What We’re Watching – 5/18/11
I think I used to watch a lot more TV than I do now. Several of my all-time favorite shows ended in the past couple of years (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Big Love), along with some short-lived shows I stayed dedicated to, for better or for worse (Dollhouse, Pushing Daisies, Reaper). Plus, this year I actively tried not to add any new shows to the regular rotation. There are still a handful that I watch every week, but the list of can’t-miss-its has dwindled (of course, this is the age when I can save the whole first seasons of Boardwalk Empire and Shameless on the DVR for the summer slow days). I would say that right now I only have two shows where I would be truly upset if I missed them: Parks and Recreation and Supernatural.
Are you not watching Parks and Recreation yet? If not, what the hell is wrong with you? Easily the best comedy on air right now, with the best ensemble, the most consistently funny writing, and the most heart. With quite a few very good sitcoms airing these days, something about this one stands out as special. I think it really is that element of heart, which the writers don’t just trot out when it’s needed to take the edge off of people being awful to each other, like is so often the case on The Office or 30 Rock. It’s built into the structure of the show, because the protagonist, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, is a nice person to her core. And while the show pokes fun at Leslie the way sitcoms have to with all of their characters, it’s never for the fact that she cares about other people so much.
Parks and Recreation is an interesting case, because what the show has become since its first episode aired in April 2009 is not really where it started out. There’s much to be said about how the actors and writers shook off those first missteps and went from an okay Office-style comedy to a true classic, and real TV critics have certainly done so elsewhere. I’ll just say that tomorrow, episodes 45 & 46 of the series air to close out its third season, and I will be absolutely nowhere but in front of my television when they do.
As for Supernatural: I feel like people think I’m crazy when I say that this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I get it. It sounds dumb. Two hot dudes hunting monsters. (Well, that sounds less dumb to me than it sounds…hot.) While this show may have started as a mini monster movie every week, it very quickly grew into something more—while still having fun with monsters, because why not? Monsters have meaning in this world.
Supernatural is a show about sacrifice. No, not ritual satanic cult sacrifice. Its main running theme, what Sam and Dean and the few people they have close to them in their lives deal with time and time again, is what they’re willing to sacrifice for a greater good. With that comes other questions: what is a greater good? How do we know what to value, or who to value, above something else? And those questions constantly criss-cross with the characters’ notions of family, honesty, and self-worth. It gets to be some dark stuff, sometimes. But it’s always leavened with humor. Honestly, the writers on this show come up with some of the cleverest one-liners on TV, and sometimes entire episodes are farcical delights (such is the beauty of working within a fantasy world—if monsters exist, one of them can be a demon who shapeshifts into classic movie monsters to embrace his love of Hollywood, just as an example). So often, great storytelling comes from being able to mix drama and comedy, and Supernatural does that shockingly well on many occasions. What I believe to be the show’s single greatest episode—season three, episode 11: “Mystery Spot”—begins as a hilarious time-loop romp take-off of Groundhog Day, and ends in a place that forever affects the show’s core relationship between the brothers, never breaking rhythm as we head there. Hell, if you’ve never seen an episode of Supernatural before, start right there. It will hook you, I guarantee it.
Supernatural also airs a two-episode season finale this week, on Friday. The show most people think of as being about monster-hunting ended its last episode with an angel (yes, an angel—a regular character for the last two seasons) having a deep crisis of faith, calling out to an absent God who refuses to answer any of His children as they slaughter each other in a war for Heaven, Earth, Hell and everything in between. That is where we’ve gotten in the last six years, and for a show known amongst its fans for absolutely crushing season finales, I both eagerly await and fear seeing what’s in store for all of humanity, two days from now.