The good and the bad of 2003

Nothing is more fun than pointing out the failings (and the odd success) of the entertainment establishment. And the end of the year is the best time to do it. So here is my take on the good and the bad in entertainment for 2003.

The Good

The Simple Life: I know, you're all expecting this to be in the bad section. Well, the show may be bad, but I applaud the concept. You've got the media making fun of a couple of rich kids who are in on the joke. Sure, they don't know how to milk a cow - so how many of us do? And how many city dwellers would be any more at home on a farm. I wouldn't. Paris and Nicole are media whores, but they aren't pretending otherwise. They aren't pretending to fall in love with some total stranger. They aren't forging alliances and double crossing people. Maybe you like this show, maybe you don't. But as reality tv goes, it's one of the least objectionable concepts and Paris and Nicole deserve some credit for being good sports and having some fun with it.

Boston and Chicago almost go to the World Series: Given the obvious potency of those club's respective curses, I'm glad it was just almost. Had they made it, my guess is the world would have ended before the series did. Anyway, having two of the most beleaguered teams make it almost all the way meant huge ratings for baseball and I'm all for that. People complain about rich teams and the lack of parity in the league, but when a team goes from virtual bankruptcy a few years back to a world series victory (as Florida did), well things just can't be that bad.

Joan of Arcadia: Did anyone expect this show to be good, let alone a hit? I didn't. I watched it more or less by accident. And I'm impressed. This is what family values programming should be. It does something which television almost never does. It assumes the existence of God. And it asks the questions we'd all ask of God, like why is the world a mess. And it doesn't give dumb answers. It's no Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but what is.

Coupling: Not the show, its cancellation. Who would have thought NBC would can its most heavily promoted show in its best time slot? Not I. It's nice to know that the suits at network headquarters really can recognize garbage when they see it.

Planning to lose: Thursday at 8 is a wasteland. That is if you're not NBC or CBS. Between Friends and Survivor, you don't have a chance. And FOX, surprisingly, recognizes this. Even though Tru Calling barely makes a ripple in the Nielsen pool, they've ordered 20 episodes and seem determined to give the show at least a season to make an impact. And next year, with Friends gone and perhaps Survivor starting to weaken, maybe it'll have a chance. FOX is clever enough to recognize sometimes you just sacrifice the hour and hope things get better in the future. So kudos to them for giving this show a shot.

The Oscars move: Moving the Oscar ceremony up a month is a stroke of genius. Not only does it enliven the dullest month of the year (February) but it means voters might actually remember some films which didn't open in the last week of December.

The Bad

Monk: This show has great actors and great characters and really awful writing. None of the mysteries are really mysterious and the writers can't even keep the facts straight (like Benjy's age). I know this show is low budget, but surely they could find an extra few thousand a year and hire a real writer. This show could easily go from good to great with some decent writing. Given what the cast have done with the amateurish drivel they are given currently, I suspect we'd be blown away at what they could do if some real effort were put into the scripts.

When does the season start: With some shows starting in November and December while others began in mid September, the season just oozes out these days rather than bursting upon us. And unless you pay a lot of attention, you'll just miss shows like Tru Calling, which started so late most viewers probably thought it was cancelled. I know that having everything start at once is a pain when you've got four new shows debuting the same day and hour. And I know baseball messes up the schedule. But it just isn't fun anymore.

Best of the year lists: I love these lists, but I keep seeing films like Monster and Return of the King on best of 2003 lists. Monster doesn't even open until 2004 and Return of the King will play for only a couple of weeks this year. I understand the yearning of critics to include the probably biggest money maker of the year on their lists along with a film where a one time model and definite babe gains weight and wears ugly make up. But lets get real. These aren't real 2003 films and Monster is a bad movie. And, to be honest, you can't really include any film in so tightly knit a trilogy in a best of list.

Network whining: When the ratings are good, it's because the networks are geniuses, when the ratings are bad it's because the rating system is flawed. CBS used to claim this when it was at the bottom of the pack and rapidly sinking NBC is crying wolf now. Face it, men in suits, people aren't watching because you're producing trash.

Trista and Ryan: Speaking of trash, does it get any worse than this? We've learnt that Trista will do anything if fame and money are attached. Of course, we knew that three reality shows ago, but she's going to milk that cash cow for as long as she can.

The pretense of neutrality disappears: We've long known the media are controlled by right wingers and that news slants heavily to the conservative side of the ledger. But as bad as things got, you could always rely on media corporations to care more about profits than political alliances. If a scoop got you audience and audience got you money, that's what you went for. Then we got embedded press and the uniform cheerleading of America's news outlets. But things got worse. CBS turned down scads of free publicity and opted not to air The Reagans lest it offend the delicate sensibilities of conservatives. Apparently, liberals are made of sterner stuff since no end of documentaries on the Kennedys have aired and the network have never caved in to complaint. I don't know if the film was good or not or how balanced it was. Let's face it, it's a tv movie and anyone who expects a tv film to be a balanced account of politics is nuts. I do know that loads of people would have watched out of sheer curiousity and CBS passed up a chance at a great audience. Basically, it gave up money. And when corporations put politics ahead of cash in the world's leading example of free enterprise, something is very wrong.

The cruelist cut: Is the director's cut. You used to pay to see a movie in the theatre. Sometimes, months or even years later, it would be rereleased. And it would be the same movie. You could see it as often as you liked, and it was always the same. Then along came tv and you could see movies there, usually cut for time and sometimes reformatted. But videos solved that problem. You could get exactly the movie you got in the theatre. And then came DVDs and director's cuts and deleted scenes. Okay, I could live with that when a classic film would be brought out with these extras that everyone wanted. But now films are made with scenes missing (Lord of the Rings is a prime example) and the only way to see them is to buy the DVD. And want to bet that 10 years from now additional footage or a new cut won't be released. I'm tired of constantly changing films and of studios digging their fingers deeper and deeper into my wallet.

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