Even in summer, television outshines cinema for creativity and intelligence

June 2, 2013 

I've heard it three times in the past week or so, from three different people who should know about such things.

Movies, at least the kind you see in cineplexes, are moribund. Television is now where all the interesting ideas are.

I heard it first from comic actor Rob Schneider, when I was interviewing him for a story about his appearance at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre last weekend.

"I think the film business is in trouble," he said. "I think the interesting stuff is on television. The film industry just wants to make comic-book movies to sell merchandise"

That day, or maybe the next, film director Steven Soderbergh said pretty much the same thing in an NPR interview. He didn't care that studios wouldn't distribute his Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra." He said they told him only gay people would want to see it, so he took it to HBO, which was thrilled to air it.

"The Sopranos," he said, was a watershed, and showed writers and directors new possibilities for television. We're experiencing, he said, a second "Golden Age of Television."

A couple of days later I heard Michael Douglas on NPR reiterating essentially the same thought.

Still, people look down their noses at TV. I have friends who are proud to sneer that they don't own a TV or they don't get cable. To me that's not too different from proudly saying you don't read books.

TV gets a bad rap, I think, because 90 percent of it is bad. But that's true of any medium. Ninety percent of books, plays and opera are probably bad.

The difference is that very few people see the bad plays or operas or read the bad books. You really can't help seeing a lot of bad TV.

The worst TV is dismal. "Maury," "The Real Housewives," anything on MTV. It's embarrassing to watch.

But there's a lot of sublime television right now, some of it as thrilling as the greatest movies of all time. Even in the summer, the traditional time for the TV doldrums, there's more edifying television than you can keep up with.

"Rectify," on the Sundance Channel, is a quiet but powerful existential drama.

It meandered a bit in

the last two episodes, but the ideas and characters are startling. It revolves around a man exonerated by DNA evidence after spending more than half his life on death row, returning to a town that still thinks he's guilty.

The writing in "Breaking Bad" is some of the best you'll ever see in any medium. The fact that such a profoundly literate level has been sustained over five season is astounding. The final eight episodes are coming up this summer, starting in August.

"Dexter" has had some mediocre seasons, but at its best it's shattering. The eighth and final season starts June 20, with the glorious Charlotte Rampling guest starring.

"Homeland" has been compelling despite a central love affair that defies credulity. The plot synopsis of the upcoming third season indicates it will focus on the intrigue and get rid of the romance.

There are many more compelling shows ahead this summer, but those few are already enough to outnumber the worthwhile films that will hit theaters this summer. While the movie industry recycles superheroes and spend more time on explosions than exposition, television has quietly become the medium for artistry and creativity in entertainment.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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