television

I produce a television show. But I don't consider it proper television, ie. a program that I'd sit down and watch. So by that solipsistic standard, what is television? Let's do this by process of elimination:

CSI's All Over. The CSI franchise is not television. It is a medieval morality play armed with forensic technology, in which a crooked and corrupt humanity perverts the Lord's work while a team of Inquisitors moves among them with implements of divination, tracing out the unholy shape of murder. By the time the hour is up, every suspect, every witness has been called before the inquisition, wherein their souls are pinned and pneumisected for the satisfaction of the high priest. It is a telling feature of the CSIs that even witnesses have sins to hide or rationalize. No one is innocent. We rarely witness the actual moment of arrest of the guilty, since their guilt has been decreed by these explicators of invisible evidence.

Laws & Orders. As Talmud is to Torah, so are the Law & Order shows to CSI. Whereas CSI is concerned with uncovering the unregenerate nature of humankind, Laws & Orders provide the exegesis on the process of punishment. The pupils and the teachers come and go, but the fallibility of language and custom in the face of evil must always be dealt with. Watch for this knuckly premise in an upcoming episode: Can the government devise a law so perfect that it cannot be broken? It'll guest star David Caruso, won't it?

Any Sitcom You Can Think Of. When I watch a sitcom, I envision a flight on a jet plane that circles and returns its passengers to the point of origin. Everybody hits the tarmac, takes a stretch and then - hey, wait a minute. If you bought a ticket from Cedar Falls to Albuquerque and ended up in Cedar Falls, you'd be rightly peeved. But we all watch sitcoms without a word of complaint. When I was a child I used to wonder why sitcom characters bitched for 25 minutes and then concluded that they were happy all along. Schnieder wants a better job? He gets one and decides that he likes his old one better. Monroe wants to get laid? He tries unsuccessfully and concludes that he's better off a virgin. Even as a child I realized something was off here.

Ghost Whisperer. An uncomfortable blend of sentimental spirituality and Jennifer Love Hewitt's over-perky boobs pointing at everything. Does anyone remember when she played a plain-Jane character on Party of Five? Did she show up at a wrap party in a low-cut shirt and give the producer a host of really unseemly ideas? Or did Hewitt perceive on her own the revenue possibilities of her cleavage?

Lost. That's not a TV show. That's a kind of pulp serial music video. We're all waiting for the secret decoder ring.

Soap operas. Well they're certainly not operas. There's maybe some background music in the nightclubs, plus that sexy saxophonist always pops up for the bedroom stuff. And with the exception of the occasional shower scene, I've never seen any soap. At best soap is implied in the extreme cleanliness of the cast. Maybe they should be called cold cream operas.

Based on the couple of episodes I've seen, Veronica Mars appears to be television, but I always forget airtimes.

Mulholland Drive could have been television, but ABC didn't appreciate a pilot featuring a filth-encrusted hobo who controlled the characters' destinies from the alley behind a Winky's. Or maybe they didn't like the albino cowboy. Hard to say. So David Lynch did what he probably wanted to do with the show all along, which was to tuck the narrative into a dream, throw in some lesbian sex, add a floor show, and cap the whole thing off with an inverted backward-running story of jealousy, broken dreams and suicide. No y banda.

The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos, The L Word are all really fantastic television, more or less devoid of pacifying sermons. They run on cable networks, though, and for these shows you must pay money. You get what you pay for, which is why network television is free. Although in most instances what you get is less again.