Best TV Shows of All Time

All right, I just kind of whipped this up for fun.

Time Magazine calls “Lost” one of the 100 Best TV series of all time. It may not be as big a compliment as you think: the list includes “Leave it to Beaver” and “Friends”, “Oprah” and– ready for it? — “The Price is Right”. What is #1? There is no #1– it’s just a list of 100.

But, this leads me to question, what are the best TV series of all time? Off hand… [Additions 2011-03]

1. The Wire (without a doubt)

2.1 West Wing
2. Hill Street Blues
3. Mad Men (years 1 & 2)
4. Larry Saunders Show
5. All in the Family
6. Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
6.1 Orange is the New Black
7. St. Elsewhere
8.1 I Claudius
8. 30 Something
9. 60 Minutes
10. Dick Van Dyke Show
11. Saturday Night Live
12. Seinfeld
13. Sex in the City
14. This Hour has Seven Days (Canadian)
15. Ed Sullivan
16. Twilight Zone
17. Alfred Hitchcock Presents
18. Odd Couple
19. Barney Miller
20. Star Trek (Year 1 only!)
20.1 The Bold Ones
20.2 WKRP in Cincinnati
20.3 The Tudors

Television: Lost

I’ve been watching the first season of “Lost” for the past few weeks. What a concept: a plane crash-lands on a tropical island and the survivors struggle to survive. Supernatural events intrude. The hunky stars sport perpetual five o’clock shadows. An attractive woman falls for a guy who’s no good for her. The castaways gang up on an unpopular dissident and torture him. He doesn’t mind being tortured.

It’s a combination of “Gilligan’s Island” (without the humour) and “Survivor” (without the circus master) and the computer game, “Myst” (without the tedium). It debuted in 2005– after 9/11. The makers of the show claim that everything will make sense when the series ends in 2011. Including the torture? I don’t believe them.

It’s hard to buy into a drama when the characters act inexplicably for inexplicable reasons. This is not a comedy though it has moments when you have to laugh out loud– Jack carrying firewood around, for example, for the obvious purpose of looking like he has a reason for existing at that particular moment other than to hold a conversation with Hugo. Sawyer enjoying a few moments of torture for no logical reason at all. Sayed marching around trying to organize a fascist police state. All the key male leaders with the only guns marching off into the jungle to look for Ethan the day after he surprised them by coming up from the beach instead. An anonymous extra is attacked and killed.

And everyone assuming, for no really logical reason, that Ethan was up to something nefarious with Claire just because his name wasn’t on the manifest. Don’t airlines officials make mistakes? Don’t people have middle names? And then everyone carrying on at the beach strangely unconcerned about the fact that a pregnant woman has been kidnapped by the same man, after he even tried to hang Charlie.

Did you think Charlie was dead? As from time immemorial, none of the regulars die. At least not yet. Sort of diffuses some of the tension, doesn’t it?

And let’s not forget about Mike’s girlfriend’s husband who leaves Mike’s son in Sydney to fly all the way to Los Angeles to tell Mike– in person– that he can have custody of his son. This is a strange, context-less world of spontaneous dramatic lurches and unmotivated passions. It’s a world in which no one, in the author’s mind, has any existence outside of their scenes. They find a mysterious door. They obsessively chip away at it for days while the rest of the islanders complain about not having any meat. Then the door disappears from consciousness, as does the pork, while amnesiac Claire falls in love with the most annoying castaway of all– Charlie. Everyone on the island only seems to be conscious of events in the script for that week’s episode.

So how on earth are the creators of the show going to explain anything when it comes to a conclusion in 2011? They seemly only dimly aware of what happened before the commercial break.

It is, by the way, a curiosity of Soap Opera that, for obvious and not so obvious dramatic purposes, women regularly fall in love with jerks. So Charlie and Sawyer attract the interests of the two most attractive women on the island. I guarantee you that if either of them ever consummate their desires for each other, neither will express the slightest concern about getting pregnant or catching a disease. Those things only happen many, many scripts from now.

If there is a consistent tone to the drama, it’s in the way sequences are sprung at the viewer like your annoying older brother sneaking up behind you and going “boo”. The polar bear would be far more sinister if it behaved more like a real polar bear, instead of announcing itself to it’s prey with a deafening roar. When a character is terrified by a sound, instead of seeing the source of the terrifying sound, we hear more sound effects and get the jerky, blurry camera movement . It’s as if they tried to dramatize the sinking of the titanic by by hosing a bunch of people sitting on a deck and spinning the camera around.

The castaways seem to be thriving in terms of food and health– unlike the first crew of “Survivor” who would have starved to death if the show’s producers hadn’t air dropped rice and other foods to the desperate “tribes”. Locke, in two days, acquired the hunting skills and acumen most people require years to learn. To hunt dangerous boar, no less! Even more remarkably, no one on the island seems to regard his rapidly acquired skills as amazing. Nor does anyone seem particularly grateful. Jin-Soo also seems capable of catching enough fish to feed 48 people. Think about that– how many fish would you need to feed 48 people? In fact, the utter lack of interest in explaining how the survivors are feeding themselves is breathtaking.

But where the series is most disappointing is in it’s utter lack of curiosity about how a group of 48 survivors would begin to organize themselves and relate to each other on the island– other than the incipient authoritarianism expressed by Locke and Jack and Sayed, who seem to believe that the others are all children who need to be herded to the caves or back to the beach or where-ever and told what to do.

Charlie murders Ethan in cold blood– there are no consequences for that kind of behavior in this society. In fact, the event seems to be regarded with the same seriousness as the missing pregnant Claire.

I would find it believable that there would be a few rebels and a few outcasts and a few natural leaders– but I find it unbelievable that everyone would just kind of hang around, eat, drink water, make fires, relieve themselves, and chat about that missing pregnant girl– what was her name again? Anyone see her lately?

What was the character doing before he entered the scene and began talking or inter-acting with another character, and then after the scene? Waiting to deliver his lines? In “Lost”, yes. And characters quite obviously undertake certain token tasks precisely so they can be paired with someone for some dialogue necessary to advance the story. Nobody has given much thought to who these characters are, what they think, how they live.

In a Mike Leigh film, for example, you immediately believe that character was up to something “real”– something his character would really be doing if this were a real world. Jack carrying firewood to the beach was so transparently contrived, I laughed out loud. What if the actor, instead, had developed an idea of what he was really doing– and worked it out in some detail. Better yet, what if the writers had thought of that first, and developed the character somewhat. Why on earth, for example, would Jin-Soo not have tried to simply get his watch back from Michael before attacking him? Why does Michael only seem to worry about Walt when it’s time to have a big scene of him worrying about Walt? Why on earth would Claire want to stay at the beach when the doctor is at the caves?

Most of the actions in “Lost”, in fact, seem to arise from the writer’s need to set up a dramatic confrontation of some kind, and most of the time they seem to be what a writer thinks the audience wants to see, rather than what he wants to tell.

Sure, you could rationalize every single move by every actor in the series– doesn’t change the fact that none of the characters’ actions arise from any particular insight into anything and nothing they say seems very expressive, to me, of anything other than the superficial requirements of the plot.

Check this: what else has J. J. Abrams done. Answer: “Armageddon”. “Alias”. Alas.

What “Lost” really needs, to liven up the drama, is for an exchange like this– think about it:

Jack: Wow. You guys ask me to be a leader but then you won’t listen to me.
Hurley: Who made you leader?

Mr. Yoo Justifies His Unwarranted Intrusion

“The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty wrote to Mr. Gonzales. Therefore any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches are swept away, they said, since any possible privacy offense resulting from such a search is a lesser matter than any injury from deadly force. NY Times, March 3, 2009.

Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty were Bush Administration officials who believed they could justify unconstitutional and illegal actions because someone might die. This rationale would come as a huge surprise to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. How could they not have foreseen that lives would be endangered if the police were not allowed to enter your house and search it at will?

It’s just one final piece– the release of memos detailing how the Bush Administration, in hysterics after 9/11, contemplated a police state.

Don’t ever again ever believe a “Conservative” when he tells you he loves freedom and democracy and especially if he claims he loves the constitution.

And if he claims to be a Christian and he loves George W. Bush because he stood for Christian values then, lest you believe that Christians do not believe in freedom, let me tell you these people are not Christians.

They have all either spoken out clearly in condemnation of these memos, or they are all cold-blooded, contemptible liars.

Genuine Heroes: Brooksley Born

Even after reading a lot of articles on the current economic crisis, it is difficult to get a grasp on just what, specifically, brought about the chain of events that have led to our current upheaval. The question is, who is responsible, and why.

Well, we know of someone who was not responsible. I’ll bet you’ve never heard of her. Her name is Brooksley Born. During the Clinton administration, she was in charge of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. She objected to these new derivatives and credit swaps and other nefarious instruments of economic bamboozlement.  But she was overruled and marginalized by Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin, who were entranced and delighted with the possibilities raised by deregulation of the securities markets. (Rubin was later a director and counselor to Citibank, until January this year, when he went to work for Obama).

They saw lots of Enrons (then considered miraculously profitable) splashing money around making all their friends rich. Well, to be generous, they probably would like you to believe they thought any red-blooded American investor could get rich by investing in a company like Enron.  All you needed was lots and lots of disposable money.  Sure, anyone.

Today, everybody knows about Kenneth Lay and AIG and Eliot Spitzer and Britney Spears and even Susan Boyle, and nobody knows the name Brooksley Born. So here is my modest little tribute to a great woman:

Brooksley, you were right.

And she was not the only one who was right but didn’t receive nearly enough credit for it.

You were wise when everyone around embraced foolishness. Someone should name a large federal building for you. And remove the name “Greenspan”.

The world of high finance and banking seems to have been mainly a giant Ponzi scheme and those who were in on the backroom deals profited immensely and, so far, with near impunity.

No one will ever know exactly how complicit Rubin and Greenspan and the others were, but we do know that neither of them left their federal appointments to go work for Habitat for Humanity.

Do Americans finally get what’s going on? While they were all excited about this incredibly expensive military adventure in Iraq that would cost nearly a trillion dollars– to prevent America’s interests from being harmed by nefarious Islamic foes– American’s interests were harmed by the same fat cats that sponsored Bush in the first place, the ones who got all the tax cuts, the ones who urged you to keep America safe by voting for a strong military.

They are counting on your ignorance, your indifference, your confusion. They are counting on you believing that our economic systems is fundamentally sound and fundamentally serves your interests in spit of what appears to be looting on an unimaginable scale, of your pensions, your insurance, your mortgages.

What Actually Happened and Why it Should Not Have

Do you get what actually happened? This is what I understand went down: banks and other financial institutions conspired to set up these huge funds– derivatives– which consisted of bundled mortgages and loans amounting to trillions of dollars. They resold these packages to investors and then, to eliminate any risk, set up entities to back the loans called “credit swaps”. The credit swaps guaranteed repayment of the loans if the borrowers defaulted, essentially giving investors all the benefits of risk — high payments– with none of the actual risks. These credit swaps were fraudulently presented as some kind of magical black box which could never fail to produce bunnies, when, in fact, they were never responsibly vetted by any authority. It was the duty of the government to vet these instruments– it failed.

These funds spread like wildfire throughout the financial industry until nobody even knew who was really holding what. When the mortgage bubble burst and housing prices began falling catastrophically in the U.S., buyers started defaulting on their loans in massive numbers, bleeding the magical system dry, and sucking up all of the liquidity in the entire financial system.

That’s my understanding as far as it goes.

The most frightening thing about the bail-out is the number of people, like Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, who were involved in the original sin who are now involved in the massive attempted “redemption” of the world economy.

Can the same people who steered us into the ice berg rescue the passengers from the life boats?

Much as I would like to lay this at Bush’s feet, it is clear that the era of deregulation began under Clinton and that Bush merely carried on in the same general spirit.