Viewers as lab rats at the end of TV's 'golden age'

danes-as-carrie.jpgHeather Havrilesky, the Los Angeles-based television writer for the New York Times Magazine (and occasional blogger), uses the analogy of lab rats lured through a maze by the promise of false treats to riff on the "Lost"-ification of dramatic television. "Lost" ruined the market for nuanced, character-driven dramas in the same way that the Star Wars franchise dumbed down action movies, she writes. Her immediate point is her disappointment in "Homeland" and "American Horror Story." From the piece:

[Lost's] finale was the crowning disaster, the Scooby-Doo ending to end all Scooby-Doo endings. After hinting for years that their nonsensical mess would add up to something, not only did the producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof fail to address a tiny fraction of the trillions of mysteries they introduced, but they threw out the Lostpedia with the bath water, scrapping all of those riddles for the equivalent of Lucas’s teddy-bear victory dance: a celestial moment with the survivors, hugging and holding hands in the afterlife.

This is all ancient history — or would be, if not for the fact that the implosion of “Lost” was like a dirty bomb that made the world unsafe for serial dramas to this day....

The problem lies in the fact that the dead-end suspense and pill-popping, knife-wielding darkness of today’s TV dramas shove more subtle pilot candidates out of the way. The empty thrills, the ticking clock that never runs down, the pointless twists and turns that are neither motivated nor resolved, all degrade the audience’s palate until all we can taste is blood, all we can see is teenagers in hot pants, all we can hear is flat dialogue and all we can expect at the end of season is a giant, flashing question mark.

And that’s sad, because it’s also true that television writers are taking big risks in their laboratories these days. They’re experimenting with speeding up and slowing down the timeline, trotting out unlikable characters and testing our tolerance for crazy, for demented, for morbid. Instead, they should focus on testing our tolerance for smart, complex characters and nuanced stories, just as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” and “Mad Men” did. Because some of us have been burned too many times to head back into that jungle maze yet again.

Here's a link to go read her whole column. The assertion that there's a current golden age of television to be killed is Havrilesky's, by the way, not mine.

Only in print: Reading the actual magazine is the only way to discover that P. 59 of the New York Times Magazine is one of those Donald T. Sterling ads for his apartments off Wilshire Boulevard. You know, the ads with the misleading skyline, the claim of "the most beautiful apartments in Los Angeles" developed by one Donald T. Sterling, and nary a mention of Koreatown.

Photo:Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in "Homeland"

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