Monday, September 29, 2008

Quality Television (Not Educationally Related)

As we get toward the end of another term, and as the combined weight of all out efforts begins to bear down on us, I thought I would take one blog entry and not write about education, research, evidence-based practice, or educational technology. Instead, I wanted to focus just bit on passion, in the sense of each of us finding something we can be passionate about. I remember that when Dr. Christine Choate had just arrived at Palmer College and was holding an initial meeting of the research department, she asked each of us to talk about something we collected. What came out of that ice breaker went far beyond just being a set of interesting comments. We learned about each other that day, and found a depth and breadth of interests that was surprising in how people’s interests lay. I suspect that the same would be true were I to poll each of you. But in this case, I’ll offer up my own comments on one of my passions, quality television.

Let me start by saying that I don’t really watch TV like other people do, or so I believe. Of course, it is one way of relaxing at the end of a long day, but I do not view TV as a form of escapism. Instead, it is a form of investment. You see, for me, the characters are everything, not the plot or storyline; I invest in the character. You can view a program such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigators as a forensics procedural, or you can view it as a continuing story involving the growth of the characters. For me, it is the latter, and it is that fact that brings a deeper reading of the show to my pleasure in watching it. But hold that thought.

The writer Kristin Thompson defines quality television as having "a quality pedigree, a large ensemble cast, a series memory, creation of a new genre through recombination of older ones, self-consciousness, and pronounced tendencies toward the controversial and the realistic" (1) From modern perspectives, the program most people would define as quality television is HBO’s The Sopranos. But this is not the program I view as exemplifying quality television. I have another in mind.

For anyone who knows me, that program would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Okay, so now we have a blog post dedicated to chiropractic education that is singing the praises of a now-cancelled television program about a teen-age cheerleader who is the one person in the world to fight off the threat of vampires. So sue me. :-) What makes this program quality television is that it has probably the best written scripts in TV history, scripts which exhibit self-awareness and memory, so that little bits that appear early in season 2 turn out to have major implications in season 5, where the characters grow, where good and evil are not dichotomous, where everything is shades of grey. Where the episodes range from the hysterically funny to the bone-crushingly painful and poignant, and where everything that everyone does has implications that later have to be addressed. It is no wonder that a cottage industry has arisen around the academic study of Buffy; there is a major online journal devoted to it (, many books, and yearly conferences which are attended by scholars in philosophy, religion, media studies, cultural analysis, film and video, etc. And still it remains hard to get people to see past the name of the program, which is the primary reason people do not watch. Yet, it is rich viewing.

Last year added a new program to my list of quality television. This was the spectacular HBO program In Treatment, which was an experimental series that revolved around the patients seen by a cognitive therapist, Paul, played by the actor Gabriel Byrne. The conceit was that the program was broadcast 5 days a week (weekdays), with each day of the week dedicated to a different patient: Monday was Laura, Tuesday Alex, Wednesday Sophie, Thursday Jake and Amy, and on Friday, Paul himself sees his own former mentor Gina. So the program required commitment from viewers since the storylines, while each able to stand alone, made better sense and had better resonance when viewed in total, since events that occur during the course of therapy in one patient have implications for what happens when Paul sees his other patients and in how he relates to his wife. The acting was superb, and Diane Wiest won an Emmy last week for her portrayal of Paul’s therapist Gina. But the break-out role was played by young Australian actress Mia Wasikowska as Sophie, a truly damaged young gymnast whose story goes nowhere you think it will. This is the mark of quality television; you know all the tropes (young gymnast who won’t eat equals anorexia… except, it doesn’t) and the program subverts them. (PS. The DVD arrives in mid-October).

In my pantheon of quality television, I would include Buffy, In Treatment, The Sopranos, The Wire, The X- Files, CSI: Crime Scene Investigators (Las Vegas only), NYPD Blue, The West Wing, The Simpsons, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and Lost (which actually I dislike intensely). And truth is, when I watch, I am looking not only at the story, the characters, the memory and everything else, but for material I can even build into my lectures, presentations and professional writings. It’s the best of all worlds.


1. Cited at, accessed September 29, 2008


Vegasadelphia said...

Buffy is bar far the best written TV show, mainly thanks to Joss Whedon's vision and control. Feel free to view some of my opinions on the show starting with:

Dana J. Lawrence, DC, MMedEd said...

Thanks! I've actually visited your site after it being linked from whedonesque.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the exact sciences: Jennifer Ouellette's "The Physics of the Buffyverse".

Anonymous said...

The also-cancelled "Dead Like Me" likewise had some great scripts and developed their characters over it's short two season lifespan.

Dana J. Lawrence, DC, MMedEd said...

I do have jennifer Ouellette's book (I was a physics guy back when I was in undergraduate college) and agree that Dead Like Me is worth adding.

Anonymous said...

Buffy and Angel (I love both) are The Shows. There is nothing before and we won't have anything after. These shows have the written, yeah... There are episodes of Buffy/Angel that were better them many movies. You can have more action in 45 minutes of them than in 150 min of many movies out there. The acting are superb, yeah, we can't negate it. The big problem that any other show will have is the cast. Everyone was wonderfully cast in Angel/Buffy. We care about everyone of them, their happiness and sadness and love life (or unlife). That is it! No more no less!

Anonymous said...

GIven your taste (meaning good), you would love Battlestar Galactica (the new one, of course). I suggest you start by renting the miniseries and give it a try

Erik Clabaugh said...

Hey- Just a quick note to let you know that the "quality tv" concepts that you attribute to Kristin Thompson(quality pedigree, ensemble cast, and so on) should, in fact, be attributed to Robert Thompson. Wikipedia also incorrectly credits KT. For more on the subject, see Robert J. Thompson's book: Television's Second Golden Age.

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