Mensa’s Top 10

Red Eye is talking about the “smartest” TV shows, according to Mensa President M. R. Knowitall. The list is uninspired. I liked these shows,but “M*A*S*H” wasn’t smart so much as reinforcing a particular political point of view. (This can be applied to several shows on the list.) I mean, for a show about war, it was phenomenally stupid about how war is actually conducted. And “CSI” uses science slightly less rigorously than “Star Trek” did.

Of course, I have to wonder how someone claiming to be so smart could also have a broad enough experience with The Vast Wasteland to put together a truly authoritative list. It takes a moron who has destroyed his brain with countless hours of TV viewing to do that.

And with that in mind, I’ll throw out a few “smart” shows. But first I’m going to exclude science, history and other non-fiction programs because duh. “Cosmos” was great, and smart, but being about science, it could’ve sucked and still been smart, being about science and all. I’m also going to stick to American programming, if for no other reason than to keep things manageable. (“Doctor Who” gets an honorable mention anyway.)

Dennis Miller Live. So smart even he didn’t get his own humor.

Mystery Science Theater 3000. You heard me. The beauty of the show was the way it jumped from the highly intelligent to the wonderfully juvenile and back in seconds.

Playhouse 90. Brilliant writing that survived horrible butchery in the form of sponsor censorship.

The Simpsons. The early seasons in particular not only referenced highly erudite material, but was one of the great social satires ever written.

NBC News Overnight. News programs–network news shows with TelePrompTer are almost unrelentingly stupid–but this one was an exception that not only looked at stories with a bit more depth, it didn’t treat the audience like they were stupid. I lost a lot of sleep as a kid the summer and fall when it was on.

Futurama. Steeped in science and physics with two codes (so far) embedded into the program for interested cryptographers.

Northern Exposure. This comedy was smart enough to get an Emmy for best drama. Which I guess means more that the Emmy voters were stupid. (Or was it Golden Globes?)

Deadwood. This was a challenging show on a lot of levels. The dialog was a mixture of obscenities and pseudo-victorian-cant that often required several viewings to parse and then several more to actually comprehend.

America/Fernwood 2 Night. They mentioned this on Red Eye. I’m going on largely positive memories that I have. After 30 years, it might not seem as smart as it did at the time.

I would give the guy Jeopardy, but it’s not really any smarter than, say, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The questions are harder, sure, for some definition of “hard”, but I actually think, if you’re going to include game shows, the smarter ones–in terms of challengng the viewer–are things like “Wheel of Fortune” or “The Price Is Right”.

‘cause, look, if you don’t know the name of Alexander the Great’s horse, you don’t know it. (It was Bocephalus. Go look it up!) But you might be able to figure out the “popular catch phrase” with one more letter, or make a strategic guess about the price of a reclining armchair, even if you haven’t gone shopping lately or seen “Saturday Night Live” since it was funny.

So, I’m gonna round out my ten with Maverick. Interspersed amongst the gun fights and fistfights was a character who would go out of his way to avoid both, and it often had plots that kept you guessing often enough that you were surprised when the plot was resolved with some sort of violence.

These shouldn’t be confused with “best” shows, either, although they were darn good, and many of them are going to appear on some folks’ top ten lists. And I can think of a few other really smart shows, like “Moonlighting”, and a whole boatload of shows that started smart and ended stupid. (“X-Files” anyone?)

But hey, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

The New Old “Star Trek”

I’m not a Trekkie (nor Trekker) but I do have an essay on the joy of “hams” lurking in my head.

However, I do like the new special effects enhanced “Star Trek”. They were very smart about it: Flat mono sound cleaned up and given some depth, lighting made a little more vivid, exterior space ship shots cleaned up and smoothed out–but nothing (or very little) apparently added or redesigned. It’s all ‘60s futurism in all its dated glory.

I suppose it wouldn’t have fit Lucas’ vision to do this with Star Wars, but it’s a nice compromise: less than a complete overhaul and more akin taking the scratches out of your old LPs.


The writer’s strike is coming to an end and once again, it looks like the losers will be…both sides!

You know, a few years ago here, we had a supermarket strike. It was lengthy. And if you were the sort of person who shopped at the supers (I wasn’t), you had to cross a picket line to do your shopping. Regardless of what side you might be on, a picket line puts you in the middle of a group of strangers’ conflict.

Predictably, people were driven to other stores. (That is the point, after all.) But as the weeks–and then months–wore on, people found out that these other stores, why, they were actually better than the stores they were used to shopping at. For example, Trader Joe’s is generally cheaper, less tricksy, more interesting, and better staffed than a supermarket. Gelson’s has pricier high-quality stuff, but isn’t actually as expensive as it’s reputation would suggest, as long as you stay away from the high-priced European imports. And you never wait in line long there.

And, as I predicted at the time–as someone who has long hated the big supermarket chains–people would find it hard to go back to these stores. Four years later, those stores are still not recovered from what I can see. Trader Joe’s can’t open up stores fast enough.

When this writer’s strike started, I predicted a similar thing happening to the big nets. It’s the weekly demand for shows that makes the writers’ strike so effective, but the upshot would have to be that people would be driven to other forms of entertainment. Once driven away–and current ratings suggest the damage has been real and substantial–people won’t come back. Not all of them.

The whole system needs revamping, of course. It’s archaic to demand that people organize their lives around pre-recorded video programming, to watch it on your terms. And when you have a delivery system as big as the planet, one has to wonder about the merits of using an intermediary at all. Because that’s what the nets are: intermediaries.

And in the case of cable, satellite dish, and so on, even more so. HBO makes a hit show like “The Sopranos” but if you want to watch it you have to incur all these other expenses. (Cable or dish, with installation, basic service and some kind of descrambler box.) Why can’t a person just go directly to HBO, Showtime, the BBC, etc., and just get what they want directly?

Of course, this, in turn, negates cable channels as movie distributors: Why go to HBO when you can go to its source, Time-Warner, instead. The incestuous nature of these companies is probably a big culprit in delaying the technology.

So, for the consumer, the strike is probably a good thing, though not in the way the writers intend. But by accelerating the decline of traditional distribution channels and methods, they will eventually force the development of new channels to make up for it.

Where Are The Boys’ Shows?

I’ve been exposed to a lot more of the Disney Channel than I’d ever hoped–although I admit the late night re-runs of Walt’s original programming held a curious archaeological interest for me while it ran–and something dawned on me today: There is no boy’s programming.

That is to say, there are no action shows, no adventure shows, no Davy Crockett, no Buck Rogers, nothing that says, “Hey, boys! You’re gonna love this!”

Well, with the exception of the cute girls all over the shows. They’ve got that going for ‘em (for the boys who are past the “girl icky” phase). But they incline feminine. The movies–largely about princesses, mermaids, and girl rock stars–more than incline, they’re girl stuff.

There are boys, often major characters on the shows, don’t get me wrong. And a recent time-traveling movie featured three boys as major characters. But even here, the feminine prevails. The boys don’t go back in time to see dinosaurs or wrestle with pirates. They go back to correct social faux-pas.

Cute idea. But feminine.

Interesting, no?


Not mine. Others.

Althouse has a post up suggesting she’s going to abandon her tradition of live blogging AI which has sent Trooper York on a rampage. (And, seriously, the guy can rant: My quote of the day is “There are no atheists in funholes.”)

As I noted there, I skimmed past the AI entries because I don’t watch the show. I’ve come close, especially last season, between Althouse’s posts and the constant buzz on Sanjaya. But a lot about the show’s concept is off-putting.

And then I realize, I don’t generally take recommendations. A one-off has a shot, like a book or a movie. But series? I consider watching a TV series to be a commitment, and it’s one I easily neglect. The last regular network series I watched was “Law and Order”. That ended when they moved it from Wednesday night. I now watch exactly zero Big Three shows. On Fox, I catch “The Simpsons” occasionally.

It doesn’t help that I hate commercials, but a big factor is that the nets constantly move shows around. In this millennium I’ve watched the complete “Mind of the Married Man”, “Carnivale”, “Deadwood”, “Dead Like Me”, “!huff”, “John from Cincinnati”, “Rome” and “Dexter”. (Well, “Dexter” isn’t over yet but I imagine I’ll watch the third season, too, even with Doakes gone.)

I steel myself against commercials enough to put up with “Monk” and “psych!” on USA. (I think “Monk” should probably wrap up soon, though. Mystery series have some unique issues that I think tends to limit their longevity.)

What these shows all have in common is that they were (or are) always on at the same time (and it’s a convenient time for me). I’m willing to give any given TV series a try but I’m not really willing to chase it around. I used to love Vincent D’Onofrio’s scene chewing antics on “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” but I haven’t recovered from it being moved to USA. I was trying to watch the latest incarnation ofDr. Who” but BBC America screwed that up.

With the exception of “Monk”, which I’m less dedicated as a viewer, all the shows mentioned are also short. I’m good for about 1-2 seasons of shows I really like. I watched the first season of “Seinfeld” and “Friends”. (Sitcoms have a very short shelf life for me.)

(The PVR may change all that, I dunno.)

I don’t think I’m all that rare in terms of lack-of-doggedness in the pursuit of TV. There are so, so many other things to do. (Unlike TV series, I do take book recommendations, just about any and all, so I’ve got a huge stack to get through.)

Kelly’s about the 40th person to recommend “Battlestar Galactica” to me. But will I watch it? Who knows?

The “re-imagining” I, of course, mean. I saw the original series (and the feature movie they made out of the pilot) several times over. But that was a long time ago.