Monday, January 11, 2010

DVDs for nothing and your books for free.

Over the semester break, I finally decided to get a library card and not always rely on buying books at the used book store. The main branch of the Oakland Public Library is very close to where I live and it's just laziness that I didn't sign up for a library card before this.

The main impetus was a book recommendation from Mike Strickland to read the work of mystery novelist Michael Nava. Nava is a lawyer and now running for Superior Court in San Francisco, and the hero of his novels Henry Rios is, like Nava himself, a gay Hispanic lawyer. I went to the Oakland branch, picked up Nava's The Death Of Friends and read it last week. It's very well written and is a refreshing departure from most mystery novels, not just because many of the characters are gay, but because the legal details of someone being accused of murder are handled more realistically than usual. The novels are a natural extension of the genre in many ways, set in the corrupt and sunny modern day Los Angeles, not that different from the corrupt and sunny worlds of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy in decades gone by. There's just enough matter of fact reference to actual historical characters like the racist thug Darryl Gates who ran the L.A.P.D. for decades and events like the white cop backlash against Gates' black successor to make the corruption aspect feel more like documentary than novel.

Now that I've finished the Death of Friends, I'm on to another Nava mystery How Town. When you rely on a library, sometimes you can't get all an author's works, or can't read the stories in chronological order to follow the main character's arc. In any case, if you like detective fiction, I strongly recommend the work of Michael Nava.

When you have a library card, it's nearly mandatory to check out DVDs. It's a very different experience from being on Netflix, where any DVD you can think of will likely be available. Now it's like being at a modestly stocked video store with really excellent prices. I decided to give the first season of Hill Street Blues is a re-visit to see how well it would hold up.

Not well, it turns out.

I really intensely disliked the first two episodes of the first season. I wondered if I might be comparing it in my mind with The Wire, which is grotesquely unfair to nearly all television shows ever made.

Actually, Hill Street Blues does not compare well to Barney Miller. The first few shows reminded me just how buffoonish many of the characters are, more like an hour long sitcom with dead bodies than a drama with occasional humorous moments.

I don't want to blame the cast, though of the original line-up, most faded away and became TV actors that would show up for a single episode on later series. Some got lucky and got work on later Steven Bochco shows. Bochco may be a hack, but he is loyal. The great career success story from the original cast is Betty Thomas, who became a very successful director of hack films like The Brady Bunch Movie, I Spy and last year's Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Later cast additions would go on to more successful careers on TV, like Dennis Franz, Jeffrey Tambor and Peter Jurasik.

No, the problem is the writing. Characters, whether we are supposed to root for them or against them, are ridiculous cardboard cut-outs. We are supposed to like Sgt. Esterhaus, man who at the beginning of the series has left a 23 year marriage and is dating a girl who hasn't graduated high school yet. We are supposed to think the psychotically violent Mick Belker is a "good cop". The SWAT team leader is written as a pompous buffoon, but the negotiator Henry Goldblume is also just as badly delineated. The less said about the Barbara Bosson and her character as Furillo's ex-wife Fay the better. There is way too much "meet cute" stuff, where characters who don't hit it off later turn out to fall in love or become fast friends. And to top all this off, we get Trinidad Silva as the Hispanic gang leader channeling Harvey Lembeck as Erich Von Zipper.

It's definitely disappointing when a show you enjoyed when you were younger does not hold up well on later viewings. I suppose it's part of the experience of growing up, an experience regular readers of this blog will know I have worked very hard to avoid.


CDP said...

I don't think I ever watched "Hill Street Blues" but I found the same disappointment with "LA Law". I liked it when I was young, but having seen a few reruns, I thought it was just barely OK.

Having rediscovered the library during my unemployment, I've learned to read things that I wouldn't necessarily choose, because you have to take what's there. We can take quite a few books out at a time, so I just get a bunch and finish the ones that I like.

namastenancy said...

Libraries are wonderful places. I have been able to explore mine more now that I'm retired. The Civic Center library is sometimes a bit more edgy than I like so I request books on line and pick them up. It's a great system, keeps my budget in line and allows me to read things that I probably wouldn't if I had to pay for them.
Sorry to hear that Hill Street Blues hasn't held up. I loved that show for the first five or so seasons and then, for some reason, wandered away. But so few TV shows do hold up - sic transit gloria mundi.

Matty Boy said...

I think it's actually more fun to go to and look at the cast list of Hill Street Blues than it is to watch the show. Roughly a jillion actors showed up in this cast for a epsiode or two, and the number of successful writers who sold scripts to HSB is also remarkable.

dguzman said...

I never liked HSB.