Saturday, August 30, 2008

They Don't Write 'em Like That Anymore (Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh)

A poster on a mailing list recently complained that, essentially, they don't make 'em like they used to. He was referring to private eye TV shows in this case, complaining about "a few episodes of BURNT" and wondered aloud "how it ever got produced." It's an old refrain, and a tired one.

Me, I wondered how someone could watch a few episodes of a TV show -- at least a couple of hours of viewing -- and never catch the title, but I digress... He concluded by lamenting "When will TV executives return to shows that tell plotted stories? Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I love a good hardboiled dick drama."

My response was simply to note that it's too bad there have been so few. THE ROCKFORD FILES and HARRY O were generally well done and quite consistent, but a lot of what I used to think of as "classic" private eye shows were-- thanks to the magic of DVDs and once the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia are removed-- revealed to be often uncomfortably shallow and predictable; moments of brilliance surrounded by entire episodes of cud-chewing acting and formulaic writing.

I'm not sure what show he was referring to, but if it's BURN NOTICE, I suggested he give it another shot. It''s certainly no worse than MANNIX or CANNON or PETER GUNN, all above average if not always brilliant shows, and has a far better batting average (and writing, acting and sense of true style) than SIMON & SIMON, MAGNUM P.I. or 77 SUNSET STRIP.

Of course, there was the expected response, like-minded souls lamenting how they just don't make 'em (or any sort of art and entertainment) like that anymore.

Sorry, I just don't get it. Sure, entertainment may be in a transitional mode, at least as far as delivery systems go, but the nature of entertainment and art really hasn't changed all that much. We all still want a good story, a catchy ditty, a pretty picture to rock our world.

And for those of you with open minds and ears and eyes, there doesn't seem to be any dearth of well-written and intelligent art -- the problem is that, thanks to technology and a sense of entitlement, everyone thinks they have something to say that we should all hear. I don't think there's less good stuff, but there is -- admittedly -- a ton more bad stuff out there to weed through. It used to be an artist often suffered for his art -- now, with all these new paradigms of content delivery, there's no need for actual craft or art, but the public is certainly expected to suffer through the results.

It isn't the loss of good art we should be mourning (it IS out there), but the loss of a shared community to enjoy it, and the lack of respect for any sort of critical filter or display of intelligence. We used to be able to gather around a sit-com, a hit movie, a bestseller, a tragedy. The money men and the ideological thugs have destroyed that, and we've been complacent in it. Polarization (the more dumbed down the better) is the new entertainment. The bullshit cultural wars are good for business -- send them your brain NOW!

The retreat into a slack-jawed cultural comfort zone (niche marketing, speciality radio and TV, narrow-casting and reaction quotes instead of actual news) where we seldom know what lies beyond our own little, conceited worldview is the problem. And now we're far enough into it that we have "artists" raised in that sort of closeted milieu who only serve (and can only serve) the narrow little cultural pigeon hole in which they were grew up.

"I only listen to classic rock" is just another word for "Nothing left to lose." Or possibly "I have become my parents."

The baby boomers and the "Greatest Generation" are amazingly similar -- self-mythologized but too often culturally-blind dinosaurs who closed their minds and eyes and ears years ago and have been moping for the "good old days" ever since, idealizing and romanticizing the stupidities and fads and knee-jerk group-think of their respective eras while sneering at everything since.

And, of course, ignoring the fact that the "good old days" were always a dirty lie.

Sure, it's sad that some nineteen year old (or some 73-year old) can't name all the Beatles or Rolling Stones, but it's equally sad that some 48-year old can't name one song by Coldplay or Jay Z.

The pundits have been saying that the world is going to hell. But they've been saying that for 10,000 years.

Rant, rant, rant. Someone stick a fork in me. I'm done.

P.S. If you've never seen BURN NOTICE, you can catch up on it's entire run for free [and legally] at

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This person has never seen Veronica Mars. Which is the best P.I. show since the Rockford Files

1:37 AM, September 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Kevin, I find it amusing that your rant is about those who mythologize the Good Old Days, when I find the opposite problem rampant -- anything in the popular culture that didn't happen in the RIGHT NOW never happened at all.

I can't name a Coldplay song because I have heard and seen (on TV live performances) enough of their stuff to find it boring pablum. I find almost all rap and hip hip of no interest, chiefly because it isn't music, just doggerel with drums (or drum machines).

But that doesn't mean I don't find anything of merit in popular music -- I like Weezer (or are they already classic rock?) and love the Duffy CD, which EW called one of the worst of the year.

And when the great mystery writers of the past are becoming seldom spoken of, just as the current flavors of the moment are receiving ticker-tape parades (dating myself there), I say the only thing anybody can do is seek out good stuff, whatever the era, and ignore internet blather -- including mine!

Per the previous comment, VERONICA MARS does rock, and may be one of the handful of great PI shows -- but isn't that an old show? Like from a couple years ago or something...?

9:33 AM, December 28, 2008  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Hey, Max,

My rant, such as it was, was about not just old farts like us pining for the good old days, but the new kids on the block who lament the dearth of art since, uh, last year. Or tout "classics" they've never seen.

Your exhortation to "seek out the good stuff," regardless of era, is pretty much what I'm saying.

Some old stuff is great (and some of it I've tracked down thanks to your suggestions, in fact), but some P.I. TV shows, for example, deemed "classic" leave me scratching my head. The original MIKE HAMMER with Darren McGavin is, indeed, well worth resurrection, but others, like STACCATO or RICHARD DIAMOND are more curiosities for real buffs rather than essential viewing for crime fans. Still, I wish there were a channel that would air them, instead of rerunning SIMON & SIMON or MAGNUM P.I. over and over and over...

And like you, I was surprised EW slammed Duffy's CD -- that girl can sing. And I don't get the reverence for Coldplay either. They're like The Association for a new era, but without the hooks or the harmonies. Or a pulse.

"Those who are dead aren't really dead -- they're just in Coldplay." Never has a band's name served as such an appropriate self-review.

12:18 PM, December 28, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home