FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

HBO Limited

by DAVID MACARAY

The veteran American actress Helen Hayes once observed that one of the advantages of being a celebrity is that, when you’re boring, the audience thinks it’s their fault.  Could this same criterion also apply to Home Box Office (HBO)?

Let’s be clear:  No one is suggesting that HBO doesn’t deliver the goods.  Indeed, when television is being done well, nobody does it better.  All one has to do is examine the record—The Wire, Sex in the City, John Adams, Band of Brothers, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Angels in America, et al—to see that HBO has an extraordinary history.

Not only does HBO dare to take on original and provocative subject matter—and hire top writing and acting talent to get the job done—but, as a subscription channel, it has the additional virtue of not inundating us with those infuriating commercials.  We get to enjoy these programs without interruption, which, alone, is almost worth the subscription fee.

But when television isn’t being done well, when television is overwrought or forced, or is being done weirdly or insincerely or self-indulgently (e.g., Big Love, John From Cincinnati, How to Make It in America, Carnivale, Mind of the Married Man), the case can be made that no one is more pretentious, preening, or self-referential than HBO.

Understandably, critics and producers tend to conflate HBO’s nudity, sexual explicitness and profanity with artistic achievement, as if the startling lack of censorship is, by itself, evidence of a gushing fountain of creativity.  But shows don’t require raw exhibitionism to hit their mark.  Consider:  West Wing, Seinfeld, 30 Rock, and The Office were/are outstanding network shows, even with the censor’s boot on their necks.

Yet, you hear comedians open their HBO comedy specials by enthusiastically stoking the audience with, “This is HBO, right??  That means we can say Fuck, right?!”  And, of course, they’re greeted by delirious cheers from the crowd, as if the word “fuck” was, even at this late date, just about the coolest thing anyone had ever heard.

A particularly annoying feature of HBO is the number of promos it runs.  Granted, all networks, regular and cable, run promos for their upcoming shows, but HBO ramps it up several notches.  Because they have no paid commercials, they can put on anything they want without having to worry about finding sponsors willing to pay for the spot.  The air time belongs to them.

As a consequence, we’re barraged not only by promo after promo, but by these self-aggrandizing “The Making Of….” presentations, where we’re shown a behind-the-scenes look at how HBO programs get made.  It’s like going on a date with a woman and having her show you a video of the steps she took to get ready.  No commercial sponsor would dream of paying for such inbred tripe.

HBO recently subjected viewers to an endless string of promos (as well as a “Making Of….” supplement) for its newest series, Boardwalk Empire, a splashy, prohibition-era drama set in Atlantic City.  There were so many promos for this thing, by the time the show finally debuted (Sunday, September 19), we felt that we’d already seen it.

And, of course, the critical response was predictably over the top.  After only one episode the cultural pundits were already referring to the series as a “landmark” in television history, as “one of the best shows ever made,” etc.  Really?  They could extrapolate all this from one show?  Remarkable.

The premiere was decent, but hardly ground-breaking; the same can be said for the second episode.  In truth, this modest, period-piece gangster story is suspiciously similar to other period-piece gangster stories.  That’s not a criticism, merely an observation about the genre.  Despite the attractive sets and Steve Buscemi’s acting, what we’ve seen so far seems fairly generic.

But who’s to say?  Given time, Boardwalk Empire may evolve into another outstanding HBO series.  But we shouldn’t be jumping the gun.  People are already comparing this thing to the Sopranos, which is absurd.  Shouldn’t we pace ourselves, catch a few shows—maybe the first full season?—before christening it a “television classic”?

Again, no one’s claiming that HBO doesn’t offer excellent television fare.  But even Babe Ruth didn’t hit a homerun every time at bat.  And neither does HBO.  John From Cincinnati and Carnivale proved that.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail