30 Rock (comedy central); Southpark (COMEDY CENTRAL); Ancient Aliens (The history channel)
There's a bit in last night's 30 Rock, Tina Fey's knowing and funny comedy show about the producers of a knowing and funny comedy show, which was a pretty good summation of the current state of television.
Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), the business-speaking, true-believing Republican CEO of NBC, formerly owned by General Electric, now owned by Cabletown, was explaining where the money was. "Reality television: A woman with humdruplets, a live execution, The Real Transvestite Hoarders of Orange County Penitentiary."
"That show is upsetting; why does the Warden let Lady Extravaganza have so many spoons?" asks long-suffering producer and self-hating liberal Liz Lemon (Fey), before waffling on about how it's actually "a golden age of scripted television".
She sounds just like me and all the other television reviewers. "Shhh," says Jack and gives her a conciliatory hug. I wish he'd give me a hug. He's just described a pretty typical evening's telly-watching at this, the dusk of western civilisation.
For all the incredible drama and comedy that's been made in the past decade (and it has been a golden age) the quality is overwhelmed by the sheer number of terrible, terrible shows we watch though our fingers as they corrode our souls and rust our hearts (I bet you thought that The Real Transvestite Hoarders of Orange County Penitentiary sounded pretty good? "I'd watch that," you thought, before having a little cry).
30 Rock is now in its fifth series, and Fey, the head writer and show-runner, has been marked out as the leader of a crop of very talented Saturday Night Live alumni (like Amy Poehler from the excellent but not aired here Parks And Recreation, and Kristen Wiig, writer and star of Bridesmaids). It's good television about bad television. In last night's episode, Liz and wayward star Tracy Jordan were moved to tears by how their own lives were edited on Tracy's wife's reality television programme Queen of Jordan. Meanwhile Jack was pre-recording a generic celebrity benefit which could be used for any natural disaster (this included a passionate and moving theme song: "Help the people (who) the thing that happened happened to").
Southpark is also good telly inspired by bad telly. In yesterday's episode Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny wrote a school report about Thanksgiving with the help of the History Channel. This taught them that pilgrims and Indians were really warring alien races.
It may have been true. Earlier that day I saw a (real) History Channel programme called Ancient Aliens -- Underwater Worlds which featured a host of academics from colleges around Europe and America asking a number of thought-provoking questions.
Were classical gods aliens? Is there evidence of secret underwater cities indicating a prehistoric civilisation? Did aliens build these cities? Was one of these cities Atlantis? Why is "Atlantis" in the Bermuda Triangle? Do ancient Chinese statues depict aliens in space suits? In Hindu stories about Krishna is he firing a laser?
I know. It's mind-blowing stuff. But before you give up your job to travel the world as an "ancient astronaut theorist" (a real profession, according to the narrator), I'd like you to go back two paragraphs and replace the words "academics" "colleges" and "thought-provoking" with the words -- "burnt-out cranks", "clown colleges" and "mind-numbingly stupid".
Indeed, it's quite refreshing to loudly and angrily answer the open-ended questions these shows throw about so gleefully. "Could this mean the (Bermuda) Triangle is some sort of alien base?" asked one "ancient astronaut theorist".
"NOOO!" I yelled. "It clearly doesn't. You've just found a few bricks in a pond!" It felt good.
30 Rock hhhIi
Ancient Aliens hIIIi