Last Week in TV Land
Desperate Housewives has sailed into the kind of downdraft which insures that no matter what twists the plot takes they comes across as boring. That's not a good place to be. This week, though, the none of the developments would have been interesting under the best of conditions, the least dreary of the four sub-plots involved Bree's sneaking into the Applewhite's house and having a conversation with Caleb that revealed who he is and what he did. It's the kind of event that might have been fitted into a real melodrama, but Desperate Housewives is supposed to be a comedy. And, if it's not a comedy its silliness is so far out of place to ruin it for anything else. This series can work only if the four characters do zany things that are both amusing and have a kind of bizarre intelligence about them. At the moment, that's not happening.
24 returned to its traditional tautness, with a false dilemma being resolved by Jack Bauer's decisiveness. The issue was whether to sacrifice everybody in a shopping center -- about 800 people -- through death by nerve gas in order to maintain a chance to get the remaining nineteen canisters of gas before they could be sprayed on defenseless populations. The vacillating president allowed himself to be talked into thinking it was a matter of losing 800 lives in order to save tens of thousands, and went along with the plan. But Jack knew the 800 were certain whereas the thousands were theoretical. And he's not one to let theory cause the killing of little children right before his eyes. He was right, of course, but the episode achieved its drama by the audience's knowledge that there are people in government right now who really are willing to spend other people's lives in pursuit of their hopes and theories. I doubt we have men like Bauer in our actual security forces, but, at least, it's good to have him on 24.
The HBO movie, Warm Springs, is not a great film, but for anyone interested in the Roosevelts, or in America as it was in the 1920s, it's warmly satisfying. Kenneth Branagh as FDR doesn't look enough like Roosevelt to remind us of him, but he's a good actor and carries off the role fairly well. Cynthia Nixon as Eleanor, helped by some sort of oral prosthesis, is more credible and manages to convey Mrs. Roosevelt's peculiar combination of shyness and determination. Over the years, at least some portion of the American public has become aware that President Roosevelt was far more severely damaged by polio than people understood in the 1940s. The film may have exaggerated his struggle against depression. It surely did exaggerate his withdrawal from public life. Still, to deal with the results of the illness in the way he did was both brave and extraordinary, and clearly did affect the way he came to view the nation. The best part of the film was the place itself - Warm Springs. It was simply a run-down spa when Roosevelt first went there, and the way his presence transformed it and it transformed him is the major theme of the movie. It's a story that gives one more hope for the human race than, perhaps, it deserves. But it's heartening all the same.
Every new episode of Invasion now gives us more information about why the series has the title it does. We learned this week that when a person "goes into the water" he or she not only gets new body with rearranged and transformed organs. There is also implanted a kind of cyst which on a MRI scan can look like a tumor but which is in reality a pouch of eggs. Exactly what these eggs are and how they're going to be hatched we don't yet know. But, we're fairly sure there's something ominous about them. We're also finding out what going into the water does to a person mentally. It seems to liberate deep-seated characterisitics. It doesn't make everybody bad, but if one had evil impulses which had formerly been held down by social pressure, those restraints are loosened and, mostly, disappear. Going into the water can turn a person into a monster, but that's not an inevitable consequence. In this respect, the program is developing an interesting complexity which goes beyond the white/black conflicts that normally drive TV melodramas. We can't yet say that the complexity will be handled intelligently. But, at least at the moment, we can have hope
On Hardball --perhaps the most grossly misnamed program on television -- Chris Matthews is making good progress in his transformation from Cheney worshipper to Cheny denouncer. In the past, particularly during the campaign in 2004, any time Cheney's name was mentioned, Chris got goo-goo eyed over the vice president's gravitas, and toughness, and overall demeanor of command. But now, in the aftermath of Cheney's adventures in Texas, the bright-faced pundit is demanding to know why the president continues to put up with a guy who has been wrong about every piece of advice he has given over the past five years. The consistency of TV news entertainers is not one of the more serious problems facing the nation. Yet, it seems to be the case that some portion of the public derive their political opinions from the cable news performers. So it may be worth a note to point out that what they say one week isn't likely to be the same thing they'll say the next. If anybody wonders where conviction stands compared to ratings in the infotainment world, all he has to do is watch Chris for a month or two and the answer is clear.
Bill Maher's relaunched Real Time failed to sparkle. It's a show that at times has been quite good at slicing through sentimental piety but it depends heavily on its guests and their interaction. And the five last night set off no explosions.. Maher's first interview with Russ Feingold was sincere but perfectly unfunny. Feingold came across as a guy who either doesn't know what fun is or, if he does, can't dare admit it on TV. The three panelists -- Dan Senor, Helen Thomas, and Eddie Griffin -- snipped at one another and occasionally showed hints of intelligence. But their conversation never went anywhere. Senor, former advisor to Paul Bremer in Iraq, is among a host of young Republicans who try to use neat haircuts to make up for indefensible arguments. One shudders to think what they're going to be when they become old Republicans and their hair begins to go. He tried to undercut the sarcasm of Thomas and Griffin, and did interrupt it somewhat, at the expense of making himself into even more of a prig than he is -- if that's possible. And then Maher brought on Fred Barnes to talk about his book, Rebel in Chief. Barnes, editor of the Weekly Standard, is actually in the running to replace Pat Roberstson at being whatever it is that Robertson has been (there may not be a word for it). In any case, there's small entertainment in watching a moon face say utterly moony things. So the whole business just dribbled away. We have to hope for better next week.
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