We’ve all done it. You pony up 13 bones for a film and settle down with your over salted snacks, hoping for a good time. Two hours later, you’re sorely disappointed and you overspend on drinks afterward. Attendance is trending downward, due to the dearth of decent comedies on the market, and the weed-like proliferation of remakes. The good news is, unless you are a big screen junkie, or a devout audiophile, the entertainment you are craving is within your own living room. The overseas sales of famous UK Television shows and cable shows in the US means that television’s quality and variety is greatly improving. Here are ten Reasons you might want to ditch the multiplex in favour of home popped popcorn and a night in.
1. Innovative Formats: From the pot dealing MILF on Weeds, to the detective who went into a coma and back in time in Life on Mars, to the Polygamous hardware franchise owner on Big Love, it’s clear that TV trumps movies when it comes to original ideas. In the case of the detective, he must solve crimes in the past without any of the mod cons (like forensic testing.) This series has turned the genre on its ear. A genre, which has all but died on the big screen (Clint prefers to spend his time behind the camera.)
2. Language: It seems childish to take the subject of foul language up as a selling feature, but given the extreme focus toward removing it from movies (for more on this, I encourage you to see “This Film Is Not Yet Rated) but someone’s job in America is to count the myriad “cuss-words” (whether they are motivated is not the issue, it’s a numbers game) and also “suggestive language” from studio films. I have never met anyone who has stubbed their toe and said “fiddle dee dee!” Limiting language is limiting ideas, and the proof is on the screen. Certain words help to define characters. Even Rhett Butler said “damn.” Some words can only describe some of the “cluster” type of situations which these characters find themselves in. (Remember Showcase’s “fuzzy sock sucker” ads? Sometimes it’s better to use the actual words)
3. Bold plot choices: A man visits Nip Tuck’s plastic surgeons to voluntarily remove a leg, with the threat that, if they don’t do it within the week, he will. The dope dealing mother from Weeds has a one night stand with the father of a child who her son savaged in karate… and he’s a DEA agent. Not only are there higher stakes in these plots, but they don’t always end tidily. (The series finale of Huff chills, to the Sinatra classic “The Good Life”)
4. Sex: Television has carte blanche when it comes to its portrayal of the essence of human behavior: sex. A devout Christian has surprisingly limber intercourse with all 3 of his wives on Big Love. On Nip/Tuck, a plastic surgeon visits his shrink and manages to bend her over her desk by the end of the session. On Rescue Me, a 9/11 widow who drugs her lover with a combination of roofies and Viagra to have a love child. The doctor’s son on Nip/Tuck moves in with his lover, only to later find out she is a transsexual. The MPAA seeks to keep any and all “deviant types of sex” (deviant basically means anything not missionary and anything that looks fun onscreen) to an absolute minimum and has a “thrust limit.” If you want to see some diverse sexual adventures, you’ve got to turn on your TV.
5. Diversity: Life on Mars shows what diversity means with its use of outdated slurs and shows us how far we’ve come since 1973. In one episode, the man who would become Sam Tyler’s’ mentor is newly promoted in the force, making some reticent to work with a “Darkie.” In Six Feet Under, we see a gay interracial romance. An entire episode of Entourage takes place at a Bat Mitzvah. Most films don’t like to get “too ethnic” for fear of alienating middle class sensitivities. Television has pushed this in addition to all other boundaries.
6. Messy Characters: Denis Leary in Rescue Me fireman who lost a brother in 9/11 and schtups his widow (But he’s likeable!). Hank Azaria’s Huff is a Beverly Hills Psychiatrist bored silly with his practice who witnesses a child’s suicide in his office. Julian MacDonald plays Christian Troy in Nip/Tuck. This Miami plastic surgeon was once the victim of clergy abuse. These complicated characters are found on television, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to find on the big screen. Characters who aren’t affable have a hard time attracting A-list talent. Television takes more risks. Sympathetic characters don’t make great stories… look at the runaway success of House. Characters on cable tend to have more layers and depth than the average film hero.
7. Production Design: Most films now lack intentional design. Since television is more about branding than films are, they need to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. Enter the green idyll of Weeds, the Wallpaper magazine inspired Hotel Babylon, the dirty grit of Rescue Me and the exquisite Life on Mars, whose look is based on untouched transfers of 1970 films.
8. Ensembles/Casting: Ricky Gervais’ Extras is a triumph of casting, showcasing A list stars making fun of themselves in almost appalling ways (Kate Winslet’s erotic tales are a high point.) “Stunt” casting aside, many of these shows are populated by great actors who perhaps don’t have “action star” or “sweetheart” potential. A standout ensemble cast is the cast of Huff. Hank Azaria is fantastic in his departure from Apu, Blythe Danner is absolutely brittle in her portrayal of Mrs. Huffstodt, and Anton Yelchin is haunting as Huff’s son, Byrd. Also of note were guest performances by Angelica Huston and Lara Flynn Boyle.
9. Title Sequences: “Little boxes, on the hillside…” If you can watch an episode of Weeds and not sing the theme song at least once the following week, then you are not human. The design of the credits sequence in Weeds is also stellar, with its repeating characters all in a row. Big Love’s credits sequence says it all. Opening with the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” it shows Bill ice skating with his first wife, then his second wife joins the circle. Once the third wife joins, the ice begins to crack.
10. Comedy that’s actually funny: The UK’s Peep Show (whose format has since been purchased by US television) is shot using the visual point of view of the lead characters, which leads to some of the best sight gags (ass prints in flour on the kitchen countertop comes to mind.) Ricky Gervais’ sophomore comedy Extras takes comedy of embarrassment to the extreme (Daniel Radcliffe throws a condom which ends up in Dame Diana Rigg’s hair) and, if that isn’t enough for you, there’s always Louie CK calling his 4 year old daughter a “little asshole” when she causes a tantrum on Lucky Louie. It’s edgy, to be sure, and it might not play everywhere, but it’s a riot, and it’s available at home.
I’m not personally going to stop going to the movies altogether (what, with Judd Apatow continuing to direct them) but this might make you reconsider that “idiot box” in your living room.