by Larry Brody
When I was a student at Northwestern University I took an independent study with my favorite professor, Edward B. Hungerford, AKA Ted (although I could never even think of calling him that until we both were much older).
At our first meeting I told him I was going to write a novel, about a college student who…
He stopped me before I could go any further. “You may have noticed,” Dr. Hungerford said, “that most novels are about adults, handling adult problems.”
“Uh, yeah, now that you mention it,” I said.
“The reason for that,” Dr. Hungerford said, “is that adult problems are more likely to have high stakes. Life, death, love, loss, disaster, despair. And high stakes are much more effective for getting readers involved.”
“I don’t know much about adult problems,” I said. “Just about trying to look cool, getting up the courage to ask a girl out, cramming for a test in a class I despise.” I stopped. Dr. Hungerford was looking at me knowingly.
The independent study became an individual tutorial on Othello, which I didn’t despise at all.
If that conversation, and that class, were occurring today, none of that would have happened. Instead I probably would’ve just shrugged and said, “In that case, I’ve got this great idea for a TV drama series…”
Back then, most television, especially drama, featured people who looked like adults, and for the most part behaved like them too. Heroic adults. Or villainous adults. But adults.
You don’t see that so much now. When immature people grapple with serious issues while behaving in the silliest possible way, I lose sight of the stakes and become overwhelmed by the, well, stupidity usually, of the heroes’ approach. TV drama is filled with sophisticated twists and turns, puzzles and surprises, but even those can’t disguise how trivial so many of the characters are. And while I like trivia as much as the next guy – maybe more – I still need the characters to have more going for them than the ability to banter. I need them behave like real people who have something more than their cool to lose.
Or, more succinctly, to behave the way I think I would in whatever situation they’re in. (I could spout about “audience identification” and all that, but my deepest, darkest fear is that, simply, I love shows that seem to be, you know, all about me.)
What shows meet those ill-defined criteria for me? What do I watch? Well, my DVR records the following:
- BURN NOTICE
- DOCTOR WHO
- LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT (I know it’s off the air and I’ve seen ’em all, but it’s the only show ever that I keep watching anyway)
- THE CLOSER
- THE GLADES
Looking over this list, do I detect a pattern? Are most of the shows I like really just ’80s style retreads? Reminders of what we did “back in the day?”
Hmm, no, I think not.
Because here’s what the list would have been just a few years ago, before the following series either were cancelled or, sadly, seemed to me to jump the shark:
- BOSS (Jumped the LB shark: too much irredeemable evil for me to sleep after seeing it now)
- DEADWOOD (Jumped my shark and went off the air, a double whammy)
- DEXTER (Jumped my shark when they killed Rita; sob)
- HOUSE (Gone, but I really thought this one was all about me)
- JOHN FROM CINCINATTI (Gone)
- LIE TO ME (Gone)
- SAVING GRACE (Gone)
- THE GOOD WIFE (Jumped my shark when I couldn’t understand the behavior of any one of the characters)
- THE SOPRANOS (Gone; another sob)
- THE WIRE (Gone but to me the Best of the Best; totally immersive)
If anyone out there has been watching a show – drama or action, whatever you want to call it – that you think I can get addicted to, get in touch. Tell me when it’s on. I’ll give it a try. And if it grabs me I’ll owe you. I will.
Otherwise – oh God, not this – I suppose I could get a life.