When a Book is Not a Book - But Could Be!

I know, I know.

I'm not supposed to be reviewing tv shows, I'm supposed to be reviewing books.

But a strange and wonderful thing has happened of late, the result of which is I feel entitled to comment on electronic stories.

Because as bad as much of tv has become - I watched exactly 5 minutes of a reality show once and swore I'd never do it again, and I mean to keep that promise - that's how good some of the rest of it now is.

What was once, at its best, little comedies or morality plays all neatly tied up and wrapped with a bow at the end of each episode, many of the better series today are downright novelistic, with both story and character arcs spanning years-worth of seasons and never missing a beat, and with plot lines that rival Dickens.

Admittedly, some of the absolute best are not "network," but are nevertheless surprisingly popular for all that they're thoughtful, intelligent, sometimes shocking, and frequently complex.

Game of Thrones and True Blood come to mind, the former for its complex characters and deeply involved alternate reality; the latter for its early seasons' er, biting humor.

But I discover to my surprise that there have been many more that I have missed, and others that are just beginning, and all of it bodes well for the quality of writing for television.

I can't imagine how I missed it, but I somehow missed the first seasons of the series, Grimm, based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Imagine a world... in which there is a basis in reality for all those ogres and giants and fairies and elves of the stories that put you to sleep as a child? Imagine that a "Grimm" wasn't a writer but a real supra-normal person who could sense when another one was around, and whose mission in life was to seek out the bad guys at get rid of them? What better job for a modern day Grimm than as a detective? Always inventive, frequently verbally clever, and certainly never boring, I was enchanted (of course!) and also learned what "binge" tv watching is. While I only allowed myself an episode or two a night, I nevertheless consumed several seasons at just a few sittings (hence the "binge").

Copper is a BBC America series new to viewing this summer that once again plops a detective down in an unlikely setting - this time, Civil War era New York City, Five Points, just after the draft riots. While the sets, costuming, and events alone would have hooked me, the complexity of the Irish "coppers" moral outlook, the bits and pieces of history dropped into the events of the day - as near as I can tell, quite accurately done - make this a series the next pages of which I can't wait to turn!

Then there is The History Channel's The Vikings. I was surprised to read one reviewer's negative comments - but then, I suppose that I'm looking for more than slicing, dicing, and sex. Though truth be told, there's plenty of all three! More importantly, the writers have taken the time to do their homework, and have created a piece of historic fiction that immerses - I almost said the reader! - the viewer in the world of about 800 AD. Again, the characters are more than paper dolls dressed up in period costumes, and have depth, moral complexity, and more to say and do than the standard fare of television drama.

Finally, I have to mention Sons of Anarchy. Another series that's hardly new, I'm playing catch up once again - and I've been forewarned that this one, like Dexter and Breaking Bad, steps over a fine line with more than just a toe - I am already intrigued by a bunch of Wild West characters with horses replaced by motorcycles who live by their own code of internal ethics. Perhaps the extended metaphor will get tiresome, but the first season has promised me a safe glimpse of a violent and fascinating world.

I could go on. I'm happy to say there are more. It seems that, as movies have fled to the realm of special effects and bathroom humor, television has attracted the talent - actors, directors, writers, costumers, pretty much everybody - who want to practice the craft of storytelling. Keep up the good work, and I'll keep watching!


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