Ivan's Blog

Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks

Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Television--- Is there a better network on television than HBO? The answer, of course, is no, and a lot of it can be attributed to HBO's content-focused business model. Traditional cable channels or TV networks only make money on advertising and make no money off of the TV shows themselves. Therefore, it doesn't really matter what's on the screen between the commercials as long as a lot of people are watching it and thus a lot of companies are paying big bucks for commercial space (hence the continued existence of shows like Fear Factor).

HBO has no advertising; it only makes money on monthly membership fees (less than $10 per month, per household). Not only does HBO not have to worry about censoring itself, but it always places an emphasis on quality first, above all else. It doesn't have to worry about pleasing advertisers, and while it cares about ratings, ratings aren't the end-all and be-all in HBO's decision-making process. I have a huge amount of respect for any TV network, or any company for that matter, whose entire business model is based on providing people with so much quality product that they feel compelled to pay for it and tell all of their friends about it.

So, without further ado, here are HBO's best of the best, complete with season order information and premiere dates.

-Curb Your Enthusiasm- a new season of 10 episodes started airing on September 15
More Seinfeldian than Seinfeld itself, Curb Your Enthusiasm is my pick for the funniest show on TV along with Comedy Central's Primetime Glick. Seinfeld co-creator Larry David has focused on the best things about Seinfeld and done away with the worst. Many of the scenes in Curb's first two seasons were so delightfully socially awkward that I didn't know whether to break out in laughter or squeal like a pig out of nervousness (or both). The only thing that could stop this series from having many more successful seasons would be Larry David himself not wanting to do the show anymore after a certain point.

-The Mind of the Married Man- a new season of 10 episodes started airing on September 15
The first season of "The Mind of the Married Man" was enough of a success to be worth it for HBO to order a second season, but not enough of a success to be deemed a "hit" by any stretch of the imagination. I can certainly see why if I look at the ratings alone, but I think the show itself is under-rated. Granted, there's no way it can ever be as funny as its lead-in, Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it still had its moments in the first season, and the second season has been hilarious thus far. I believe that the biggest thing holding this comedy back is the lack of emphasis on actual comedy. Too many episodes place too much of an emphasis on drama and story rather than simply trying to make people laugh for 30 minutes.

-The Sopranos- a new season of 13 episodes started airing on September 15
It's not the best TV drama ever, and the third season was arguably not as good as the first two, but the fact remains that each hour-long episode of The Sopranos is still more entertaining and thought-provoking than many full-length Hollywood movies. This show's biggest competition from a quality standpoint comes from its own network's other critically-acclaimed dramas, Six Feet Under and Oz. Personally, I love all three shows while still maintaining that Fox's "24" is the best show on TV. There will definitely be a 5th season of The Sopranos after this 4th season finishes up, but no additional seasons beyond that have been signed. Will the 5th season be the last one ever? Honestly, the creators have been talking about "the last season of The Sopranos" for years, so I'll believe it when I see it.

-Oz- a new season of 8 episodes will start airing in January 2003
HBO's first ever original drama series doesn't get the respect that it deserves anymore. Watching a few minutes of an Oz episode could make one think that it's just a bunch of prison inmates killing each other, but there is so much more to Oz than that. It's actually one of the deepest shows on television, with more plot twists and political machinations between characters than you can shake a stick at. One thing that has been working against Oz is that the fact that the past few seasons have only been eight episodes long, and there's far less continuity with an eight-episode season than with a 13-episodes-or-more-season. Unfortunately, series creator Tom Fontana and HBO announced a few months back that this coming season of Oz will be the last one ever. So enjoy it while you can-- Oz is still the best show on HBO in my book.

-Six Feet Under- a new season of 13 episodes will start airing in March 2003
To be perfectly honest, my first reaction when I heard about Six Feet Under was, "Huh? It's a show that's about death? Death is depressing, so why would I want to watch that?" Fortunately for me, I decided to watch one episode and give the series a shot, and my television-viewing experience has never been the same ever since. Six Feet Under has more depth and symbolism than ten network and cable dramas put together. In much the same way that The Sopranos is sort of about the Mafia and killing people but is really more about one really screwed-up family, Six Feet Under is sort of about death and dying but is really more about one really, really screwed up family. The acting of the four main family members is out of this world, as are the performances by many of the supporting cast members. There's a reason that Six Feet Under got 23 Emmy nominations-- because it's a breath of fresh air in a TV world that often discourages and punishes anything "different." There's also a reason that Six Feet Under got robbed and lost most of those awards to the pretentious, fluffy West Wing-- because Six Feet Under still flies in the face of the television esablishment and isn't exactly a "warm and fuzzy" choice for Emmy voters.

-Project Greenlight- a new season of 12 episodes is tentatively scheduled to start airing in mid-2003
There wasn't a more surprising hit on HBO last year than Project Greenlight, a documentary about first-time film-maker Pete Jones writing and directing a movie called Stolen Summer. I don't even like watching movies that much, but I loved Project Greenlight. It was fascinating for me to see how the so-called "executive producers" Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were such absentee producers and so very assholian when they did appear. Producer Chris Moore of American Pie fame also came off as the meddling type of manager who ruins more creative processes than he jump-starts. Meanwhile, first-time director Pete Jones showed that he's an all-around good person while still not being perfect, and he displayed remarkable people skills for someone who has never directed before. The best part about the whole series as a viewer was watching Pat the Producer try to weasel his way into other people's jobs, kiss his bosses' asses at every opportunity, undermine the first-time director, and get his political enemies demoted or fired. If the second season of Project Greenlight with a new first-time director creating a new movie is anything like the first, I'm going to be on the edge of my seat the whole time.