One of the big reasons I write plays for the theatre is my delight in good acting. I like watching the work of good actors in theatre and, more often, film. There are also many good actors in TV, but I do not consider myself a TV person. At the back of my mind, I still can’t help thinking TV is a colossal waste of time. So I watch bits and pieces. Yet TV is often fun to watch, when it isn’t being especially mindless.
Recently my wife watched, in reruns, a number of episodes of Charmed, the popular 90’s show. Passing through the TV room, I would often stop and watch long passages of its episodes. Charmed is a particularly silly show. It’s about good, hot looking witches who battle evil demons.
The acting is interesting. The supporting and guest actors, usually portraying evil demons, fall into the trap set by saying such lines as, “I will destroy the Charmed Ones. Then I shall rule.” They overact like people in karate flicks, and sound ridiculous. The actresses playing the Charmed Ones, initially Alyssa Milano, Holly Mary Combs and Shannen Doherty fare much better. They say their lines in a matter-of-fact way, and make it seem that wild supernatural happenings are simply the usual events of their lives. Probably Shannen Doherty, who left the show early, was probably the best actress of the bunch.
As TV is most often ridiculous, saying ridiculous lines in a matter-of-fact way seems to make for good TV acting. Jane Lynch does this particularly well in Glee. As the vicious cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, she exhibits a vendetta against the Glee club in general and Will Schuster, its mentor, in particular. Lynch is hilarious when she verbally attacks Shuster in a straightforward way, and makes fun of his curly hair.
It’s too bad the show’s producers have made Sue Sylvester nicer this year. She is less funny. Overall, the show seems to be running out of steam. It should also be said that the show under uses such topnotch talents as the singing of Jenna Ushkowitz, playing Tina Chang, and the dancing of Harry Shum, Jr. Yet I am still rooting for Glee’s star Lea Michele to play in the Wicked film, to be made some time in the future.
TV has technologically changed over the years. We are far removed from the fixed sets of I Love Lucy. I recently watched part of an episode of House. The title character was arguing before a hospital board. The scene used much of the swift visual movements of modern cinema. It showed much more than simply the boardroom at the moment. As arguments were made, flashback bits were intercut with showing people making the arguments. Medical graphs, using the latest technology, were also shown as House’s speech continued as a voiceover.
It was too bad that the show nonetheless resorted to the oldest melodramatic effects of TV. For in showing the overwrought reactions of the people involved in the argument, the show seemed little different than Perry Mason.
Big Bang Theory, Chuck Lorre’s comedy about clueless scientists, is also far removed visually from I Love Lucy. There is much use in the show of Youtube videos and skype. The show’s characters sometimes appear in the guise of video game figures.
Nevertheless Big Bang’s standout characteristic is its hilarity. It is arguably the funniest show on TV. And its funniest actor is Jim Parsons, playing the brilliant but difficult Sheldon Cooper. Parsons is fall-down-laugh funny.
Even in the midst of change, it is good to see some traditions continuing. For all its faults, TV has a great comic acting tradition. And Jim Parsons stands comparison with Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason.