'Reservation Dogs' goes out on a high note
Plus, the WGA strike ends, shows to stream while waiting for new content, 'Sex Education,' and more
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as a spirit uses a burner account to follow you on TikTok…
Thanks for reading What's Alan Watching?! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
The WGA wins BIG
By far the biggest news of the TV week was the end of the writers strike. On Monday night, the WGA and AMPTP announced that they had completed a deal. On Tuesday, the WGA leadership sent all the deal points to membership, and made many of them available to the public. And right as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, the WGA declared that the strike was over, and that writers could get back to work.
Now, the actors remain on strike, and I imagine WGA members will be joining them on the picket line at certain points, just as SAG members did in the late spring. But it seems like everyone’s goal, even the actors’, is for the writers to start churning out scripts, so that whenever SAG and AMPTP agree to a deal, production can resume quickly.
Looking over the deal summary, it’s incredible to see how many concessions the WGA was able to get from the AMPTP. Minimum room size. AI protections. Full health benefits and pensions for each half of writing duos. And on and on. This is what happens when organized labor is resolute about its needs, and in an industry where they cannot be replaced. WGA leadership knew that the idea of making a genuine living as a screenwriter was in serious danger from all the changes in the business over the last few years. They stuck to their guns, and they got almost everything they asked for — most of them things that AMPTP leadership all but laughed at back in May.
The one area where there wasn’t a lot of movement was one of the bigger ones, though: greater transparency on streaming ratings. There will now be success-based incentives for streaming shows, but info on numbers are going to be shared within fairly narrow parameters. If the AMPTP was willing to budge on everything else but not this, it suggests that this is the thing they cared about most, even more than the chance to eventually replace human writers with AI. Is it that they’re afraid that people — investors in particular — will find out just how small the audience is for many of these shows, and what a lousy business model streaming has turned out to be? I don’t know, but as more and more streamers introduce ad-supported subscription tiers, it feels like those numbers will have to start coming out, anyway.
Regardless, this is great news. And hopefully SAG can cut its own reasonable deal in short order.
Islands in the streaming
Again, the writers being back at work doesn’t mean that a ton of new episodes will be available overnight. We are still in relatively lean times, at least through the end of the year, if not into early 2024. So while we wait, I made a list of 20 shows people might want to stream.
Because nearly all of classic television is streaming, it would be easy to suggest The Sopranos, The Wire, Parks and Rec, etc. But nobody needs me to tell them to do that. Instead, I tried to pick shows that did not have huge audiences when they initially aired, even if several of them were discussed ad nauseam by critics at the time.
There are two exceptions to that rule on the list, one of which is Moonlighting. The show was an absolute phenomenon in its early seasons on ABC in the mid-Eighties. But it’s been so inaccessible for so long, on top of being close to 40 years old, that it feels like it doesn’t even exist for millennials or Gen Z(*). So it’ll be exciting just to have it available again, and to see how it plays both for those of us old enough to remember, and those too young to have seen it, but who have seen the many, many shows that were influenced by it. (Speaking of which, I always highly endorse this Linda Holmes essay about why “the Moonlighting Curse” — aka the idea that TV shows that bring couples together too soon are irreparably damaged — is completely incorrect, at least when it comes to Moonlighting.)
(*) Other 20th century classics without streaming homes include Homicide, Northern Exposure, WKRP in Cincinnati, China Beach, and Dennis Potter’s titanic, hugely influential miniseries The Singing Detective, which is on my mind this week because its star, Michael Gambon, just died. You can get most of those on DVD, albeit out-of-print ones in some cases, and you can at least buy individual episodes and seasons digitally of Northern Exposure. But for various reasons — whether it’s music licensing costs or a question of who actually owns the rights to certain shows — they seem unlikely to wind up on a subscription service anytime soon.
Beyond Moonlighting, there’s an awful lot of TV I love on this list, and I did my best to mix things up in terms of style and genre, so that it’s not all sad bastard critical catnip. (Though you will be shocked — shocked! — to find The Leftovers on there.)
Sex Education says goodbye
I wrote about the Protagonist Problem on Sex Education in last week’s newsletter, so no need to rehash that here. Instead, now that the final season has been out for a week, I wanted to talk a bit more about the season as a whole, rather than complain about Otis some more. (For what it’s worth, the last few episodes tried to redeem him, but that’s happened at the end of previous seasons, too, before he went back to being a selfish narcissist, so I wasn’t hugely moved by his reformation here.)
Season Four made the interesting choice to act partially as a farewell to this world, and partially as just another season of Sex Education. There were a lot of new characters, and an entirely new setting in the much more progressive Cavendish school. I liked many of the newbies, even as I missed characters like Ola and Lily. But it definitely felt like the season was struggling at times to provide closure for Otis, Eric, Maeve, Ruby, and the other original characters at the same time it was establishing this new hierarchy at Cavendish. And there were also moments — particularly in the episode where everyone protested the lack of accessibility at Cavendish on behalf of Isaac — that felt more like characters were reading position papers than they were being part of a socially-conscious scripted drama. That’s a tough balance, and the inclusiveness of the ensemble has been a huge part of Sex Education’s appeal. But because the show was trying to do and say so much before it ended, some of those messages were delivered in clunkier fashion than others. As a contrast, Eric’s debate about whether to be baptized, and the epiphany it gave him about what to do with the rest of his life, was just lovely. But then, Eric has long been the show’s best and most fully-realized character, so that’s not a surprise.
For all its flaws, this was a pleasure to watch for four seasons, and I look forward to seeing what creator Laurie Nunn does next, and to seeing these appealing actors in new roles, like Ncuti Gatwa as the new Doctor on Doctor Who.
Thanks for everything, shitasses
Early on Wednesday morning, Rolling Stone published two long articles I’d written about the end of Reservation Dogs: my review of the series finale, followed by an interview with co-creator Sterlin Harjo. There was just one problem: a technical glitch at Hulu meant the finale was not publicly available yet, and would not be until mid-afternoon Eastern time.
You can look at this as an embarrassing snafu by Hulu, which has had a few of them lately with weekly Hulu exclusive series like this and Only Murders in the Building. Or you can look at it as a sign from some kind of cosmic force — be it spirits, the space people, the Great Mystery, or whatever — that we shouldn’t be ready to let go of Reservation Dogs quite so soon.
I’m not going to rehash what’s in those two articles, not only because I want you to read them — remember: clicking on stories by writers you like is good for said writers — but because I don’t know that either I or Harjo can pay tribute to the show any better than what’s in there.
Well, except for one thing. I am usually very hesitant to anoint a series as a classic either when it’s airing or right after it’s done. Recency bias is too strong. It’s important to wait some amount of time to see how a show sticks with you, how it feels in comparison to past greats, etc. But in this case, I don’t see a point in waiting. Let’s make like William Knifeman charging over that hill at the Little Big Horn and say right now that Reservation Dogs was an all-time great. This seemed likely in previous seasons, and it couldn’t be more obvious in this one. If Matt Zoller Seitz and I ever do an updated edition of TV (THE BOOK), the only question will be how high it should rank, because I can’t imagine it not being there.
Odds and/or ends
Starstruck Season Three dropped yesterday on Max. I really like this show — a romantic comedy about a flaky woman (played with huge charm by the show’s co-creator, Rose Matafeo) who gets into an on-again, off-again romance with a big movie star (played by Nikesh Patel) — but haven’t finished watching the season yet. So perhaps I’ll have more thoughts next week.
Also new of note this week is Amazon’s Gen V, a spinoff of The Boys focusing on a university that teaches aspiring superheroes. I’ve never really loved The Boys as a show for the same reason I’ve never loved the comic, as both too often revel in cynicism and gore for its own sake, though I do enjoy some of the performances by Antony Starr, Karl Urban, and others. I only watched the Gen V premiere, which is very much in the same vein as the parent show, even if none of the actors instantly popped for me. File this under, “If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this sort of thing.”
Finally, I couldn’t contrive an excuse to shamelessly plug Welcome to The O.C. — an oral history book I wrote that’s coming out at Thanksgiving, but can be pre-ordered now, which also means you get a free bonus chapter, immediately — in any of the previous sections. I racked my brain for a long time, trying to think of what I could tell you this week, and finally, Seth Cohen himself spoke to me:
So there you have it. Pre-order early, pre-order often. And thank you.
That’s it for this week! What did everybody else think?