Wednesday, February 25, 2009

High concept, low fidelity

I'm all for high-concept TV shows, and don't have any particular commitment to realism or verisimilitude so long as the acting is reasonably good. I continue to watch Big Love even though the characters seem to have about as much religious sensibility as the atheists in my house and I stay tuned to the increasingly absurd plot twists and emotional dynamics of Californification and Weeds because ML Parker and DDuchovny are so fun to watch, and so I tuned into The United States of Tara--about as high concept as you can get--the other night with a similar mix of high/low expectations. One can certainly see the appeal to the screenwriters: whenever the plot slows down, you simply introduce a new character. And it's a playground for a good actor, who gets to chew up the scenery in any number of broad types.

But for all the high-drama and/or low-comedy implicit in the multiple personality scenario, the shows turns on the most conventional plot dilemma imaginable: marital fidelity. Really? John Corbett (who seems doomed to play saintly/wimpy/understanding guys devoted to crazy women) is married to a certifiably insane wife, and the biggest problem they confront is whether he will fuck around with his own wife when she has entered one of her colorful alternative personalities. Really? This is the problem? Even a high-concept TV problem? What is going on? Is Hollywood, contrary to popular opinion, actually a bastion of committed monogamy, eager to retrain the wandering eyes of men across America? Or are we trying to escape from our disintegrating world by immersing ourselves in trivial domestic issues? Or more likely, is it just the strangehold of genre-convention continuing to define plots no matter how irrelevant they may have become? Perhaps the plot of the next Bond movie should revolve around whether he cheats on his latest girlfriend?

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