Ok, I admit it. I don't have a life and I watch too much TV. There, now you know. So I have some thoughts on the current season of TV that has just finished up. First of all, I don't like reality shows. Real people, for the most part, just aren't all that interesting, I guess, at least not those who show up on most reality shows. The bits and pieces I see of them seem to be mostly about pretty, vapid people, who don't care about any of the things that I'm interested in. I think the singing/dancing/talent shows are more interesting and worthwhile, they're mostly just not my thing, though I've been thrilled by Susan Boyle. Then I'm not that much interested in sit-coms. They're hard to make different, or interesting, and are rarely funny enough to keep me coming back. The humor I most like right now is political satire, specifically The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which I watch religiously.
So that leaves scripted dramas. There have been quite a few over the years that I've loved. Science fiction faves include the original Star Trek, Star Trek the Next Generation, and especially Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Babylon 5 is absolutely one of my top favorite shows of all time and all genres. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is also one of my favorites, and I keep wondering what it would be like if J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5, and Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, got together on a project. It would either be one of the best things ever, or it wouldn't work because two people of staggering genius just get in each other's way.
Right now, I'm obsessed with the reruns of The West Wing, which I find better and better every day, though I didn't watch all of it when it ran originally. It is part of the obsession I've had with politics arising from the horrors of the Bush administration. Anyway, it is a compelling drama, with excellent characters, and by Jove, it provides good civics lessons too.
Out of the current crop, I am most watching Chuck, Medium, NCIS, the Mentalist, Lie to Me, Criminal Minds, Ugly Betty, Gray's Anatomy, Eleventh Hour, Burn Notice, Eureka, Dollhouse, Flashpoint, Numb3rs, Bones, and Legend of the Seeker.
One trend that I rather deplore is the genius guy who is an immature spoiled brat. The Mentalist started really well, and showed a lot of promise, but lately it has succumbed to this temptation. Lie to me, about a consultant who can detect lies, has come close to it. Numb3rs, which could have easily succumbed to it, has kept clear by having characters who are geniuses but humble enough to question themselves and learn from their experiences.
If I had to say what the defining quality I like in a show is, I'd have to say maturity, but I then have the problem of defining what I mean by that, and I find it hard to define. In the context of a TV series, I mean that it has complex characters dealing with complex situations, facing them head-on, not giving into the temptation to give simple answers in situations where there are no simple answers. They struggle with how to be ethical in situations that have no clear easy answers. They don't have knee-jerk reactions. They think, and they feel, but not superficially. The situations they deal with may not have a good solution, or what solves part of the problem may cause another. You know... like real life. One of the greatest surprise series that's new this spring that illustrates what I mean is Flashpoint. It runs on CBS Fridays at 9, and is about a SWAT team. Ones expects super machismo from such a show, but it doesn't ever happen here. The team looks for any answer that isn't violent first. They will use lethal force when they must, but it hurts them and they have to deal with the pain. They have gotten a little formulaic... the "villains" are almost always good people who have been driven to the breaking point, and the team learns to appreciate them even while doing what they have to to resolve the situation as safely as possible.
Legend of the Seeker is a fantasy show, set in a medieval world where magic works. There is a villain who wants to conquer a whole world, the hero destined to stop him, the woman who has certain magic that allows her to get the truth from anyone, and another character is a wizard of the first order. What I like about the show is that magic works, yes, but it has consequences and is as often dangerous as it is helpful.
Ugly Betty has one outstanding characteristic, which is characters of great depth. Even the worst of the characters has some good qualities, and one also sees where their character traits came from. The good characters have their bad days, but they recover their moral compass sooner.
Bones has taken an odd turn for a forensics drama... lately it seems to be turning into a comedy. It's pretty good comedy, but it is odd.
Burn Notice is an unusual show. It is a spy story, and once again I expected super machismo... which you may have gathered, I dislike intensely. The spy in question, though, has been "Burned"... told he is out and all his resources cut off. He has to deal with his dysfunctional family and girlfriend. He is not a macho character. he spends his time helping people in trouble, and as in Flashpoint, violence is his last resort. He'd much rather think his way out of situation, and he uses technology in an almost McGyver-like fashion. A show I was lucky enough to see from the beginning and hope to see for several years.
Another interesting trend is the number of shows that have scientists as major characters, including Numb3rs, Eleventh Hour, Eureka, Bones, and, of course, the Big Bang Theory. I'm not sure what it means, but I like it.
I don't think the day of scripted dramas are over... there may be fewer of them, but they survive, and on more channels than ever.