Now Showing: Lost

In the established theme of time, few shows have so extensively and epically explored this than the hit drama Lost. Beginning in 2004, it documented the trials and tribulations of a diverse group of people whose plane crashes on an island but while beginning as an intense Gilligan’s Island it quickly manifested into a mysterious, supernatural extravaganza where smoke monsters, polar bears, time travel, a scientific organization and society of armed “others” etc all pepper what is just a simple journey to go home.

Like the Robert Hassan “Network Time” article explains, time is a construct and it’s the way in which we organize our lives and determines the rhythm in which we move and act. On the island however, without clocks or any reference to time the survivors experience the condition of being “released from the domination of the clock” and acquiring the very primitive concept of time that suits their predicaments like how long it takes for them to dig a hole or walk from one place to another; like a character on the show so aptly states “Time doesn’t matter on a damn island”.

This idea is explored in a post from this Lost-themed blog that can be seen here; http://ncjl.wordpress.com/current-theories/the-others-stuck-in-time/

It is put forth there that those who are more in tune with the island (the mysterious “Others”) and the bizarre sense of timelessness are therefore the most deeply entrenched in that and that is why they do not travel into the future when Ben turns the magic wheel and moves the whole island into the future. I agree with his implication that time is not physical and despite the instance of physical time travel, it isn’t enough to alter the minds of those who have formulated their own concrete view of time and it supersedes anything else.

Even those of us who aren’t stranded on islands adopt similar ways of telling the time; thinking in terms of how long it’ll take this video to load, how long it’ll take the tram to get to a stop or for me to finish this sandwich. It’s a rather self-centered view of time but of much greater immediacy to ourselves as opposed to taking stock of every second or minute or (in the case of the tram) hour an activity takes to finish. We construct time as we see fit and even in spite of what a clock tries to tell us, like the Others we don’t allow the perceptions of others to alter our personal mindset of time and like the other island inhabitants we frequently judge time in accordance with our personal needs and activities.

So just like time doesn’t matter on a damn island, if we’re not looking at the clock and forming just makeshift ideas of time based on what we’re doing; does time really matter to us? In any case we can now see Lost is a show that truly offers more to ponder than just it’s baffling content and more to be impressed with than it’s high quality: it truly is an effective reference point and exploration of the idea of time which ties very much into our study of how we view and construct time in this day and age.

By The Television Code Posted in U.S Shows

Now Showing: Desperate Housewives

In its prime; Desperate Housewives was truly something to behold. The comedy/drama about 5 women living in the lush Wisteria Lane pioneered the extent to which television shows can flourish and consume society while offering valid nods to many issues and offering quite notable meaning.

There’s little doubt than in 2004/2005; Desperate Housewives was the biggest thing on the planet; the pilot episode was the most-watched pilot since 1996, it was the 4th most watched series in the U.S1, it filled magazines and talk shows, won numerous awards and just got everyone talking regardless of age (including schoolkids which i can attest to) or gender or celebrity status; both Oprah Winfrey2 and Laura Bush3 publicly declared their fanship. It was really something new; while both M*A*S*H and Seinfeld’s finale episodes caused a global stir, and The Simpsons no doubt grew over 20 years into a cultural powerhouse, It was Desperate Housewives that really broke the mold of how a tv show could cause such a large commotion so quickly and so widely upon its debut.

But how? The show so neatly combined quality with shock that it pleased critics and audiences thoroughly and concurrently; the former though the pristinely lavish production, top-quality acting and storytelling with supremely juicy one-liners and the latter being overt sex, a literally M-rated promotional ad (don’t think i’ve ever seen such a thing before or since), to a galore of sensitive issues and guilty pleasure moments that probably fuelled more water cooler gossip than most shows had done before. It no doubt blazed a trail on which many shows would graduate beyond playing it safe and keeping budgets low.

The show’s meaning however is interesting and only really surfaces in the finale; the epilogue reveals that eventually all the main characters leave Wisteria Lane and only then do they excel and realise their dreams and potential, the sense of frustration and futility that plagued them during the show was finally lifted when they broke free of a life they didn’t want to live. A valid message for everyone.

1 Jaffer, Murtz: ‘Housewives’ Premiere Cleans Up for ABC], Prime Time Pulse, April 10, 2004

2 Brioux, Bill: Oprah pays a visit to ‘Housewives’, Jam Showbiz, February 2, 2005

3 Laura Bush: First lady of comedy?, USA Today, May 1, 2005

By The Television Code Posted in U.S Shows

Now Showing: Gilligan’s Island

Few shows have been as influential content-wise as Gilligan’s Island; pioneering and utilising both the comedic and dramatic potential of having people strandard on a deserted island that no doubt paved the way for other such movies and shows like Lost, Castaway, 7 days 7 nights and countless similar TV episodes on shows like the nanny and family guy; all of which have only this show to tip their white hat to.

But there is more to the show than just a premise, Gilligan’s Island boasts a whole ocean of interesting messages and discrete meaning that transcends it above a show into almost allegorical status or, short of that, mind-blowing status. Full steam ahead.

The foremost theory behind the show that has had conspiracy theorists and bloggers abuzz is the idea that Gilligan’s Island is a direct illustration of hell; a fact that creator Sherwood Schwartz has openly acknowledged1 and went on to admit that each of the 7 castaways represents the deadly sins: Ginger – LUST (clearly), Mary Ann – ENVY (jealous of Ginger), The Professor – PRIDE (due to his intellectual arrogance but bear in mind this is just relaying what the creator has stated – this blogger happens to be a Professor fan), Mr. Howell – GREED and Mrs. Howell – SLOTH (both also clear) and the heavyset hot-headed Skipper – GLUTTONY and ANGER2. People from all walks of life and personalities, united by the underlying fact that they’re sinners and will be jointly punished; who’s to say this isn’t meant to be referring to culture as a whole.

The show is clearly making a novel statement about the nature of evil; it began barely a couple of decades after World War 2 and one year after the JFK Assassination; in the former case we saw an unbalanced artist become one of history’s biggest tyrants and the latter, a dyslexic from Louisiana assassinate one of America’s greatest Presidents; the show may’ve wanted to emulate the notion that evil can come from anywhere and despite who the person is which is also why, brace yourselves, Gilligan represents Satan. Yes, even a dopey sailor can unknowingly be the true beacon of evil on this show, not only is this shown through his constant wearing of red but the fact that it is always him that is the centre of any complication and always him that ends up sabotaging the survivor’s escape plans and keeps them on the hell that they’ll therefore never leave.

This careful allegory acts as a chilling warning to the viewers; that is is sinful indulgence and immorality that can lead you to hell (the castaways were on a pleasure cruise when the boat got marooned on the island), that hell is a terrible place and one you don’t want to be in (the castaways are exposed to nothing but treachery and discomfort on this island throughout the series from dictators to cannibals to even an obnoxious theatre critic one time) and most of all that hell can never be escaped; the castaways never leave the island despite any and every attempt and the series ends with them still there.

The show’s conclusion in the early 70’s saw the beginning of a new time, the wounds of previous evil had relatively healed and a new era of love and moving forward had dawned and would remain undisturbed, for a little while. Rest assured though Gilligan’s Island will always be there, as a meaningful message for all future generations to heed; a group of castaways not unlike you and me forever frozen in time on a hell of their own doing, never able to leave and all they wanted was a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour.

1Inside Gilligan’s Island by Sherwood Schwartz (April 15, 1994) St. Martin’s Griffin ISBN-10: 0312104820 / ISBN-13: 978-0312104825

2http://www.gilligansisle.com/sins.html

3 Ibid

By The Television Code Posted in U.S Shows

Now showing: The Simpsons

By the start of the 1990’s; seismic changes were occurring across the social, political and economic board: technology was booming, the economy was glooming and the new millennium was quickly approaching. The world was growing up and it was time for television to grow up with it. This meant going back to basics; “goodbye” to the fantastical Jeannies, Samanthas, Munsters and Addams that permeated the 60’s and 70’s and a “Hello Newman”  to an onslaught of the more grounded shows of Seinfeld, Frasier and Mad about you; shows that poked fun at the mundane and allowed for self-reflection as we geared towards a new beginning.
However one show was to come along in 1989 and mark a perpetual midpoint between those two eras; combining the fantasy with the reality, the mundane with the insane and would quickly develop into an undisputed cultural, social phenomenon that continues to this very minute. It’s name: The Simpsons.
The premise is simple, a dysfunctional family in a middle-class town is nothing new but via the magical tools of animation, their simple troubles was put on an imagination hyper-speed that propelled the show into the forefront of global attention and audience wonderment.  Just as the word has been digitalized, the same was the happen for TV through this show where animation could provide a “richer and more appealing…experience” for audiences just as technology could do so for learning according to the 2003 PITAC – Report to the President Information Technology:  Transforming our Society.
 
Simpsons was a revelation for television and the way content could be presented; any global location could be visited without buying a ticket, the world’s biggest stars could appear without them even leaving their house, children could be strangled (don’t do it though) without lawsuits, elaborate locations could be filmed without hiring a single designer. Anything was possible with just the flick of a pencil and that was a game-changer.

 
Over 500 episodes it’s maintained a stratospheric quality of writing, visual quality and storyline concepts as well as providing valid social opinions and views in every episode, often several in one. No matter the target; every Simpsons plot has messages even if it only pertains to the current state of family life or human behaviour. Read a synopsis on any episode and you can see it all for yourself (be prepared to read between lines though).  http://meblogwritegood.wordpress.com/
This blog offers an almost peerless episode-by-episode review and commentary of Simpsons episodes; that can not only aid a catch-up and provide laughs but really enable you to see for yourself all the cultural and social messages which this post is trying to get at and that the show is putting out there, assuming my post didn’t already thoroughly convince you :P

Some prime examples of Simpsons commentary to get you started is the environmental and slightly anti-consumerist “Trash of the Titans”, the anti-tabloid “Homer Badman”, the delightfully pro-gay “Homer’s phobia” and “Sideshow Bob Roberts” one of the many, many political episodes.

The show really spear-headed a new direction for 21st century life; taking risks. Here was a family and show that broke almost every taboo in TV: In the 90′s it was unheard of for a family on TV to ever be seen going to Church or even watching TV! Simpsons did it. TV kids never misbehaved and families never openly fought. Simpsons did it. No show ever overtly satirized current and sensitive issues. Simpsons did it. And since the Flinstons in the 70′s there was no animated series on primetime but Simpsons did, is and continues to be the ultimate. What’s more is The Simpsons was the flagship show of Fox, the first new network on American TV since the 1940’s which many believed wouldn’t survive. But here we stand in 2012, more TV networks and controversial shows than you can poke a remote at, all because of the bulletproof precedent that was set all those years ago: The Simpsons did it.

So there you go; the broad implications and messages that lies beneath a show that many perhaps doubted were there. May The Simpsons continue to make us laugh and reflect life through yellow-coloured glass and may you tune in again soon as I lift the lid on another great show.
By The Television Code Posted in U.S Shows