Friday, February 4, 2011

In Appreciation of Good Television

I was browsing the internet this morning when I came across a banner ad for... this:

Now, I admit I may have been tangentially aware of this show's existence, but until today I had never been confronted by the pure, unrelenting truth of the matter. There's really a show called fucking Cougar Town, and what's more it's not even on Fox! Somehow I find this more appalling than the existence of Dance Your Ass Off, although I recognize that the reality show is probably more indicative of the apparent cultural apocalypse. But come on, seriously. Seriously. Cougar Town? Wasn't that a joke on 30 Rock a few years back? How did this happen? Where did we go wrong?

Honestly, I'm playing it up a bit. I don't actually consider this a sign of the end of days (culturally or otherwise). If there were such a thing we'd have passed that road sign years ago, at breakneck speed and probably drinking at the wheel. However the bald fact of the existence of Cougar Town (shudder) made me realize that I'm long overdue in making a post about the amazing TV shows I've been watching recently.

Sidebar: how many people read the title to this post and saw the Cougar Town picture and stuck around just to see if I was blogging while drunk again?

This fall I was made aware of the wonderful show, Community (actually someone told me about in the summer but it generally takes me a few months to appreciate anything brilliant that people recommend to me. Thanks Sandy). It's a show about a study group at a community college (featuring Donald Glover and the incredible Chevy Chase). That's the premise to get a bunch of character archetypes together anyway, really the show is about television. It's too reverent to be a satire, but basically the narrative is little more than a set up for a lot of jokes in appreciation of TV. And not just good TV but all TV. M.A.S.H. and Friends are treated equally by Community's writers, who clearly just love culture in all its forms. The show spent an excellent first season (self-awarely) going through the motions of the typical romantic will-they-or-won't-they plot, but then ditched that in season two in favour of episodic genre spoofs. They've done the zombie apocalypse, they've done the mystery thriller, they've even done Apollo 13 (and yes that's a genre now).  The dialogue is so densely packed with TV and film references that it demands multiple viewings, and that's a heavy emphasis on multiple. Not since the glory days of Arrested Development (RIP) had I found myself laughing so hard at new things every time I rewatched old episodes. Truly, Community is one for the books, a rare contemporary classic in a sea of otherwise unexciting and horrible television (see above).

Or so I thought. Then last week I finally took another long overdue recommendation (thanks everyone, you know who you are) and started watching Archer.

Archer is a cartoon about a James Bond-esque super spy named Sterling Archer. Or at least that's his character type in the general sense, really he's a buffoonish womanizer who sometimes manages to get the job done in spite of himself. He works for his mother (voiced by Arrested Development alum Jessica Walter) at the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) and goes on international espionage missions. The whole thing is a great spoof of Bond and spy movies generally, and each episode holds new hilarious surprises (the Skytanic one is particularly great). The show features an outstanding voice cast, including the aforementioned Walter as well as H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Chris Parnell, and regular appearances by Jeffrey Tambour (also of Arrested Development fame). As with Community, the writing on Archer is incredible and demands multiple viewings to catch all the nuanced and self-referential jokes. There aren't many episodes and so I managed to get completely caught up in no time, so I highly recommend you dive into Archer immediately. It just began its second season with a stellar opening that guarantees the show will only get better.

And you know what? I take that "sea of unexciting and horrible television" comment back. Despite shows like Cougar Town, television actually is pretty damn good right now. Community and Archer are among my favourites, but there's also shows like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, both of which I'm told are fantastic. I'm also partial to the more traditional but still quite good How I Met Your Mother, and while I can't speak for it now I will vouch for 30 Rock circa 2008. For all the reality schlock we have to sift through, there really is some good stuff going on out there. What's more, everything I've mentioned here is at least somewhat popular and successful! As you can probably tell I'm a diehard Arrested Development fan from way back, so I am acutely aware of how important it is for something to be not only intelligent and hilarious but also bankable. Good people are getting paid to write good shows, and we are reaping the rewards. That's not something anyone should take for granted.

It's a good time to be a fan of intelligent humour on TV. To that I say this: fuckin' bangarang.

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