TV = brains!

The New York Times > Magazine > Watching TV Makes You Smarter

okay, it’s a bit of a long read for internet reading (at least for me) at 5 pages, but it’s definitely interesting. though i have a few issues. the author cites “intelligent” shows that are intelligent for the dialog, etc, like “murphy brown,” “frasier,” etc where the intelligence is derived from spoon fed smarts.

intelligence arrives fully formed in the words and actions of the characters on-screen. They say witty things to one another and avoid lapsing into tired sitcom cliches, and we smile along in our living rooms, enjoying the company of these smart people. But assuming we’re bright enough to understand the sentences they’re saying, there’s no intellectual labor involved in enjoying the show as a viewer.

then he goes on to say that in a lot of not so deep shows/movies, there is a convention put into the action to help explicitly explain the action. then he moves onto shows like “West Wing” and “ER” and how they don’t tell you all the information. He even puts an example of medical dialog from ER in. and he says how there is almost no effort to explain all the medical jargon.

okay, that was all setup for my point. i completely agree that a lot of scripted dramas have multiple story arcs, multiple character arcs, and they are intertwining them artfully. and yes, i agree that this makes television viewing a little more of a mental task than it’s usually stamped as being. but my issues with this essay are two-fold. (1) how many people are going to care exactly what all the medical jargon means on ER? doesn’t ER intelligence arrive “fully formed in the words and actions of the characters on-screen?” don’t ER producers assume “we’re bright enough to understand the sentences they’re [doing, and the consequence of the scene]?” i’ve watched frasier. not my favorite sitcom ever, but it had multiple story/character arcs. why is ER so much better (not acting, story, etc, but in the context of this article), so much “smarter?”

my second point would be to say that these complex storylines with multiple arcs are exactly what a lot of people complain/worry about. that they will leave new viewers lost and confused about what’s going on (for arcs that span episodes or the entire season). i hope it’s not the beginning of a trend, but “desparate housewives” aired what was billed as a primer show. to get new viewers all caught up with all the storylines, so they wouldn’t be confused, etc.

oh, and a minor, tiny, third point. he says “joe millionaire” is better “bad tv” than “battle of the network stars.” now i’ve only seen a few of those, and it was when i was a mere child. but i watch ESPN’s “battle of the gridiron stars” and love it. who wouldn’t want to see like nbc’s “law and order” team versus cbs’s “csi” squad? or “ER” versus “grey’s anatomy”? this would be so great! they could do theme teams (as i’ve just demonstrated), or time slot competitions. oh course this wouldn’t happen because what network would allow their stars on another network’s “sports” special? (oh, and yes, i also loved hanna barbara’s laff-alympics, when i was young.)

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