I found this interesting video-discussion the other day. Roger Simon is an author and academy award winning screenwriter, most known for Bustin’ Loose, which starred Richard Pryor, and Scenes From a Mall with Woody Allen. Lionel Chetwynd is an Oscar/Emmy-nominated filmmaker. It’s about 10 minutes long, and worth the time, but be aware that the clip will be available for only a few days.
What caught my attention was Chetwynd’s statements. He pointedly said that these days, television is better that the movies, which is contrary to a lot of received wisdom. “Television has an interesting way of sorting out the garbage and getting rid of it,” he says.
I’ve often said that Chuck is pretty thoughtful and intelligent for TV. But TV is better than movies?
Can TV do better adventure than, say, Indiana Jones, or better romance than Titanic (1997)? Well, maybe. Even those movies were made a long time ago now (believe it or not), and I can barely remember the last time I was actually moved to go to a theater to see a first-run movie (and I wonder why that is).
Americans love the people [that they see on screen]. They love the simple stories, and they love the truth. You see that on television. You don’t see that in films.
The sentiment shouldn’t be limited to Americans, of course. But it’s an interesting reflection of the way I’ve been seeing Chuck. It’s a simple story; boy and girl, good vs. evil, friends, family, loyalty, trust. Technically, it’s a simple construct; romance, adventure, humor, mix well. We love the characters. With few exceptions (the sardonic Iron Man comes to mind), that’s not what we’re seeing in the theaters.
Chetwynd goes on to say that there are now only two kinds of movies being made; “kids” movies and “artsie” movies. It’s fair to ask if these films have been successful – with summer blockbusters routinely pulling in 3-digit millions of dollars at the box office, they do seem to be successful. But consider that a movie grossing $100-million has had about 8 million tickets sold. There several shows on every evening that have more viewers. Every evening. TV-1, Movies-0.
Ah, but that may just be a measure of popularity, not of quality or success. Are the things we see on TV actually “better?” When all is said and done, are they doing anything good for us? Chetwynd contends that they are, because they inspire us in a way that movies do not.
My eyebrows did a dance at this point. He went on to list a number of shows – Glee, Losing It With Jillian, Burn Notice, House – and noted that they have one thing in common. They inspire us. These shows all show people as a “good project” – they show us as a good project. Burn Notice invites us to be the good guys. Glee is the modern day equivalent of a Doris Day movie. And haven’t I said pretty much the same about Chuck – that it invites us to see better in ourselves and in other people?
I just pulled a fast one. By mentioning Iron Man, I sort of dismissed “kids movies” in a way I shouldn’t have. Just because us old folks aren’t watching doesn’t mean that teens, ‘tweens and those newly introduced to the neighborhood bar scene aren’t seeing positive messages in the movies somewhere. Include children in that list, too.
To address that, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite writers (Ernie’s too, I understand), James Lileks, who brings up a good point about the messages children receive. This is what he had to say about a popular family movie, and it gave me pause.
Toy Story the narrative almost requires the absence of a male figure, because the story features two different role models, and there wouldn’t be a way to shoehorn in a Real Dad without making him marginal, or requiring him to be someone who embodied traits contrary to the characters of Buzz and Woody.
If you want to read much more into it – and why not? – then Buzz and Woody aren’t just toys, but objects into which the kid can project ideas of masculinity. One is about Law and Order and Justice, the things kids need to believe exists to make the world safe and rational and fair, and the other is the Soldier, unattached from domesticity, fighting existential perils. (Precisely the words kids would choose, you know.)
Ideas of masculinity? Law and Order and Justice? Existential perils? I know where I’ve seen those things addressed. Who doubted? He goes on:
I gnash my teeth when I see weak silly dads on TV and in the movies, and think it’s slow poison to portray men as chinless tech-dorks or chestless domestic dullards, and it makes me wish there was a movie where a dad was a true hero, loved his wife, was big and strong and cheerful, doted on his kids, but still had his private doubts and angst. Hey, make him a superhero, too – with a family of superheroes! That would be awesome. That would be Incredible.
Heh. James Lileks is being cute, bringing in The Incredibles like that, but the point is made. He’s talking about Toy Story, but I hear “Chuck”. Well, okay, Chuck may have started out as a chinless tech-dork and chestless domestic dullard, but that’s not true any longer, not since Sarah recognized him as a hero. We’ll let him keep his private doubts and angst There was a message given, and it’s not a bad one for children of any age.
There’s still something missing, though. There is something I very much want to see next in Chuck’s (the character) evolution precisely because it would be inspiring. He’s coming into his own, and his next step is (as mundane as it sounds) fatherhood. Is he ready? I think yes, very soon now. The only surprise is that I very much want to see it happen (well, sometime, if not next season). Talk about changing everything!
Forget about spies, adventures, guns and mayhem. That stuff will always be there, and you can count on excitement being in the show. The real challenge is how we face the adversities that are always coming, and how we treat those who are important in our lives every day. That’s the message in the show. Chuck is about the good in us, and whether its biological or social, family is a major part of that. Ellie and Morgan are Chuck’s extended family now. Both Chuck and Sarah have a void to fill.
“Television has an interesting way of sorting out the garbage and getting rid of it,” Lionel Cheywynd said. I think that’s why Chuck survives.