Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Column #6: Amid TV's altered landscape, you overlooked a gem

TV Guide used to have an annual feature called “The Best Show You're Not Watching.” The concept itself is funny. The acknowledgment that something the editors love is failing (commercially, at least) is akin to acknowledging that your awkward middle school child is considered ugly by most people on the street.

My parents recently asked me what fall shows I am watching. I guess they are still used to decades in which the Big Three networks (CBS, ABC and NBC — before Fox, before the CW, etc.) rolled out their new programs in mid-September. My parents are the only people I know who still watch stuff like Private Practice or think that Boston Legal ended too soon. They stuck with E.R. for all of its 66 seasons. They might not yet have fully adjusted to the idea that TV is now, finally, a year-round game, changed both by the successes of the cable channels and the failures of the networks themselves.

My generation has hardly known a world without The Real World, but otherwise, we grew up with Cosby and Roseanne. The idea that reality programming is here to stay, and that scripted dramas like Damages or Drop Dead Diva — which would have been network shows in the recent past — are boutique cable alternatives now, still seems wrong somehow. It's as if the writers went on strike yet again, but this time it's lasted for a decade. The most popular scripted series on cable now is Burn Notice, which isn't any more edgy or provocative than Magnum, P.I.

It's hard for a network series to live up to the new standards set by those shows exiled to — or freed by being on — cable. A promising comedy like Community has so far played out as fresh as Growing Pains, not even as fresh as Family Ties, and is certainly no Office. Modern Family may help bring smart comedy back to the networks, but no self-respecting fan of Arrested Development can watch it without feeling sad all over again that the Bluths, canceled by Fox too many years ago, can now only be seen in reruns on IFC.

There is no room for debate with me: Mad Men is the best series on TV now. I know that you probably expected a writer with poor vision to say that. I'm not going to say that NCIS is the best just so I can fit in with the red states. Not that I ever would, but now that I finally get to have a president I'm proud of, Mark Harmon can do whatever he wants and I still won't watch it. Mad Men still isn't the most enjoyable show on TV, though. No, that honor goes to The Best Show You're Not Watching: Greek.

Greek, which airs on Monday nights on ABC Family, ended its third season last week. Were you as excited as I was? Probably not. After 54 episodes, not enough has been written yet about the funniest show on TV, one that also manages to be emotionally involving and inventive; it's the kind of series that John Hughes himself would have come up with if he had been born a generation later.

The premise — members of fraternities and sororities on an Ohio college campus — sounded about as appealing as Texas high school football did to me, but, as with Friday Night Lights, the setting is merely an excuse for the storytelling. Though ABC Family sounds like the wrong home for such a show, it's about making a family out of friends when your actual family isn't there for you.

No other show makes me laugh more, not even 30 Rock. No other show can tackle weighty subjects, such as class or sexuality, while also staying so light on its proverbial feet. Start catching up with the DVDs now — the new season will begin in January. Until then, make Greek your new fall favorite.

c. 2009 Velocity Weekly

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