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Fall '99: "Wasteland": Poetic Justice

With a name like Wasteland and a show that features lines worthy of peanut-gallery comebacks, the low road is too easy to take. Not that I'm taking that road by pointing out that well-paid television critics in major American cities have been calling Wasteland "below the waistline," a "total waste" and other unimaginative slams. I'm just sayin', is all.

No -- I'm going to take the high road. In the spirit in which this show has been offered to the public -- wordy and overanalytical -- I'm going to take the high road, and focus instead on the parallels between Kevin Williamson's second coming-of-age opus and T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land." After all, in the age of Hollywood article-dropping (see also: "For Love of the Game"), it's easy to see how one might confuse the two.

The Poem: brainchild of critically acclaimed poet who gave the world The Hollow Men and Murder in the Cathedral; unintentional franchise counting against him: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
The Television Show: brainchild of critically acclaimed screenwriter who gave the world Dawson's Creek and Teaching Mrs. Tingle; unintentional franchise counting against him: Scream.

The Poem: filled with lines that many Shakespearean characters uttered as their last words.
The Television Show: filled with lines that are as far from Shakespeare as possible without leaving the realm of English language; viewers are left wishing characters were uttering their last words.

The Poem: five-part allegory hypothesizing that society has disintigrated into isolated individuals; its citizens' inability to communicate is a reflection of a civilization moving too far from its roots.
The Television Show: five sub-plots leading the viewer to hypothesize that society is in a lot of trouble if individual characters are any reflection of the real world; characters' inability to communicate not immediately evident due to verbose script, ubiquitous cellphone scenes.

The Poem: features remorseful romantic recollection to symbolize sterility .
The Television Show: features a frantic virgin to telegraph a message to viewers: "This show is hot-hot-hot!"

The Poem: bracketed by a fortune teller singing disturbing prophesies.
The Television Show: bracketed by a series of throwaway alterna-lame tunes and one eardrum-bleeding scene in which struggling musician Vandy (Eddie Mills) sings with a disturbing lack of talent.

The Poem: remarkably wordy, yet bereft of clear dialogue or meaning. This will not stop legions of graduate students from writing theses on it.
The Television Show: remarkably wordy, yet bereft of clear dialogue or meaning. This will not stop cute-as-a-button graduate student Dawnie (Marisa Coughlan) from writing a thesis through the show's run. Nor, unfortunately, will it stop Rebecca Gayheart from delivering her prolix passages with a southern accent so bad, it makes The Dukes of Hazzard sound like Masterpiece Theatre.

The Television Show: bungled execution provides excellent proof of Eliot's central thesis -- e.g. the world really is going to hell in a handbag.
The Poem: actually ends on kind of an up note -- "the peace which passes all understanding." Curiously enough, this was the same sensation I felt as the final credits ran across the screen.

Viva the parallels!


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