Which Are Better Written, Movies or Television?

Well, Ari, I give you the whole world from which to choose, and the topic you pick is the recent ascendancy of series television to artistic greatness. Fine and dandy, I say, good sport as I constantly am. It’s not a surprising choice, considering your tendency to cast most every aspect of your and my life in sitcom terms. Now, before you get your combat gear out and begin defending yourself with a barrage of firepower and then Clintonesquely move on to your apology for doing a bit of damage, let me make clear I am not intending any of this as a personal attack against you. I’m merely noting what I perceive as a man in the right spot. Clearly, the television industry is a good place for you to be, and hopefully soon you too will be whipping up these masterpieces that will hang in the TV Louvre alongside Friends and ER and all the other shows to which you doff your hat.

And here again, before you unleash defensive air attacks over Santa Barbara, let me note I don’t mean any disrespect to those shows. Or to TheX-Files and the rest you name. These series and the hard-working bunches behind them aspire to a certain level of profundity, and they achieve it. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a free world, except for the cable bills. But auteur television? Golden Age? No. By the way, I have a fan’s quibble with the best of your list, Law & Order, for its creative swan dive from highly entertaining to its current unwatchable whoring for ratings and for the ill-advised decision several seasons ago to let the subtle and heart-wrenching Michael Moriarty leave and to then drop the operatic Sam Waterston into the new, improved, politically correct mix.

You single out The Sopranos for special praise, and I must abstain from commenting because I’ve never seen it. Some of my more discerning friends (also some of my least discerning friends) tell me it’s terrific. These days, thanks to the tiniest person I’ve ever loved, the only TV family I watch religiously is composed of Po, La-La, Dipsy, and Tinky Winky. Still and all, I was going to make a special effort some months ago to catch The Sopranos. But then a really close pal who’s a die-hard Sopranos fan and who refuses to see feature films until they’ve been reduced to videotape (even you must agree that’s a sickness of some kind) begged me to not watch any of the later Sopranos until the whole series gets rerun and I see the early ones. Supposedly there’s an order of some kind. Which instead of making me want to tune into all the episodes has had the opposite effect.

I notice that, as you labor mightily to compare current and future television with the wonderful American cinema of 20 and 30 years ago, you can’t quite bring yourself to put The Sopranos up against The Godfather. Instead you pick Analyze This as the feature film with which to compare it. Imagine, a show that has “more depth” than Analyze This. Some praise.

And have any of the wonderful auteurs running around revolutionizing the TV series game come up yet with their Raging Bull, Nashville, French Connection? Some of the series you list are delightful, but hardly as personal a vision as There’s Something About Mary or Happiness, which you unfairly malign, let alone some of the more enigmatic and spectacular visions embodied in earlier TV offerings you and I could name, or most of the amazing films of the ‘70s.

Eventually, even your own case for television greatness peters out to “But there are still enough encouraging signs to take hope.” Well, I’m a very hopeful guy, and a tear ran down my cheek this morning as my little Emma made a lovely and surprisingly successful effort to turn the pages and “read” Pinocchio to me as well as she could remember it. But, Ari, the Blue Fairy just isn’t real, and I will tell you that even if I can’t quite bring myself to tell her.