Elvis Never Saw ‘The Wire’

Everybody knows the story about Elvis shooting out his television when Robert Goulet appeared on it. (Hell, at that point in his life, maybe E thought Goulet was in it.) And yeah, when it comes to TV, his approach is usually the right one. I’ve pretty much tapped out on the moronic done-in-one cop/procedural show–the CSIs, the Law and Orders, the Cold Cases, the Medical Investigations, the Numb3rses. I’ve had it with the way these shows clearly start with a scientific premise–did you know individual sheets of paper have their own individual “DNAs”?–and then clumsily wrap some kind of crime around it. From a storytelling perspective, they give zero thought to anything that gets in the way of laying out the plot, brick by clunky brick. (And though I don’t let the munchkins anywhere near the tube when these shows are on, I’ve had it with the rampant misogyny and child endangerment that are the stock-in-trade of these shows.)

Damn, that sounded bitter and curmudgeonly. Probably the reason why I’m so tired of these stupid shows is the same reason why I stopped eating crap like Patio burritos and Tombstone frozen pizzas–I realized there’s something better out there. Quick list of a few shows worth watching:

–The Wire–Okay, it’s over now, and may not be back at all. But this HBO series about drug runners in Baltimore and the cops who tried to catch them was absolutely as good as television got–so intricate and multilayered that the “Previously on The Wire” segments lasted three full minutes. And drug lord Stringer Bell was simply one of the best television characters ever created–he treated his empire like a business, taking college classes in macroeconomics and running his cartel meetings according to Robert’s Rules of Order. (Which led to immortal lines like “Sitcho punk ass down until you got the floor, bitch.”) Stringer and Deadwood’s Al Swearengen could each pull Tony Soprano apart by his neuroses.

–Las Vegas and Tilt–One’s pure cotton candy; the other’s a grimy highball glass of scotch. Las Vegas is just good dopey fun, and it revels in the fact that it’s a stupid freakin’ show. I like that. Tilt, on the other hand, has Michael Madsen–who could scare you just by reading you his grocery list–and although its morality is as simplistic as Las Vegas’s, it has a touch of a smoky edge to it.

–The West Wing–Back from the dead. Like ER, this show ran the regulars and their typical setting into the dirt last season. Unlike ER, this series doesn’t seem content to stagnate into “disease-of-the-week” (which I guess would be “legislation-of-the-week” here). And Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda are both solid, reliable additions to the cast. Yes, this is white-folks tv, but it’s pretty good white-folks tv.

–Lost, Arrested Development, and 24–There are plenty of goofball fan sites dedicated to examining the minutiae of these shows. I ain’t gonna do that. I just like the fact that these shows reward the constant viewer. With TiVo (or BitTorrent), it’s easy to keep up–and the little plot revelations in every episode are that much more enjoyable.

–Nip/Tuck, Deadwood, Rescue Me, The Shield–I absolutely love all four of these shows, but since they’re all in the offseason, nothing new to write. But the singular moments from each–Sean’s girlfriend committing suicide to “Rocket Man” in Nip/Tuck, Dennis Leary standing terrified in the lobby of the World Trade Center in Rescue Me, Al Swearengen sending a preacher to his just reward in Deadwood, Lemonhead burning stolen money and reclaiming his soul in The Shield–this is the kind of astonishingly good television that redeems a decade’s worth of reality tv, sitcoms, and cheap drama.

So with all this in mind, here’s a moral question for you…is downloading TV shows wrong? Not pay TV like HBO or even FX–but free TV. How’s it different from taping a show and watching it later? If the networks had a bit of sense, they’d start offering downloads of their shows for $1.99 a pop–they could head TV piracy off at the pass and get a sweet new revenue stream while they’re doing it. An interesting concept…

Jay

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