All those arguments are valid. None of them matter, though.

Look, I’m no police booster. I agree that cops are in a position of great authority and need to be observed with the same scrutiny as politicians, and that COPS is akin to having a verité series on elected officials that only shows the handshaking and baby-kissing. But after 20-plus years, a show folds into the fabric of the TV landscape, and its existence just is. Like The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live, COPS is basically sheltered against criticism at this point, and I watch with total detachment. It isn’t necessarily good or bad entertainment, it’s just entertainment. Lowest common denominator entertainment, maybe, but what else do you want from the TV on a hungover Sunday?

And there’s something oddly comforting about a show that hasn’t changed in more than two decades, even if that show regularly tases its subjects. Other than switching to shooting on high-def digital video, COPS looks exactly the same as it did when it premiered: same logo, same voiceover, same legendary theme song. Heck, even the cities it’s filmed in hardly appear different, which says something about America’s flyover country. With the fleeting nature of network programming lineups, to know that you can always count on one show to be airing somewhere in the world is an incredibly secure feeling. Proving that point, rumors spread this week of an upcoming housecleaning at NBC that’ll purge the network of critically beloved, criminally low-rated comedies 30 Rock, Community and Parks and Rec. Television is ephemeral. COPS is forever.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just filling the void until Breaking Bad starts again. Follow him on Twitter @mpsinger.

i Need Media

i Need Media

It is quite a time for women on TV. As a genetically certified male, I don’t know if I’m qualified to comment on whether or not it is a particularly good or bad time for women on television, but from simple observation, I can at least say it is some kind of time indeed. In the last few months, there has been an influx of new shows written and created by women and focused on female characters, most of which identify that fact in the title: New Girl, Girls, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 (the “B” stands for bitch). There’s also Best Friends Forever on NBC, but I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet — oh wait, it’s already been canceled? Never mind.

I’ve felt compelled to discuss this growing field of comedies, but again, didn’t feel qualified. Also, outside the gender commonality, I had trouble identifying a linking thread. Then I realized something: Despite their titles, none of these shows — with the exception of HBO’s much-hyped, much-debated Girls — appears to be interested in saying much explicitly about the nature of contemporary womanhood.

Again, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But it’s something.

Where a show like Sex and the City proclaimed itself the voice of an entire gender — never mind it was only speaking for about 1 percent of it — the fact that New Girl and Don’t Trust the B both center on women in their late 20s often feels more like pure happenstance than commentary. In fact, New Girl has shifted away from being about Zooey Deschanel’s titular new girl to become more of a true ensemble comedy, and as such Deschanel’s “adorkableness” (ugh) has become more tolerable and the show itself is now one of TV’s funniest. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine swapping in guys for Don’t Trust the B (which I guess would make it Don’t Trust the D-Bag), which casually perpetuates the stereotype that girls are horrifically cruel to one another. Then again, the show is so cartoonish — and, thus far, dreadfully unfunny — it’s hard to justify getting upset about.

But then there’s Girls. Three episodes in and the show has already polarized the Internet. Created by and starring emerging indie-film scribe Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture), it starts with Dunham’s jobless Brooklynite getting cut off the parental teat, and the rest of the series will presumably follow her struggle to survive in New York without a financial tether. Some have called it agonizingly authentic, while detractors say it’s nothing more than entitled white girls whining about money.

On the basis of the pilot, my opinion falls somewhere in the middle. It is moderately funny, but it’s unclear so far whether Dunham is asking us to feel empathetic or resentful toward the plight of its severely unlikable group of characters, and that’s a crucial distinction that will make or break the show going forward. I did, however, spot a Sex and the City poster in the background of the first episode. That can’t be a good sign.

I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to
Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just filling the void until Breaking Bad starts again. Follow him on Twitter @mpsinger.

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