edited by Douglas Bauer
The whole idea of an anthology praising TV shows pisses me off. In an era when there are God-knows-how-many TV stations full of crap and a recent report by the National Endowment of the Arts reports that only about 30% of Americans read a book every year, does the literary community need to hype television when television barely offers shit to the literary community in return? When was the last time you saw an interesting author talk about their work on a TV show? Besides the Charlie Rose Show, there's hardly a consistent offering--Oprah doesn't count because her picks are usually insipid self-help writers, and Book TV on C-Span doesn't count because it's freaking boring.
Prime Times, is the anthology in question here, and there is a respectable gaggle of writers assembled, though only a few of them transcend the book's disposable theme, and even then, seeing people like Henry Louis Gates Jr., Sven Birkerts, and Jayne Anne Phillips writing about their beloved TV memories is sort of like Bruce Springsteen admitting a love for New Kids on the Block. The highlights are as follows: David Shields' passionate dissection of Howard Cosell; Douglas Rushkoff's illumination of a few cult classics (Monty Python, Mystery Science Theater 3000, a weird Christian film called The Cube); Mark Leyner's hilarious and purely fictional story about Hawaii Five-O's influence on a South Korean porn director; and Lan Samantha Chang's essay about why her family related so much to Gilligan's Island.
The lowlights, the gutter balls, the turds: Elizabeth McCracken's attempt to convince us that the horrid America's Funniest Home Videos is better than Seinfeld; Nora Ephron's flaccid tribute to Mary Tyler Moore; Stephen McCauley's insulting ode to infomercials; and far too many mentions of The Dick Van Dyke Show (quality shows like M*A*S*H and Twin Peaks are barely mentioned).
I'll admit that I have a TV and I enjoy the occasional vegetating, but there comes a point when the worship of television becomes a clogged artery in the heart of our culture. Prime Times might look yummy and taste good, but believe me, it's bad for us.