Old TV + Reader’s Notebook

As I’ve documented here many times over the years, sometimes I get paralyzed by the many options I have for watching quality TV. There is a long list of shows that I need to go back and watch, but I’m always torn about where to start, whether to watch one to completion on its own or to start several at one time, and whether to focus on shows I’ve not seen or mix in some classic shows as well.

The first weekend we had cable installed in the new house I came across a block of The Office episodes on Comedy Central and watched for about an hour. That finally pushed me to jump back and re-watch an old favorite. I’ve been watching 4–5 episodes of The Office each day over the past week—plus and am now deep into season three. If you remember the show’s timeline, I’m up to the point where corporate announced that, despite their initial plans to the opposite, the Stamford office would be closing and merging with the Scranton office.

I don’t think The Office was a show that I watched episodes multiple times during its original run, but it’s amazing how many moments from those early seasons were still incredibly familiar. That’s the sign of an iconic show. I had forgotten how, especially in season one, the Jim-Pam thing was often cringe-worthy. It took the writers some time to veer away from cliche and turn that relationship into one of the best will they/won’t they duos since Sam and Diane.[1] I had also forgotten that there was a genuinely cruel side and dangerously incompetent to Michael Scott that drew from Ricky Gervais’ David Brent character on the British original. I remembered Scott as a well-meaning, lovable buffoon.

Another memory of the show I had that was incorrect was that it got off to a very slow start over season one. Sure, there was some footing finding in that first year, and many of the secondary characters would not blossom until later. But the show was pretty damn good from the beginning. I was obviously thinking of Parks & Recreation, which barely survived a difficult first half-season before making some casting and directions changes in season two that turned it into a classic.

Anyway, that’s all lead up to my latest book which has me thinking about rewatching another classic of modern TV.


All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire – Jonathan Abrams
Reading this oral history of The Wire made me want to jump back into those DVDs badly. At its best, the show was as good as anything ever put on TV. Seasons three and four are among the medium’s greatest and true fans of the show can argue about which was better for hours.

Abrams got just about every key actor on the show to share their experiences. It makes for entertaining reading. Andre Royo, who played the junkie/informer, was the star of the book. His insights were full of enthusiasm, passion, and honesty. So many of the actors where obscure when the show began and it is interesting to see how, notably, Michael K. Williams and Idris Elba handled going from nobodies to cult heroes to stars. As was hearing about how the show was developed from David Simon’s and Ed Burns’ ideas, along with their yearly battles to keep the show on air, adds to its mythology.

I did find it to be fawning at times. I lost track of how many times an actor referred to Simon as brilliant. Which he kind of is, but still. I think the overall tone was typical of a piece of pop culture like The Wire: a show that was critically acclaimed, criminally under-watched, and then became a legend after its run ended. There seems to be a push to remind everyone of its greatness. While there is some talk of discord on the set, for the most part the memories shared are of unity of purpose, belief in the mission of the show, and a fondness for the years the group spent together. Which is really fine. I don’t necessarily want to read a bunch of dirt for the sake of dirt. But even as much as I loved the show, it came off rather fluffy to me.

Now the only downside is we don’t have a good area in the house, currently, where I can go back and watch a show that has sex and violence and drugs and lots of racial language without being overheard by the girls. Once we get our basement put together, though, I may have to pull those DVDs out and run through the series again. Until then I’ve got The Office and a long list of other shows I can work through.


  1. Speaking of old TV shows, every fall I wonder if I should go back and re-watch Cheers, or at least season five, rather than just watch the Thanksgiving Orphans episode in November.  ↩