Ricky Gervais | Ty Burrell | Sarah Silverman | Phil Rosenthal | Ben Silverman | Taylor Holland
It could simply be a case of failing memory, but it seems to me I’ve become a far more discerning and regular TV viewer in recent years. I don’t watch much, but what I do see is “cherce.” In my youth in New York, I was drearily serious and watched only PBS … though I was more or less on the ball with music, loving the Beatles and Tim Buckley and Joni Mitchell, but I am clueless as to what I watched on TV in the late ’60s and ’70s … though I was always feverishly phoning friends, urging them to immediately tune into PBS’s documentary on the pyramids or the history of the umlaut.
I do recall “Family” — mainly for the performance of the matchless Sada Thompson, and I loved that she played a real person, wily and complex, instead of the usual “sweet and warm” mother, who doesn’t exist in real life but is the product of lazy cliche writing. “The Wonder Years” came along and astonished with the first richly told show about childhood.
But nothing prepared me for the rush of verisimilitude from “Roseanne,” in my eyes a true hero who actually changed our world. Everything about her show was real as a hot greasy hamburger and as fabulous as a cold beer. “Miami Vice” stunned with visuals worthy of a movie, and lots of shows since have reached high with their own dazzling looks: “Deadwood,” “Mad Men.” By the ’80s and ’90s, things were heating up, or maybe I was just staying home more. There was “St. Elsewhere” and irony, “Letterman” and irony, “thirtysomething” and angst, “ER” and GEORGE, “Friends” for charm and “Mad About You” for a real taste of marriage. “King of the Hill” was a cartoon that felt like flesh to me, and “The Practice” and “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos”! Who could go out?
And, in recent years the DVR lets me have a life and still see an increasing crop of extraordinary shows. “The Wire,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Office,” “Nurse Jackie,” “United States of Tara” and holy smoke, the current high wire act: “Dexter”!!! Hmmmm, mostly cable.
Cable seems to be where I find what I would call my brand of reality show — something that bears some semblance to real life. I still love a good documentary on PBS … something from Ken Burns … or a great series from Tom Hanks, like “John Adams” or “Band of Brothers.”
A perfect night: “The Office,” “Two and a Half Men” (great writing), “Jewel in the Crown” (one of those impeccable British series that nowadays even the British aren’t good enough to do. About the decline of the Raj in India, it starred Dame Peggy Ashcroft, one of the greatest actresses of the century), “Dexter,” “Letterman.” (And midnight with “Tavis Smiley” and “Mad Men” on the DVR.)
Holland Taylor is a six-time Emmy nominee. She received her fourth nom for supporting comedy actress on “Two and a Half Men” this year.