Last Week in TV Land

The West Wing presents us with a fairly accurate portrayal of how public disasters create hysterias which destroy all rational debate. The event in this case was overheating at a nuclear energy plant in California. The Republican candidate -- a candidate who, by the way, is very different from real Republicans -- has been an advocate of nuclear energy, and all the arguments in favor of it, which he has laid out energetically in the past, have now been swept aside by panic. The arguments are still just as good as they ever were. But a state of fear has made them unutterable. A TV series mocks up a political climate in which fear destroys reason and may make the very thing people fear more likely. And, in doing so, it comes dangerously close to depicting how we as citizens behave in this nation.

The mysteries are gradually being unravelled as we approach the end of the season on Surface. We now know that the electricity-charged sea creatures which are invading the world are not products of nature but come from a super-secret corporation which has more money than any other entity in the world. Have you noticed how ruthless, secret corporations have joined corrupt government agencies as the principal villains in TV melodramas? It sparks the thought that, for all their fantasy, television series may give us a more accurate picture of the world than the front pages of our major newspapers. Miles has been transformed from a guileless teenager to a Pied Piper who has the power to lead the creatures away from human victims. How that's going to work out for Miles we'll have to wait for the final two episodes to reveal. It will be bad if he's offered up as a noble sacrifice.  Surface, as it has gone along, has, despite fairly silly characterization, managed to build a fascinating story.

NCIS is not a good series. The criminal investigation team headed by Mark Harmon behaves, most of the time, like a clique of squabbling teenagers. Their remarks to one another are supposed to be cute and clever. But they are neither. Occasionally, however, the program does come up with a plot sufficiently interesting to make the episode watchable. And that was the case this week. Two Korean women, wives of marines, are found shot in the chest. There is the usual suspicion of people who didn't do it before the discovery is made that some of the women are agents of the North Korean government, plotting to detonate a huge bomb in the United States. The twist is that one of the women has fallen in love with her husband and can no longer stand the thought of carrying out the attack. And, so she turns against her confederates. The notion of sleeper agents, who live normal lives for years before they are activated is fascinating in itself. It raises the question of how a person can resist current emotions in order to remain loyal to previous commitments. And this episode did a decent job of exploring that issue. We have to give credit where it's due.

Whether plastic surgery, as practiced in Hollywood, is a good thing was the topic taken up this week on Bones. Temperance Brennan, our eccentric anthropologist heroine, is convinced it's an abomination, destined eventually to be seen in the same light as the deforming of feet in China or the stretching of necks in Africa. At any rate, she and her FBI partner poke all around Los Angeles seeking the murderer of a girl who had become addicted to plastic surgery. It turns out the young woman was killed by a victim of the  same compulsion but who was motivated by the traditional passion of jealousy, another emotion our heroine probably can't to understand. It remains to be seen whether Temperance and her team will jell into a unit that, though highly bizarre, is ultimately noble enough to win us over. But striving for it is an effort that could well pay off.

Faye Dunaway guest starred this week on CSI. She's now sixty-four years old and has the look of an aging actress trying to maintain her glamor. It's an old but smooth facade which suggests extensive plastic surgery, which, perhaps, Ms. Dunaway has not had. Since she was playing an aged actress working to hold on to the appearance of her glory days, maybe she was simply made up to look that way. In any case, she was the whole show, both the murderer and the murdered -- if one can say that someone has been murdered after she has talked a good friend into shooting her to escape being devoured by cancer. The notion of a grand lady of show business casting an aura in her later years is difficult to make appealing. There's something so egotistical about it the sense of courage and determination tends to get washed away. Life behind the scenes is not a thing the entertainment business should emphasize, even on a TV show. It's best to let the illusion remain the whole thing.

As In Justice rolls towards the middle of its season, a curiosity emerges. Getting wrongly convicted people out of jail may not be a theme that resonates strongly enough with the public to carry the series. One senses a lack, and it may be that it comes from undoing punishment rather than seeking it. Americans are a punitive-minded people and live in a punitive-minded culture. Could it be that a crime drama which doesn't concentrate on punishment will be unable to hold the public's interest? The episode this week had a few new twists. It involved a husband who tried to kill his wife, didn't wield his crowbar vigorously enough, and then in the immediate aftermath of the trauma convinced her she had been attacked by a black man. The cops then took over, showing her a picture of a black man repeatedly until she gave in and said he was the guy who did it. He was nowhere near the crime scene. In fact he was in bed with his girlfriend. But she wouldn't say so because she was supposed to be the girlfriend of a big mobster and was afraid of what he would do to her if he found out she had been with another man. You would think there's more than enough here to rouse the audience's indignation. Yet, somehow, it's probably not happening. One gets the sense that in the American mind the notion that "somebody's gotta pay" supercedes the desire to insure that the right person is convicted. That seems to be the case with a significant percentage of public prosecutors and maybe they're doing no more than reflecting the sentiments of the public they serve.

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