Monday, April 03, 2017

On Message

HBO's Big Little Lies had its finale last night.  The critics seemed to go for it, though I didn't think much of it.  There was an impressive cast, and some decent acting, but I felt the pacing was poor, the domestic drama and a number of the characters were dull, the social satire was weak and the big action (featuring rape, adultery, spousal abuse and so on) was a bit too soap operish.

There was a hook that was supposed to get us into the show: in the first episode, we find out someone has been killed--but instead of a whodunit, it's a who done what.  We don't find out who got killed or who did the killing until the final episode.  I didn't find this clever, just annoying.  (And let me note, without spoiling anything, that the finale involved a ridiculous coincidence and, dramatically, was an example of chickening out.)

A.V. Club critic Gwen Ihnat liked the show and the finale.  In her review, she reveals that she was in an abusive relationship and became a board member for a battered women's network.  Then she notes:

If Big Little Lies inspires even one woman to [get out of an abusive relationship], it will already be more important than the average TV show.

I understand her point, but it depends on what "important" means.  Critics can note the message of a show, but what they should care about (or what I care about when I read them) is the aesthetic side.  It doesn't matter what the politics or message of something is.  There are, for instance, thousands of films with the message that crime is bad--a worthwhile lesson that in itself doesn't make a movie worthy.  What matters are how successfully a show entertains, or even enlightens--but through, say, shedding light on the human condition, not by making you take action. Ads (and propaganda) make you do specific things.  Entertainment (and art) make you feel things.

When Fonzie got a library card, apparently thousands of kids across the nation got one, too. This is all to the good, but that wouldn't (by itself) make Happy Days more "important" than the average TV show.

Having a good message is easy. Even having an "important" one is easy.  Creating something that's great entertainment, or true art--that's hard.  And that's what makes a show important to me--as a show, I mean.  Unless you're measuring shows as Public Service Announcements, which is a different standard entirely.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

How about a movie or tv show that ushers in a change in the art form - would you consider that a more important production than others, even if it is less entertaining. There's something like Citizen Kane, which was both highly entertaining and innovative for the film industry. But is the movie "Black Hole," which I believe was the first to present 3D digital graphics in a full length film, more important even if it isn't the greatest movie?

9:17 AM, April 04, 2017  
Blogger LAGuy said...

How influential a movie or TV turns out to be is another type of "important," and one that doesn't interest me that much. Treating influence as if it's important is an odd thing: so this affected that, and that affected something else, which went on to affect yet another thing--when do we get to something that matters in itself?

Things that are great often influence others, but it's possible that something great is unique and not influential, or something is influential for some reason (like technical breakthroughs) even though it's not great.

What matters to me most in a movie or TV show is how much and how deeply it moves me, how much it touches me or makes me laugh or whatever emotion it's meant to evoke. That's the kind of important that matters to me.

10:41 AM, April 04, 2017  

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