Chaotic television


I was watching one of the twelve thousand episodes of “Law & Order” the other day.  It was very restful.  I knew exactly what time it was – twenty-four minutes after the hour – when Lenny Briscoe and his partner (I forget which one) came charging into the conference room to arrest the arrogant lawyer / perp.  It’s always twenty-four minutes after the hour when that happens.  How about the motion to suppress? Around thirty-nine minutes after the hour.   Anguished meeting between the cops and the DA, concerning the tainted evidence?  Maybe forty-four minutes after the hour.



We human beings do like our routine.



But sometimes we like a little chaotic activity too.



Twin Peaks,” created by David Lynch back in the early 1990s, was sublimely chaotic.  We had no idea what was going on, and it was wonderful.  Was it supernatural?  A crime ring?  Someone’s dream? A Gothic melodrama?  A mixture of all four?  (Unfortunately, by the second season, it was quite apparent that the writers themselves had no idea what was going on.  It became tedious.)



Around that same time David Lynch also created “On The Air,” about a TV network in 1957 airing a live variety show.  Things go impossibly chaotically wrong, but (perversely) the show is a huge hit.  (“On The Air” lasted three episodes in the USA.  I bought a Japanese video with all seven filmed episodes on it, and I die laughing whenever I watch it.)



There is also an Irish TV program called “Father Ted.”  It began as a sharply satirical show about three good-for-nothing Catholic priests – a handsome middle-aged layabout con man, a young simpleton, and an elderly terror – who are banished to Craggy Island, off the west coast of Ireland, where they can do little harm.  Over the three years of the series, the show evolved into complete lunacy.  Bishops get kicked in the arse.  Mrs. Doyle’s mole keeps moving from one side of her face to the other.  Brilliantly chaotic!



And, just a few years ago, a youngster named Thu Tran created a bizarre little show called “Food Party” on IFC.  It was puppets and dark humor and food all tossed together.  You may be able to find it still; she made two seasons of it, and it was one of the funniest / richest things on TV, and it was completely chaotic.



Chaos is refreshing: it’s a jolt of electricity straight to the cerebral cortex.  It shocks you into thinking.  To quote Donald Barthelme: chaos is nourishing.




It’s also exhausting.  I can only take a little at a time. 




Which is why formula TV shows like “Law and Order” have their place in the lineup too.



Now excuse me, Gertrude.  I have to put some soup into my envelope.



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

3 Responses to Chaotic television

  1. kleeyaro says:

    I have to say that Food Party was just too weird for me to watch. I tried a couple of times, but I couldn’t understand how something like that got on TV. (I work in TV production.) Good for Thu for making it on TV, but just a bit too chaotic for me.

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