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Network Television Rundown: Solitary Trauma Drama

Now that The Quest is done (or in hibernation at least), I feel a little lost. I was so caught up in that which wasted my outside-of-school hours as a youngster day in and day out that I found myself basically comatose in analyzing my own present-day viewing habits. Now that I have finally piled on the last bit of earth on the metaphorical tomb of my youth, I look at myself today. I watch all the shows Qualler blogs about, yes, and I watch many films I mention somewhat unfairly in passing in my Off The Couch... feature, but the last time I talked about my dark and dirty pleasure in watching certain things in private, before Jerksica gets back from night class, while I'm stuffing the umpteenth bell pepper quesadilla into my facehole and cuddlin' wit' my kitty cat, was way back in June when I discussed the now-dearly departed Harper's Island. Yes, my friends, I'm talking about a rare genre of network programming that I have become more and more susceptible to, which I am now giving a name: Solitary Trauma Drama. These are the shows that, in my humble opinion, only work when watched by one's lonesome. Let me use the four I am currently indebted to as examples for me to convey the principles of my thesis...

Trauma: Obviously a third of the nu-genre's namesake is derived from the new (and already canceled) NBC romp that is at the top of the current hierarchy of Solitary Trauma Dramas. So let's start by dissecting that foundational middle term in the newly constructed three-word label that should (but won't) revolutionize television programming (kinda like Harper's Island). At the most rudimentary level, I enjoy Trauma not only because of its expertly executed accident choreography (as listed on our monthly faves sidebar), in which the majesty of highway pile-ups, helicopter crashes, and random impalements is amplified to artful highs and base adrenaline-junkie lows, but because of its very basic and dedicated interpretation of the word "trauma." I mean, these paramedics both literally help relieve new characters every 5-10 minutes (srsly) of their physical trauma while they themselves deal with the aftermath of trauma from their pasts (whether it be a homophobic upbringing or watching their loved one die on the job). These are very personal issues, and while the show fails in many ways at being cohesive and more than surface-level emotional, it's just what the therapist ordered for sadsack solitary viewing, specifically that which requires little to no thinking, but still garners touching connections.

FlashForward: For our next entry, I shall discuss the third operative word in the newly coined phrase Solitary Trauma Drama. If there's one thing that a network executives think a drama needs to be successful, it's drama. If that sounds redundant, idiotic, and ball-scratchingly obvious, well, that's because it is. In order for a 42-minute-ish program to traverse between the icy realms of comedy and TV movie, almost every network decides to pile on the eponymous element of television over-scripting, over-acting, and in the wake of CSI and its kin, over-cinematographying. And my casual obsession with FlashForward fits so neatly into these prerequisites that if you were completely neanderthal, you would think it does the whole "drama" thing with downright aplomb. Of course, the opposite is true. Don't get me wrong, there's enough unnecessary tension between lovers and saccharine montages set to music to fill a generic golden-lens-filtered FBI skyscraper. But what makes me want to keep coming back to ABC's uber-lame attempt at riding the coattails of a multi-season sci-fi barn burner like Lost aren't any specific character theatrics or the lame criminal investigation posturing that makes the show wishes it could get Caruso or Sinise-style ratings. No, with FlashForward, it's quantity that matters, not quality. The fact that every single frame of the show is filled with someone brooding, contemplating, or yelling for no reason is what makes this the kind of show one must watch alone. It's not quite funny enough for group ha-ha viewing, nor is it cheeky enough for me to watch multiple episodes in a row with Jerksica on a lazy Saturday. Nope, its serialized nature combined with the brute force of dramatics to the nth degree are just enough for me to enjoy quite lackadaisically once every week-and-a-half or so and just ride the wave of nonsense. Such average, jam-packed nonsense.

V and/or Dollhouse: Speaking of nonsense, this rambling essay finally brings us to that first and arguably most significant word residing within the sure-to-be-popularized-any-day-now term Solitary Trauma Drama. What does it mean to be alone while watching television? Well, the first thing that comes to mind isn't so much a direct answer to that question as it is a glazed over feeling of exhaustion. The only person I want to be with for a 42-minute period of time between my sometimes arduous commute home on a late weekday afternoon and grading a crapload of writing assignments is myself. And maybe my cat, if she doesn't insist on shoving her whiskers in my face too much. I need, nay, cherish that time I so graciously receive at day's end in order to decompress, fully take in just how productive, mediocre, frustrating, rewarding, etc. my day at work was. To think that a group of silly network dramas streaming on the Internet could recharge my vigor for life would have made no sense to me five years ago. But it's true. And specifically attaining that mild hazy high of solitude, especially for those of us that deal face-to-face with people all day long, the quietude combined with a complete debased version of reality on the computer screen add up to the precise way to attain 100% inoculated conscious sedation. The debut season of V and the second season (in particular) of Dollhouse do just this. Absolutely trashy programming held up by genuinely intriguing premises turn what should be torturous 45-minute blocks of plot holes, rushed conflict, and half-practiced dialogue into a heaven of escapism and wonder.

And so we now wind up with these shows at our fingertips 24/7, for all those moments when we are all alone and either bored and/or exhausted. These are the ones I use as momentary respites from true "appointment viewing." I can be casual with them, but I know they're always there, so I can dedicate myself just enough to feel like I have a sorta-kinky sorta-informal affair with them once every ten days or so. Or you know, whenever. And when we get into the sack (read: couch and blanket) together, you know the balance of melodrama and genuine trauma is just enough to keep the spark aflame, but not so much that it becomes mentally/emotionally draining, like a truly awesome television experience. Whatever the case may be, thank you network television, for bringing me in Fall 2009 some lumps of coal that taste just enough like nuggets of chocolate for me to bite into, swallow, and repeat.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 3:09 PM |  

    Haha this is great. I'm glad you're watching all those shows so I don't have to. I keep almost deciding to get back into FlashForward and then think of the stupid looks Joseph Fiennes gives to the camera and decide against it, no matter how much of a babe Sonya Walger (Penny from Lost, Joseph Fiennes' wife on FF) is.

  2. Anonymous .molly. | 2:37 PM |  

    You do realize that Solitary Trauma Dramas = STDs, right? Unfortunate acronym coincidence!

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