Sunday, December 21, 2008

Review - A TV Guide to Life

Quite a few people found their way to the Internet site, Television Without Pity, in the early days of the Web. It was a fun look at many television shows, becoming known for its recaps and articles, each of which came laden with heavy doses of snark (a word that they may well have the credit for spreading the widest).

It was bought in early 2007 by a unit of NBC, and, after a year (which some theorize was contractual), the founders left (along with the great recapper Miss Alli). For those of us who enjoyed it, there isn't quite the same spark to it. There are still good reasons to go, but, for me at least, it's no longer a must-visit.

One of the pleasures still to be found (and there is still some very sharp writing) is Jeff Alexander, alias M. Giant. Alexander has taken his insight and put it between the covers of A TV Guide to Life: How I Learned Everything I Needed to Know from Watching Television (2008). And the book is a really fun read, a very pleasant diversion. You won't get the insights of a McLuhan or a Postman here; you will get an affectionate but realistic look at some of the conventions of television (though there is less snark than I might have expected).

There's not really a lot of analysis to be done in this review. Alexander illustrates some of the "peculiarities" of television plotting, exposing their conventions in a humorous way. I won't spoil it for you, but I will give one example that made me laugh out loud. In a discussion of the oft-noted TV phenomenon of "hot sitcom wives...[with] tubby, schlubby husbands," he gives us:
Meanwhile, over on the one-hour-drama beat, Dennis Franz was working his way inexorably up the NYPD Blue hotness ladder like some kind of romance-oriented version of Richard III.
One very good choice that Alexander makes is that he doesn't drive the "I learned about life from TV" meme into the ground. While it is very funny when he contrasts the reality of his school experience to what he had expected based on Little House on the Prairie, a little of that "I thought this because of television, but life was different" goes a long way. Fortunately, he settles into a look at various genres and situations without interjecting himself into the discussion too much.

You'll get the most out of this book if you've seen the shows Alexander writes about, of course, but, sadly, most of us have watched enough TV to enjoy this book thoroughly. You may wonder why you watched some of the shows you did, you may finally getting around to questioning just how realistic Good Times really was, and you'll have a good time reading the book.

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