4/10/2022 06:42

TV Genres

Apparently there are some people, maybe even a lot of people, who like TV westerns precisely because they are TV westerns. The genre has certain rules for portraying an imaginary "western" world. These assumptions cover customs, mores, values, economy, forms of speech, clothing, architecture, and a host of other aspects of life. There is some loose connection to the realities of prairie settlement in the middle to late 1800s, but not most of these western axioms derive from the needs of mass-produced, low cost short stories as filtered through the subsequent radio westerns. It shapes a particular kind of fantasy world within which some people are comfortable.

Of course even a widely popular fantasy can be over done. The market for radio and TV westerns and their cinematic offspring became saturated and temporarily unprofitable. But many people continue to watch the old TV and movie westerns.

That includes myself. I borrow "Gunsmoke" and "Maverick" from the local library with the intention of eventually watching every episode. One might fairly conclude that I enjoy TV westerns. I am not confident in that assessment of my own taste. I note that there are many westerns that I don't borrow from the library and that I surf past several old western series being rebroadcast on some of the nostaligia networks. A closer examination of the question shows that I like some TV westerns but not all of them.

In actual reality I find many TV westerns to be too absurdly plotted, too thinly characterized, too deeply prejudiced, or too cheaply produced to warrant my attention. I do not think that I like TV westerns because they are westerns; I want to believe that I like some TV westerns because they are skillfully made.

Currently I am watching a season of a TV show which is most assuredly not a western. I rate it fairly highly. If you were guessing my taste in TV shows by genre you would conclude I enjoy absurdist police drama comedies. Is that a genre? Or a conflation of genres?

What I enjoy, I think, is the natural development of the series-long narrative arc and the plausible revelation of character within an absurd context where both the absurd premise and the presumptions of the police drama genre are used to create contrast with reality. This contrast draws observations about life in the same way that caricature does. This means what happens inside the viewer's mind is deeper and richer than what is literally on the screen

Do I like police dramas? Do I like comedies? Westerns or science fiction? These genres are legitimately descriptive of some aspects of the shows. If you say some show is a western I can guess how some of the scenes will appear with a high level of probability. If you tell me it is a police drama I can make good guesses about the settings and the plot. When I tell you I am currently watching an absurdist police drama comedy, though, maybe that isn't a well established genre with a high degree of predictability.

For my next borrowing from the library I will not pick a show because it is a western or a police drama and certainly not because it is considered a comedy. I'll probably either pick a show I am already familiar with or else I'll go with a hunch. But when I get home, I expect to judge my choice based on whether the characters are believable, the plot is internally consistent, the cinematography is skillful, the casting, sets, and costumes support the show's overall vision.

And sometimes if the series doesn't meet those criteria I will watch it anyway.

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