Posted: 22 Nov 2011 01:56 AM PST
It takes all kinds to make a good television-viewing experience.
THE last couple of years have been grim for the United States.
The national unemployment rate dipped to 10% just last month and though the recession seems to be over, the road to economic recovery looks long and painful, particularly for the lower and middle classes.
Joblessness, soaring college debts, rising prices of everything and companies (and local governments) going bankrupt make the headlines practically every day.
Isn't it funny how we don't see any of this gloom on American TV shows? Everyone on "TV America" has a job and the few who are unemployed don't seem to really be struggling with loans or debt, or dealing with the prospect of losing their homes.
Just take a look at some of the new programmes that came on air this year: we have fantastical shows like Terra Nova (about a family transported from the future) and Once Upon A Time (characters from fairy tales trapped in a modern-day town called Storybrook) and we have soap-laced thrillers like Revenge and Ringer where the characters are super rich and are concerned only with their own agendas, the world be damned.
Except for a few shows like David Simon's 2002 classic The Wire (which is bitingly real in it's depiction of Baltimore: the criminal underground, the police force, the education system, etc) and Treme (which debuted in 2010 about life in New Orleans post-Katrina) poor people on TV aren't really poor and rich people are never really hit by the flailing economy.
TV, you see, is a form of escapism. Many of us watch TV to make the gloom go away if only for a few hours. Who wants to turn on the tube and be reminded of the sad realities of life. Right? I for one would rather be watching superheroes, monsters and dashing, charming and absolutely flawless men on TV: yes, all things fantastical!
TV is meant to be watched with a pinch of salt.
Let's take popular dramedy Desperate Housewives as an example. I want to live in Wisteria Lane, too. I want to be Bree Hodge (Marcia Cross) who runs a catering business (apparently, though we don't see much business going on) which she gets off the ground immediately – without any of the problems you would expect a start-off business to have. And, she seemed to have raked in profits immediately. I mean, she bought a Lexus within months of opening her business!
Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher) and Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) have financial woes sometimes, but they somehow seem to deal with it glamorously and get out of the slump pretty fast: when she was down, Susan stripped down to her lingerie for money on a voyeuristic website which men subscribe to (pornographic, much?) and as for Lynette, well after (barely) struggling for a while, her husband Tom (Doug Savant) got a fantastic job and they became rich again! Yeah, talk about fantasy.
But the show is meant to be over-the-top and campy and so you don't judge these little impossibilities ... there's your pinch of salt again!
Having said that, no amount of salt could get me through one particular anomaly on the 1990s cult drama Sex And The City (SATC).
One thing always bothered me: how in the name of reason could Carrie Bradshaw afford all the designer clothes and shoes that she wore on the show? Now, I loved the show back in the day, and I loved her fashion too. In fact, I still do. Sure, there were more than a few misfires but Bradshaw had an impact on fashion like no other character on TV. Heck, I bought an oversized fabric flower to pin on my blouse because of her. I folded up the cuff of my boyfriend's jeans because of her.
But, while I admired her wardrobe changes, it annoyed me greatly that she could afford Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana all the friggin' time. Or, that she had a pair of Manolo Blahnik's to match her outfits. Or, that she took cabs to go everywhere and lived in a brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (now you know that's high-end real estate if you watch Gossip Girl). Bradshaw is a writer – a columnist who writes for the fictional New York Star once a week. Now seriously, how much do you think she could have earned?
If I sound a tad hysterical it's simply because in this instance, harsh reality encroached on fantasy. I'm a writer – how come I can't buy Louboutins? Why do I have to shop at Forever 21 (and I am far from 21, let me assure you)? Here's why. In real life, whether you're in New York, Malaysia or Uzbekistan, writers don't earn a lot. Obviously, I wasn't the only one in hysterics. A fan of SATC (who is a real-life writer living in NYC) decided to calculate Bradshaw's income versus what she spends in her blog, the-frenemy.com.
After generously endowing her a monthly income of US$4,000 (RM12,000) and calculating what she spends on her apartment, clothes, shoes, taxis, alcohol and condoms (her blog entry is quite funny, go check it out), this cheezed-off blogger came up with the conclusion that Bradshaw ended the show being at least US$3tri (RM9tri) in debt.
I like it when TV fudges reality, but maybe next time I just won't watch shows depicting writers who seem to earn millions. That's just too close to home.
I've recently become addicted to the American TV series Shameless, which my dear cousins sent across the oceans for me to watch.
It is not just about poor people on TV. That would be putting it mildly. It is about people who are wildly poor, mercilessly desolate, and unapologetically shameless about their decrepit state of affairs. It's really been an eye-opening series for me.
While I've always know poverty exists everywhere, on TV and in this fashion, it becomes almost peversely enjoyable to watch. The Germans have a word for it – schadenfreude – which means to derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others (you know like when you stop to have a closer look at a freak accident on the highway).
What makes it all the more bitingly real, is that Shameless creator Paul Abbott, grew up pretty much in the same situation as the kids on the show. Abbott was brought up by his oldest sister in Lancashire, England, after their mother (and then two years later their father) walked out on them and their eight siblings!
Shameless, the TV series which made its debut at the start of this year in the United States, stars William H. Macy as the drunken patriarch of the Gallagher family who doesn't just neglect his family of five, he exploits them as much as he can and wouldn't think twice about selling out (or selling) anyone of them, if it means a few extra bucks for him.
Emmy Rossum is eldest daughter Fiona who holds everything together and takes care of everyone, including her misguided dad. Justin Chatwin is her ever so cute boyfriend. And Joan Cusack (who was nominated for an Emmy) plays the agoraphobic girlfriend of Macy's character. She's outstanding!
These people live in a house that frequently has no electricity, they (the children) all have to chip in to pay the bills, food is stolen on a daily basis from various sources, everyone takes turns looking after the baby, and dad lives off disability benefits (he's fit as a fiddle, unless you count being in a permanent drunken stupor a disability). Eldest son Lip, who is a genius, earns his keep by taking tests for everyone else at school!
It's really a great show, but has many risque scenes and topics so it's definitely one for adults only. But honestly, poor people never looked so seriously attractive. Aarrgh! It's schadenfreude I tell you!
I seem to be drawn to them for some reason. Take the good (but often dumber than a post) folk in My Name Is Earl. Joy (Jaime Pressly) lives in a trailer, but she gets by somehow, and with two kids in tow, too.
Earl and his brother Randy (Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee) are no better. They have no jobs, live in a motel and I'm not quite sure where they get their income from.
Sure, Earl won US$100,000 in the lottery but there's only so long that will last, especially if one lives at a motel all one's life. Karma's been mighty kind to them, I guess, but still, they're so sweet you just have to love them.
There's something so charmingly hillbilly about the entire cast that makes them easy to love. Darnell, Joy's second husband, who's a cook at the local restaurant, Ernie's Crab Shack, is ever so zen about everything (oh yep, that might be on account of him being under the influence of prescription drugs or otherwise, but that's another story). It just seems that when there's no money involved, life is oh-so much simpler, even on TV.
In most shows where people all live together under one roof – there's a happy mix of poor and not so poor all getting along harmoniously.
Take Friends, for instance. Chandler (Matthew Perry) was IT procurement manager and Ross (David Schwimmer) was a paleontologist, but Joey (Matt LeBlanc) was an out-of-work actor whose resume included sperm donor, selling Christmas trees, dressing up as a Christmas elf and working as a Roman warrior at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
Now I'm no careers counsellor, but I seriously doubt an IT manager, palaeontologist and Roman warrior at Vegas make the same amount of money. Yet, they all managed to live fairly similar lifestyles.
Same with The Big Bang Theory, the sitcom about a woman (Kaley Cuoco) who moves into an apartment next door to two brilliant but socially awkward physicists (Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons). Wait, I'll say that again. Two roommate geniuses who work at the California Institute of Technology, experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter and theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper; live across the hall from Penny, a blonde waitress and aspiring actress.
It just doesn't quite add up when you do the Math ... especially if you watch Property Virgins on Li Channel and you know how much those kinds of apartments cost (with onsite laundry and public transport services nearby). Either Penny is a double agent or Caltech pays its staff a pittance. Since this is television, I'm going with Penny being a secret agent, like Jennifer Garner in Alias. It's easy to throw the enemy off your scent when you have geek neigbours who chat about stuff like Schrodinger's cat, worship Leonard Nimoy and have shower curtains sporting the periodic table.
As for rich people on TV? Apart from a brief fascination with The O.C. some years ago (mainly because of Ben McKenzie and Adam Brody) and well, yes Dallas a gazillion years ago, I haven't been as fascinated with many rich folk on TV.
Kimora Lee auctioning stuff from her home? Nah, not my cup of tea. The Kardashians going out to dinner? Ransacking each other's wardrobes? Griping about each other and everyone else on the block? I'd rather watch Jamie Oliver getting his hands dirty, pulling vegetables out of the ground.Full content generated by Get Full RSS.
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|