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Category Archives: Television

[television] The Newsroom

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I’ve decided to shake things up a bit for this week’s post by writing about a television show. Normally and predictably, I take the time to share my thoughts on sort of musical artifact, which is not surprising considering this is a blog dedicated to music. That said, I’d like to try my hand at covering The Newsroom on HBO. So I hope I won’t ruin anyone’s day with an unsolicited rambing.

I’m a bit of a sucker for Aaron Sorkin vehicles. The West Wing, Sports Night, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip have been favorites of mine, so I don’t shy away from admitting that I would gladly watch anything he writes. So I was ecstatic when HBO announced The Newsroom.

The Newsroom fits nicely into the Sorkin mold, and it highlights why I am enamored by his work. Sorkin’s shows succeed beyond the level of people talking fast and walking around doing important things. At his best, his shows feature two defining strengths: the importance of the subject and the value of good work.

The broad subject of his shows (the White House, a sports show, a sketch comedy show or a cable news show) are always celebrated for being integral to American culture. He has a talent for making the world of his shows the most important place to be. Even something like a sports show can be pointed to as being culturally relevant, even though it’s something we may all take for granted. Without a doubt, I have watched PTI more than any show over the last decade, but I would never think of it as “one of my favorite television shows,” like The Wire, Mad Men or Arrested Development. This odd situation is something that was not lost on Sorkin during the run of Sports Night. (Think back to the moment early in the show when the ex-South African prisoner who had his legs broken in torture set the world record for speed walking: it validates the whole reason why I watch sports.)

The value of good work comes out when you consider the basic premise that the subjects he writes about are always institutions with social and political primacy that have somehow lost their way. Sorkin’s heroes are intelligent, motivated and professional folks that manage to take on the powers that be and right the ship on those wayward pillars of American life. Through the combination of a commitment to their job and the idealistic belief that they fix a broken system, his heroes win. They lose in real life, which is why watching The West Wing during the Bush administration was so hard for me. A Washington that is defined by partisan gridlock, a sporting world ruled by thugs and charlatans, or a media enterprise ruled by corporate interests are no match for people doing good work. I’m a sucker for that world.

The Newsroom is not without flaws. Three episodes down, and I am still wondering why certain characters exist or why certain characters do the things they do. But really, the characters are irrelevant. Sorkin’s shows are about atmosphere and institutional change more than the people who cause the change. A good Sorkin show pulls you into the characters, while a “normal,” good show pulls you into the cause through the characters. He always seems to work in reverse.

Again, I have problems. Will McAvoy lives in a box where he is either a short-sighted douche or a visionary. MacKenzie McHale might be the most ridiculous name for a character on television. (Oops: that honor went to Sloan Sabbith in the second episode) I can’t see why Don Keefer is on the show any more, other than being an awkward foil. These are small problems.

My big problem is that it feels cheap to set the show two years ago. The Newsroom is a painfully necessary critique on American journalism, but the move to the immediate past does nothing more than allow Sorkin to paint the picture perfectly. The Deepwater Horizon spill, Arizona immigration legislation and the Tea Party movement have all been covered with the benefit of hindsight. That’s great, but it seems like a shortcut, and it plays into the age-old criticism that Sorkin writes only the arguments that he can win. I would much rather see the show exist as a counterpoint for stories that have more immediate relevance.

But still, I am a sucker for a world where you could sit down and watch the news without the ridiculous slant of corporate ideology. If nothing else, it gives me both a show to watch now that Game of Thrones is over and a way to feel semi-intelligent after watching True Blood.

[stream] Camera Obscura // Arrangements of Shapes and Space

I’ve been rewatching Friday Night Lights religiously with my girlfriend over the past few weeks since the show came to a close, and enjoying being swept up in the characters and mood in what is one of, in my opinion, the best shows to ever be on television.

Somewhere in season two, over top of a montage of kids tackling issues that are much too large for them, and next to my girlfriend crying over something sincere and hopeful, the show used this instrumental from Camera Obscura’s debut full length, Biggest Bluest Hi Fi.  On the surface, you wouldn’t be remiss to think that the song, entitled “Arrangements of Shapes and Space,” was another Explosions in the Sky song, since the show makes good use of the Austin band to set the mood for the whole show.

But you’d be wrong.  It’s the Glaswegian indie pop band – not the Austin post-rockers – that have ultimately found a way to convey a feeling that’s intimate while being as large as the Texas sky.

Connect with Camera Obscura // Facebook | Twitter | web

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/6601452″]

[mp3] Timber Timbre // Magic Arrow

A few months ago I decided to benefit from AMC’s decision to rerun their seminal series Breaking Bad from the beginning. I had previously seen the first season in its entirety, but had not viewed either the second or third seasons. They show two episodes back to back on one night of the week, so it has taken some time to get to the early part of season three, which is where we reside currently.

[mp3] Timber Timbre // Magic Arrow from Timber Timbre

The show doesn’t frequently use current music, but when it decides to do so, it is usually done quite magnificently. In one of the most recent episodes the song “Magic Arrow,” by Canadian moody folk/blues act Timber Timbre was utilized to great effect. The usage of the track by Breaking Bad features prominently in the Wikipedia page for the band, so it’s safe to say they haven’t made it big just yet. If they keep pumping out polished tracks such as this, that lack of notice seems sure to change.

Timber Timbre // MySpace | Facebook | Web | Twitter

Futurama and Pizzicato Five

One of my favorite television shows ever is the Matt Groening cartoon comedy Futurama. Over several seasons and four direct-to-disc movies that followed the show’s untimely cancellation, the writers conveyed incredible wit and an enormous amount of heart in their brief time with the characters. I greatly enjoyed the humor of the show, but being a sentimental guy I really appreciated the heart as well.

Throughout the run of the show, there were only a few moments where pieces of music beside the general soundtrack were used, and one of those moments is what I’ve decided to write about today. The setup is that the character Leela is, and always has been, completely unaware of who or what she is. She grew up an orphan and having only one eye clearly was not a normal human being, so she has lived a majority of her life unaware of whether or not she is an alien, and if so, what planet she is from. During the first few seasons there are times when the topic of her unknown origin is broached, yet no conclusions are ever made. In the episode I am referring to today, we at long last learn who and what she actually is. The song that is used in the clip is an old favorite of mine, and it truly helps relieve the emotional cache that has been built up her entire life.

I’ve attached the clip in question below, though it is partially cut off. The remaining bit not shown has the song continuing while the closing credits continue to run. The extra bit of the song transitioning into the credits serves well to seal the emotion of the scene. I’m usually a stay ’til the end of the credits guy anyways, so in this case I certainly wish the clip continued through to the end of the credits. I love it regardless. If you’ve never seen the show I greatly recommend it.

Futurama Weeknights, 9p/8c
Turanga Reunion
www.comedycentral.com
Futurama New Episodes Futurama New Episodes Funny Demon Zombie TV Show

Pizzicato Five – Baby Love Child (mp3) from Made In USA

Amos Lee – Colors

My girlfriend and I are pretty big fans of good (and not-so-good) TV; our DVR can bear witness to the vast array of substance and schlock that we enjoy.  We’ve been watching that new NBC show Parenthood, and it’s been OK, apart from the fact that it makes it seem like parenting and marriage and life in general is just one giant pain in the ass.  Plus, Lyla Garrity is in it, and there’s no going wrong there.

Anyway, I bring this up because the show last week had a scene where this old Amos Lee song was used.  It didn’t make it particularly more memorable (they were either breaking-up or making out), but it did bring me back to this song, which always weighs on me when I hear it.  It’s beautiful in its sadness.  (As if the show needed to make me feel more sad about how life is.)

Amos Lee – Colors (mp3) from Amos Lee