Monday, September 10, 2007

Can't Stop The Signal

“One after one, only the good die young…” sang Brian May once in the song No One But You (Only The Good Die Young), dedicated to the memories of Freddie Mercury and Princess Diana. I’m not quite sure what he meant by the word ‘good’ though. Freddie Mercury was a missionary rock star who embraced the vices and pleasures of the music industry, and Princess Diana was a non-person loved by fucktards. They weren’t pious prophets of peace; they died young because life’s a bitch like that.

When I was quite young a family friend who was thirtysomething died and I was told that God had taken him because He takes His favourite people early. Which even at an early age disturbed me slightly. It turned out that God was a selfish prick who killed all the nice people so he could chillax with them in Heaven and left all the cunts of the world to get old and ruin it for all the good young kids just waiting to die. If the Lord does taketh away (which he doesn’t), then he didn’t take Freddie Mercury and Princess Diana because they were ‘good’ people. He took Freddie because Heaven needs a voice like that, and he murdered Diana because he has a sense of humour.

Unless mop head May was singing about the current state of US American TV, in which case he’d be bang on. American TV is bloody amazing at the moment. I’m sure I can hear some chairs shuffling already. “What’s this? American TV?! Good!? Oh-ho, no my dear friend. American TV is but trash, that could never live up to the heady heights of the fine television of ol’ Blighty!” If this is what you are thinking then please sit down and shut up you American-hating fuck. British TV has some gems from the past, but nowadays a fight between British TV and American TV would be like a fight between Frank Bruno and 50 million Muhammad Alis.

American TV recently has gone through wave after wave of creating some brain-meltingly good shows, but even so it is sick. There is a disease running through the herd that is perversely killing off the strongest while the weak flourish. I remember once buying the Family Guy Season One DVD on a whim because I vaguely remembered laughing at a Channel 4 show that I thought was this and I had a spare £15 so how bad could it be? I’ve never laughed as hard at anything as when I first watched Family Guy. And pretty soon everyone had discovered how brilliant Family Guy was. The only confusing thing was why it had been dropped by Fox when it was clearly better than sex in zero gravity, surrounded by whipped cream.

Back then I was confused, now I just take it as given: if a show’s good, it’s only a matter of time before it’s axed. Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration. There are plenty of shows that have deservedly done well and been renewed such as the Sopranos, Simpsons, South Park, The West Wing and 24 to name a few. But let’s look at some that have been cancelled: Firefly, Arrested Development, Futurama, Deadwood and Carnivale. Five shows that are easily the equal, if not better than the majority of other shows. Quite why any of them were cancelled is so far beyond me it’s playing with my grandkids.

Firefly was Whedon at his best. It put other sci-fi shows to shame with its mix of characters, action and comedy, all set in this believable and carefully thought out world. It was cancelled by Fox after 12 episodes. 12 episodes! That’s half a season. That’s like having the first sip of an exquisite bottle of wine before the waiter grabs the bottle and smashes it across your face for no apparent reason. Well that’s not quite true. They did make Serenity, one of the few films that I can watch again and again and still enjoy it just as much. But even that wasn’t enough for the bastards at Fox and we just have to accept that another Firefly will never be made. It’s sad because you know there was so much left of a great story to tell.

And it’s a similar story for the likes of Carnivale. It got two seasons, in which it meticulously laid out the basis for an overarching, inspired and imaginative tale. That will never be witnessed because it was pulled after two seasons. Just as the bastard was really getting going.

Deadwood is a foul-mouthed take on the Frontier West that is, yes, both gritty and, wait for it, real. In the best way possible. There really is no drama on television like this. The dialogue is liquid silver and the acting makes you want to break down with joy. And besides, how is watching Lovejoy’s Ian McShane cry, “Cocksucker!” at the top of his lungs not going to be the best thing on TV? Apparently I’m wrong, that’s been pulled. At least it got a better run than either Firefly or Carnivale.

As did Arrested Development, which ran for a whopping three seasons. But peerless comedy moments and smiley ginger narration from Ron Howard weren’t enough to save it. Nor was it enough to save Futurama, which sadly lacked any ginger narration, but did have a decent run of four seasons, so less sympathy there. And these are just a few examples. Great stuff is cancelled all the time while pure dross runs for over 10 seasons. Although nothing should run past five seasons. Everything always goes Pete Tong for a show after season five. 24 and Scrubs anyone?

It’s easy to hurl abuse at the networks for causing these problems, so let’s start there. One of the biggest offenders would have to be Fox. Those limp-spined, tasteless, money-whoring arbiters of what is entertaining and what is not, who have cancelled the likes of Futurama, Family Guy and Firefly (for a more complete list see here.) A lot of what they cancelled was obviously rubbish, but that’s not the case for these three. Why the Catholics aren’t in an uproar over this because of the abortions of potential lives, I do not know. HBO are probably the best of all the networks, because they generally back consistently brilliant shows and know what makes for genuinely compelling television. But they cancelled Carnivale and backed Desperate Housewives so they can go eat a bag of dicks.

As idiotic as some of the decisions of these networks may be when it comes to backing one show over another or putting a show on at a ridiculous timeslot, the blame also rests with us viewers. The networks just want to make money; if a show’s popular enough they’ll put it renew it after it’s cancelled. Just like they did with the likes of Family Guy and Futurama when DVD sales were so high, even though it turned out that ironically enough Seth MacFarlane had forgotten how to be funny during the meanwhile. Even so, it does show that when people make a stand and show how much they want a show back on the air, the networks do occasionally listen. After all, it worked with the Jews in Denmark. Wait, did I just compare my petty niggles about television to the mass extermination of an entire people? Yes I did. That was a lot easier than I thought it’d be.

So why aren’t these great shows getting the recognition they deserve? The Wire is praised by many critics as the finest example of police drama ever made. And it is, it’s bloody fantastic. But it’s consistently got bad ratings. It makes no sense, it’s fucking genius television and no one’s watching the sodding thing. Thankfully those nice people at HBO have stuck with it, because they can do the right thing sometimes. And perhaps they’ve realised that ratings are arbitrary numbers that don’t accurately reflect everyone’s viewing habits. Hopefully the imminent use of the internet by the networks to broadcast TV will lead to ratings that don’t equate 1 person to an entire universe.

People are, of course, entitled to watch and enjoy their shitty and unchallenging TV entertainment designed to lower the national consciousness to their heart’s content, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of television that’s actually good. It’s not a subjective thing. The idea that Big Brother 8 is a better piece of art and more worthy of our attention than Deadwood makes me weep for the future of human evolution. You’re wrong, you’re an idiot, take your skewered opinions and write them down so that in ten years time you can look back at what you said, realise how fucking wrong you were and subsequently jump in front of the next bus, ridding the world of another useless cultural dead-end, you brain-dead moron.

Things aren’t all bad though. The likes of Heroes and Dexter have done well enough to get a second season, thank god, and hopefully The Lost Room will too. There’s lots of great stuff out there, and you’d be doing yourself a massive favour going out there and checking it out. That way you can get as pissed off as everyone else who’s seen stuff that’s been unfairly cancelled and we can march on the networks chanting the words of Brian May:

“Yes! - it was such an operation
Forever paying every due
Hell, you made a sensation
You found a way through - and

One by one
Only the Good die young
They're only flyin' too close to the sun
We'll remember -

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