As I waited on line for my first Trillium lunch of the semester, I was slightly bemused when the guy behind me asked the server for a meal using the less conventional “chicken fa-jy-tas” pronunciation. Before she could disappoint him with the news that they were out of peppers and onions (seriously?), and no sooner then I felt the urge to wonder how thickheaded this kid was, I realized he was referencing the famous Family Guy scene were Peter delivers the line, “Yea I’d like 6,000 chicken fa-jy-tas please” at a fast food restaurant.
Sadly, the server was unmoved and did not correct him. No chuckles or knowing glances were shared by those on line. Unless I am overestimating this kid’s wit, it was a fleeting second of TV seeping into our culture, and I felt closer to my fellow classmates waiting for quesadillas and fajitas than ever before.
That’s because I’ve become invested in television. While a good book on a beach may have satisfied you this summer, some overlook the fact that sitting through incredible television programming can be a creatively stimulating endeavor in itself — as long as it doesn’t take away from your scheduled outdoor activities. Play first, then TV. At least that’s what all the HD classes say, anyway.
I’m not talking about mindless entertainment for the sake of killing a few hours. A few trips to the movie theater (on a rainy day, of course) can do that. I am mostly referring to you Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and definitely you Killers.
What I am talking about is investing in television when you want to experience addictive storytelling but don’t want to start a 356-page novel. Instead of the times when you want to go to the movies or rent one, start a new show. Even the best movie stars are headed to the small screen, and you should too. More time and better writing are invested in the best serialized dramas and comedies, and the hangover after watching two great hours of 30 Rock or Arrested Development can be surprisingly pleasant — or it will at least surpass the one gotten from re-watching that same Judd Apatow movie and will definitely best any from day drinking.
Comedy has been at its finest this past season. An unthinkable feat last year when it was announced that The Jay Leno Show would suck five hours of primetime programming, leaving a void for many writers of potential sitcoms and serialized dramas. Thanks to new shows — Glee and Emmy-champ Modern Family — and returning ones — The Office, 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother — I was not only entertained, but I was left deeply satisfied and thought-provoked — the way I feel after reading a good (read: pseudo-smart) book. Could it be that the current slate of television programming can say just as much about the society in which we live as compelling works of literature do? For the first time in a while, I say yes.
Take 30 Rock. Not only does Tracy Morgan’s outrageous babbling leave me howling (“I saw a pack of wild dogs take over and successfully run a Wendy’s”), but the stories told are very revealing of the way we do business, including this most recent wink-wink at the real-life buyout of NBC by cable giant Comcast.
The episode featured NBC executive Jack Donaghy’s difficulties fitting in with the cable company that bought the network out, named Kabletown. Its business model doesn’t require new ideas or growth since the “the cable is already laid” and relies on profits from men ordering adult films, including this gem: Fresh-Ass Based on the Novel "Tush’"By Assfire. Jack — who credits himself as “the reason the microwave tray rotates” — is outraged, ostensibly that the company begins with the letter “K,” but more likely because the company doesn’t innovate at all. He is inspired to create, and comes up with adult entertainment targeted towards single women. The day is saved, and the great American business executive remains triumphant.
I am reminded of Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman: a man who could not adapt to innovation in the workplace. 30 Rock here created a reverse scenario in which the innovators were being pushed out — a stinging indictment of corporate America. Deep for a sitcom, right?
There are lessons to be learned on all channels. On Glee, we are told that it is OK to be different. Last season we heard a passionate defense of his gay son from a John Cougar Mellencamp-loving, auto mechanic father from northwestern Ohio. On Lost, we learned that the cryptic sideways world was actually a purgatory-like waiting place for the castaways’ souls to gather before departing to the afterlife. The message was clear: They needed each other to move on.
Glee is as much about a glee club that sings songs as Lost is about surviving a plane crash on an island. (They voluntarily came back after leaving!) I could be wrong, but in the end the stories are rich, the comedy is spot on and the experience is shared — just as long as that kid really knew how to pronounce “fajitas.”