This post might be of interest only to readers from the U.K.
...All right then, only to a few readers from the U.K.
I believe it was an Englishman, John Berger, who pioneered the idea of "writing" criticism by simply juxtaposing pictures. Berger—who strikes me (although I might be completely wrong) as one of those rare happy people who do whatever they want through life and are somehow valued and rewarded for it—has written extensively about photography. The books of his I have, both of them entertaining and enjoyable, are Ways of Seeing and About Looking. It's Ways of Seeing in which he constructs essays made entirely out of pictures. I'm going to try the same thing here, after the break.
But on to television. I guess I'm a fairly obsessive guy. It's a useful characteristic for an artist (remember the fictional novelist played by Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets"?)...or for a blogger. With me, it counteracts my basic ennui and inertia. My compulsiveness shows up in the way I watch television, too. I really don't have many favorite television shows, but every now and then I'll get obsessive about one and blast through its entire history in short order. I never saw an episode of "Seinfeld" when it was a current show, but as soon as it went into reruns I watched all 174 episodes over the course of about eight months—one every weeknight, on local broadcast T.V.
My taste is...idiosyncratic. ("Idiosyncratic" is a polite way of saying "peculiar.") I watched every episode of "Deadliest Catch," sequentially. (Told you I'm obsessive.)
Last year I got going on a wonderful Canadian law-enforcement drama called "Da Vinci's Inquest," watching one or two episodes a night, and got weaned of it only because hulu.com, my source for that one, only offers the first three seasons. That show is nearly perfect, in my opinion. A welcome dose of realism and a wonderful weaving of storylines, as though we in the audience actually have brains. Great writing, excellent acting, and, for the main part, outstanding cinematography (although the style changes markedly from time to time. Maybe ordinary people don't notice things like that). The other six seasons are out there waiting for me. I'll track them down sooner or later.
Another favorite is the American version of "The Office," but only as long as Jim and Pam's affair is incipient: just as soon as they actually got together, the show was effectively over, and should have been ended right then and there. It's been a cadaver ever since, rote and pointless. (The wedding episode was especially horrible.) Steve Carrell, in the often overcooked part of boss Michael Scott, is thought to be the star of the show, but he's not—he's actually just the clown figure, the comic foil, like Kramer on "Seinfeld" or Ted Baxter on the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show."
I've never seen a single episode of "The Sopranos." At some point I imagine I'll catch up with that, and watch it straight through.
Well, anyway, on to the point. I mentioned last week that I've been watching the BBC car show "Top Gear" lately. My source for that one is iTunes, which has an incomplete motley of back episodes available, but I'm in full-on into-it mode, watching maybe one show a night, sometimes two.
Okay, okay—last night, until late, three. A veritable "Top Gear" marathon.
Pretty early on, something about the dynamic of the three main characters—the "presenters"—just seemed awfully familiar. Jeremy Clarkson is the boss, the ringleader, and seems to hold the other two in genial contempt. It's clear he thinks he's indisputably superior to them, even though he's one of them. The second fiddle is Jeremy's main henchman, Richard Hammond, short, intense, eager to please—he's sometimes in league with Jeremy, at other times the object of Jeremy's abuse and derision. Although Hammond stands up for himself and his own views from time to time, he's a follower. Finally there's James May, thoughtful, distracted, somewhat sweet, but decidedly bumbling. He gets the brunt of the mistreatment from the other two, until you sometimes wonder why he hangs out with them at all—it can seem like he's just tagging along. And yet, in his dry, witty way, he can be the funniest of the three. He's responsible, at any rate, for most of the laughs, one way or another.
So where have we seen that dynamic before? With apologies to John Berger, what follows is my entire critical exegesis of "Top Gear," entirely in pictures, and I'm sure I can't be the first to note the similarities....
Cheers. I'm off to watch golf all afternoon. Have a peaceful Sunday.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
P.S. Let me also say that I've been fascinated by hearing so much of the British language, too. I mostly understand it, even though much of the pronunciation is wrong (James refers in one episode to the iPod as an "IPP-odd"—"ip" as in "hip"—which is typical, and just not correct). However, there was one guest, someone named Winstone, who was described as a "cockney" and (I believe) as an "east-end boy," from whom I could only get about every third word—he kept flipping over into sounding like he was speaking a foreign language. Rewinding and listening again helped a bit.
For the most part, however, I find it fascinating. Jeremy uses the same oral meme as Hugh Laurie, of expressively drawing air in through his teeth, which we in America don't do, and for days I've been going around referring to everything as either "brilliant" (British for "awesome") or "rubbish." Here, we don't even call rubbish rubbish. —Mike
Featured Comment by John Woods: "Did you read Jeremy Clarkson on portrait photography?"