On Paying Attention To Television

by dovetailedlife

When I was growing up, there were two shows on television that I knew better than to interrupt: West Wing and Deep Space Nine.

Whether it was Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue or the fact that you couldn’t just rewind it TiVo style, it was a no no to say anything during either of those shows (probably moreso West Wing because of that Aaron Sorkin thing). It was plainly understood. West Wing was on Wednesday nights so the stress level was already high having to get home from church, but my sister and I didn’t want any of that stress coming out on us…so interrupting was not even thought of.

I’ve never come to watch West Wing in its entirety, but I have watched a few episodes and it was extremely clear to me within the first episode or so why this rule was in place: lines are easy to miss. If you miss the lines, you’ve missed the show.

They are not always humorous lines, although often are, but the dialogue moves so quickly that you have to pay close attention in order to be able to get everything. It’s like being stuck in Gilmore Girls hell.

Of late, being a full time Divinity student, I have not had time to watch many shows. My wonderful wife on the other hand, does. We have had discussion after discussion about how in the world she keeps up with work while still watching TV. She has often told me, “You can’t just decide to watch a movie and only watch a movie, you have to get other things done at the same time.” She is a master at it.

My issue: I don’t think my mind works like this. I’m the type of guy who likes to get to the theater at least 30 minutes before a showing, get the snacks, get great seats, and use the restroom at least once before the movie begins. Films are pieces of art; if you got up in the middle of an opera or symphony performance, you’d be lost. The same is true of films.

I have two shows that I go out of my way to watch every week (meaning I don’t wait for them to go to Hulu and if I’m not at home the minute they come on, I’m keenly aware): Modern Family and Glee.

Both of these shows are West Wing types (although not always as respectable). These shows incorporate tons of funny and poignant lines that are not responded to by a studio audience and the humor is left to be noticed by the viewer. The writers and editors mercilessly move from line to line and don’t hold back.

If you try to read or write during Glee or Modern Family, you will miss Phil Dunphy’s Gloria comments and Brittany’s random thoughts. And…if you miss those aspects of the show, you’ve missed a large part of what makes these shows successful and brilliant.

In the age of laptops, iPads, and smartphones, there is too much to distract you from true art.

Perhaps you don’t need to be mono tasking when you watch The King Of Queens, but when it comes to a show that relies on curvy stories and quick, funny lines in order to “get it”, mono tasking is the only way I see to do it.

I learned that this week with Glee. If you miss the narrative of Glee, you’re lost and will probably write it off as a silly show. But if you catch it, your world will be opened up.

-B

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