Post- Magazine, Brown Daily Herald, 2/2/12
By: Sam Knowles, Zoë Hoffman, Jen Harlan and Kate Doyle
Six Feet Under (HBO, 2001-2005) I stretched across the red leather couch in Annie’s living room, cold and covered in cat hair. I had arrived in Chicago a few hours earlier, on New Years Day; there are few people for whom I’d tolerate a three-hour delay at JFK, but Annie, an old friend from Pomona, is one of them. As Annie and I caught up on life’s main events (“Seeing anyone?” “Did Dane really pierce his ear?”), her mother strolled into the living room and dropped a set of DVDs on the coffee table. “Have you ever seen Six Feet Under?” she asked. Ten minutes later, I was hooked.
Like many family dramas, Six Feet Under begins with the death of a patriarch. Nathaniel Fisher, the owner of a funeral home in suburban Los Angeles, is hit by a bus on his way to pick up a body from the morgue. The family business falls into the hands of his markedly different adult sons. Nate (Peter Krause), the elder, is likable, effortlessly cool, and a little immature; David (Michael Hall), uptight and closeted, good-natured but often cold, resents his dead father for making him split the business with his brother who, as a teenager, left the family and ran away to Seattle. The show captures familial conflict at its purest: intense, complicated, and, most of the time, irresolvable.
Each episode begins with the death of the person whom the Fishers will soon embalm and bury. Most often, we see people at their lows. A drunken middle-aged man rants to his younger co-workers at the Christmas party moments before he falls into a lake and drowns. An aging porn star is electrocuted at home in her bathtub; the camera focuses on her fake breasts, which float unnaturally to the surface as the screen fades to white. Six Feet Under avoids the unbearable sentimentality of successor shows like Parenthood (also starring Mr. Krause), which insist on solving any grave problems within the span of an episode or two. For the Fishers, the problems posed by death and family are here to stay. –S.K.
How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 2005-present)
Kids, in only a month, one catchy “bahh, bah bah bah bahhh” theme song has become the soundtrack to my dreams. I finally realized the attachment was unhealthy when I came back to Brown to find I couldn’t fall asleep without it drifting from the laptop next to my pillow. I should have realized it around the time my sister and I arrived in Hawaii on family vacation and were like, “Oh nice, mai tais on the terrace. Oh great, the biggest volcano in the world. OH MY GOSH, THE HOTEL TV CONNECTS TO NETFLIX!”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kids, I’m going tell you the story of how we met. In December of 2011 my sister (your Aunt Maggie) had brought a new friend home from college, and I started spending a lot of time with that friend. It started out as just something to do—but soon, I was pretty attached. My new pal was the perfect mix of goofy nonsense and old-fashioned charm (read: had a great laugh-track), spent time in places I’d never thought I’d be into (CBS) and offered the perfect dose of school-break intellectual stimulation (clever, but not taxing, you know?). We found the same things funny, thrived on mystery, and, um, shared a love of weird narrative structures.
And that’s the story of how I finally met … How I Met Your Mother. The old-fashioned half-hour comedy with that “one-of-the-gang” ethos of Friends, the oddball wit of Scrubs or 30 Rock, and one remarkably detailed universe of running gags, about everything from Canada to goats to the Loch Ness monster. If it occasionally waxes a little crude or conventional, it makes up for it with unexpectedly epic storytelling, characters far wonkier than first meets the eye, and a “who’s the mother?” guessing game that has to be one of the smartest hooks in all of TV history. I mean, I JUST WANT TO KNOW! Basically, kids, I highly recommend it. Log on to Netflix, and consider yourself wooed. –K.D.
Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-1989, 2005-present)
First, let me state for the record that I am not normally a sci-fi person. Sure, I enjoy the occasional Star Wars film, but in general, spaceships and gadgets are not my cup of tea. So when my friends started talking about Doctor Who, I was skeptical. It’s about an alien? With a time machine? That looks like a police box? I was unimpressed. Then while visiting my friend Kelsey in Prague last spring, I was bombarded with a rather heavy onslaught of Who-gushing. She insisted I had to give it a try. Now, Kelsey has a knack for turning me on to great TV shows—she’s responsible for the presence of 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, and Veronica Mars in my life, and for that I will be eternally grateful—so I agreed to watch an episode. And soon, despite the gimmicky special effects and alien enemies, I was hooked.
In my eye, there are two things that make Doctor Who so special, and so dangerous. First, because of the neat trick of “regeneration,” which allows the producers to switch up the lead actor every couple years, the cast is constantly changing, making each season like a new show. Second, the series has been running (albeit non-consecutively) for a grand total of 32 seasons. That’s right—32. So long that the children of previous Doctors are now guest-starring on the show. If we average 45 minutes per episode, that means you could spend two months straight watching nothing but Doctor Who 24 hours a day and still not finish. Wonderful, but dangerous.
For now, I’ve stuck with the revived series, revamped in 2005 after a 16-year hiatus. I’ve raged with Christopher Eccleston, delighted with David Tenant, and now I’m marveling at the way Matt Smith has single-handedly made bow ties cool again. And even though my sister spent much of this past break barging into my room and telling me to stop watching “that weird alien show,” I have to admit that, non-sci-fi person that I am, I love all that weird, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. –J.H.
Kourtney and Kim Take New York (E! 2011-2012)
I’m not going to lie; I love reality TV. Set me down in front of a marathon of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or Say Yes to the Dress, and I’m in my happy place. At this point, every network has its own version of reality, whether it revolves around tattoo artists or taxidermy. But no cast of characters has infiltrated our airwaves quite like the Kardashians.
The opposite of the traditional nuclear family, the Kardashians–in particular, the three eldest sisters Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe–shot to fame when Kim (the whiny, middle sister) befriended Paris Hilton and made a sex tape with then-boyfriend rapper Ray J. It is with this long list of accomplishments that E! chose the family (rounded out by Mom Kris, siblings Rob, Kendall, and Kylie, and half-plastic step-dad Bruce Jenner) to be their next reality hit. With a different variation on the Kardashian theme playing non-stop throughout the year (see: Khloe and Lamar, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, etc.) it seemed impossible to up the ante any further. That is, until Kim decided to marry NBA player Kris Humphries and divorce him a mere 72 days later.
Kim’s Halloween divorce announcement came shortly before the November 27 premiere of the second installment of Kourtney and Kim Take New York, setting up the season as a retrospective on a doomed relationship and guaranteeing that my winter break would be stocked with pre-fabricated dramatics. Each Sunday night, I tuned in wondering whether we would see the final implosion of Kim and Kris’s marriage. Meanwhile, Kim’s older sister Kourtney and her boyfriend Scott provided the comic relief, contributing important plot lines revolving around issues like obsessive couponing and creepy family portraits.
As the season progressed, Kim’s behavior grew more erratic, and her crying fits more frequent. At some point I started to feel bad for the girl, and bad about my role in this whole thing. Not only was I supporting a show about essentially nothing, I was also deriving a decent amount of joy from watching Kim’s unraveling. But that, I guess, is the whole point of reality TV. Kourtney and Kim had its dramatic finale this past Sunday (I won’t give away the ending), leaving me with yet another hour to fill with procrastination techniques. No worries, though; Khloe and Lamar comes back on soon. –Z.H.