For the past decade or so, a revolution has been brewing in virtually every home across America. A certain visual medium, once disdained by any self-respecting artist, is now at the forefront of popular, daring and truly visionary filmmaking. Yearly, it has amassed viewers from coast to coat, drawing them into its following. It has gained respectability from even the most persistent critics. It has formed its own auteurs; its own celebrities; its own loyal fan base. And it’s making the move to the big screen.
I’m talking about television.
Now, this is hard for me. As a film critic, it takes a lot to admit this, especially while suppressing the instinctive eye-rolling and defensive balking that comes with any “TV vs. film” debate. But the simple truth is this: Many of the shows formerly or currently on television are infinitely more interesting, imaginative and credible than any movie coming out of Hollywood today.
It’s funny to think how we got here. I’m sure if 20 years ago you were to say television would be the leader of the visual arts, any industry person would laugh at you. Television was for “Saved by the Bell” and “Growing Pains,” not audacious, inventive programming. It was moviemakers who brought their distinctive visions to the screen, who pushed boundaries, who entertained us while showing us something new.
How the mighty have fallen.
A few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of the now-defunct Showtime series “Dead Like Me.” For those who aren’t familiar with it, the show deals with a group of grim reapers and their various social entanglements as they learn to live with their new job in the afterlife. The show was unique, to say the least, and its caustic humor and gloomy quirkiness were probably the reasons it never really found an audience – at least not until it was taken off the air.
Now, compare “Dead Like Me” to something like “Just Like Heaven” (2005), a fairly recent Reese Witherspoon vehicle that also deals with the premise of a young woman coming to terms with her own death. It’s like comparing a ripe McIntosh apple to a piece Styrofoam display fruit. It’s to be expected that a film like “Just Like Heaven” will be contrived – it’s a romantic comedy, after all. The more significant problem is that there’s no imagination involved whatsoever. Repackaging a once-popular film (in this case, “Ghost”) with a contemporary Hollywood star and calling it a day doesn’t make for a fresh movie-watching experience – yet it’s something that has been happening recently with many Hollywood films. A television show like “Dead Like Me” is simply more vibrant, unique and audacious, and that makes it a hell of a lot more interesting to watch.
It’s no wonder so many people are tuning into cable television to get their entertainment fix. With quality shows like “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Carniv