Thursday, March 28, 2013


Wow!  It's been--months?  Actual months since I've posted anything here?  Things happen, momentous things, in my life and in the wider world, and this space has remained silent.  But there are still things worth discussing, like, um, this.

The increasing numbers of entertainment providers desperately needing any type of content--whether online services like Hulu and Netflix or specialty cable channels like MeTV and Antenna--has spurred the rights holders of scores of vintage television shows to haul their products out of the mothballs.  Suddenly shows unseen for years are back, and the results are...interesting.

TV has always existed primarily as a way to kill time.  In the pre-internet days, the vast majority of programming was the equivalent of Chuck Norris memes and cat videos on YouTube, a way to spend a half hour here and there when you really had nothing else to do.  If you were watching The Love Boat and the phone rang halfway through it, you'd go ahead and answer, confident that you weren't really going to miss anything.

And it's still that way.  For the last decade or so, many believe TV has entered a golden age of creativity, and the best of what's out there gives that argument some weight.  Sure, dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and comedies like Louie and Community, but even animated kids shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and cop shows like Justified are astonishing--fully cinematic, but with a novelistic approach to plotting and detail.

But these are exceptions, and there have always been exceptions:  Sgt. Bilko, The Twilight Zone, Route 66, The Rifleman, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Columbo, The Rockford Files.  The cream always floated to the top, but then as now, there's a lot of time to fill.  TV as a whole is as crappy as it's ever been--have you ever tried sitting through an episode of Rules Of Engagement?--but it's a whole lot slicker.  Writing rooms are full of Harvard grads eager to show off their education, which is why even a lowly Disney Channel sitcom will have an occasional reference to Proust.  The directors who set the visual style of the likes of Chicago Fire have been to film school and want to show off their skills for composition and editing, in case it might land them a feature film gig.

Which brings us back to The Flying Nun.  It's safe to say we'll never see its like again.  Sure, we'll see other shows with astonishingly stupid premises--Dog With A Blog is a thing that exists--but there will never again be something this innocent and naive, and by "innocent and naive" I mean utterly incompetent.

Let's look at that intro again.

The opening of a show is meant to get you to watch.  It can lay out the premise or establish the characters or simply bombard you with snazzy images and a catchy theme song.

Or, in the case of The Flying Nun, it can be a clumsily edited assortment of available footage.  There's no flow between the images, no rhythm, no sense.  Ed Wood couldn't have done a worse job.  She's a nun, she's flying, OK.  Other cast members appear, obviously filmed in a studio.  Are they supposed to be watching her?  Their eye movement suggests yes, but the clips we've seen show her at a much greater height, and then--wait.  Now she's walking across a plank?  And suddenly becomes airborne?  But we've already seen her fly!  Shouldn't this have started the sequence?  (I especially love the slide whistle deployed for this bit; that was a hacky comedy device even in Vaudeville.)  And now she' a dog?  And the cable holding her up is incredibly obvious...seriously, they didn't have a better take to use in the title sequence?  Another random shot of Alejandro Rey, apparently not realizing the camera was running, then she's crashing through a stained glass window, an image that seems more appropriate for a mid-seventies Italian Exorcist knockoff.  Suddenly she's flying again, exec producer credit, and we're out.

The show itself is a pretty typical relic of its era--flat lighting, ABC-simple plotting, uninteresting characters--but that opening sequence has a maladroit charm.  It's the type of thing that's hard to believe even exists, but like the dinosaur, its time has gone.  TV now is so damned professional.