Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Is British Dramatic Television (At Its Best) Better Than American Dramatic Television (At Its Best)?

I've been watching a lot of British drama recently, and loving so much of it: Cracker, Prime Suspect, Spooks (MI-5 in the U.S.), Wire in the Blood, Inspector Morse. I have loved much American drama as well, like CSI, Criminal Minds, 24 and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but when I stack the Brits against the Yanks, the Brits win for quality. In fact, MI-5 might be the best show I have ever watched for quality over time. I've watched the first seven seasons and loved each one (thank you Harry Pearce). For a short series, I still love the Prisoner - another British show. What makes British drama so much better at the top tier?

I'm guessing it has something to do with the number of shows they are expected to produce each season. MI-5, for example, has only had 10 shows in its busiest seasons. Some of the British shows have a pre-planned limited run. The Prisoner had 17 episodes, and there were never more expected. In the States, we see shows with 22-26 episodes a year. This allows and forces the UK producers to use their resources wisely.

Another factor is the risks they take in the UK. In MI-5, there is no guarantee that the character you love will be around in the next episode - even in the middle of the season. The Prisoner is one big "risk."

Finally, British shows combine character and plot in a way the US never seems to even attempt. Cracker has great plot, and a lead who is an obnoxious alcoholic. In Wire in the Blood, one of the leads identifies more with serial killers than his colleagues. In the U.S., producers seem to choose either character or plot. Law & Order survived so long because it would replace a character with another without caring about the inner-personalities of either. When Sam Watterston came on board, he was introduced as a womanizer, but that didn't really go anywhere. What made Criminal Intent so good was D'Onofrio's character together with good plotting. But even there, the personal lives of the characters were of very little interest to the writers.

Now comedy - that's a whole different story.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How Far Back Does the Right Want to Go?

In a Facebook post, I asked why the Right seemed so anxious to be be behind the trends of history. For example, gay rights appear to be inevitable, yet the Right fights every gay rights provision that appears, from gay marriage to simple anti-discrimination in employment laws. In response to my comment, a friend said he thought the Right was hoping to live in 1855. This got me thinking. The Right is clearly unhappy with the current social, political and legal situation in the world. The Right hates gay rights. It hates the New Deal legal framework. So, I asked myself, what would be the perfect time for the Right; when would it feel most at home.

Using Google and Wikipedia I have reached a conclusion. First, I clearly had to choose a date prior to 1932, when the public was clearly enamoured with FDR. To establish an earliest date, I chose 1920, the year of the 19th Amendment. Nothing I have seen suggests the Right wants to eliminate women's suffrage. Hell, the Right is actually considering Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann as Presidential candidates. So I began by trying to find the appropriate date between 1920 and 1932. This range is also logical as we were still in the Lochner era. Lochner was the Supreme Court decision in which the Court concluded that a New York law limiting the number of hours bakers could be forced to work to 60 was an "unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right and liberty of the individual to contract." The same theory was later used to invalidate minimum wage laws.
So, 1920-1932. But where do we go from there. In 1925, the Scopes Trial in Tennessee was a nominal victory for the anti-evolution crowd but the fact that anyone would even think that a teacher had the right to teach evolution suggests the Right would prefer a pre-1925 world where anti-scientific laws were accepted without question. I have noted earlier that the Right is not a fan of science.

In Decemeber 1922, the Soviet Union was founded. So let's choose a date prior to that. Woodrow Wilson was President until March 4,1921, when Warren Harding was inaugurated as President and Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan's favorite, as Vice-President. Stalin became head of Russia on April 3, 1922. So now we are down to a range between March 4, 1921 and April 3, 1922.

It starts getting harder now. I'll give the Right some credit and assume it would like a world where insulin was available to aid those suffering from diabetes. The first successful use of insulin to treat diabetes was on January 11, 1922. That narrows are possible date between January 11, 1922 and April 3, 1922.

What could possibly make me choose a single date in that small three-month window? It wasn't easy, but I figured it out. As we now know, the Right is anti-anti-colonialism. Therefore, it cannot be happy with the world after February 28, 1922, when Great Britain ended its protectorate of Egypt (which clearly led to the current situation in Egypt which the Right cannot find in itself to support). But on February 27, 1922, the Supreme Court upheld the 19th Amendment. Therefore, I hereby claim that February 27, 1922 is the date foe which the Right longs.