Skip to main content

As it happens, we are actually in the middle of TV Turnoff Week.

Of all the crackpot ideas promoted by our earnest neighbours to the south, TV Turnoff Week has to be the wackiest. The idea is to get people to ignore television for seven days. The principle, one supposes, is that TV is inherently a bad influence and, really, we'd all be better off without it.

What utter nonsense. Peel away the earnestness, the dreary schoolmarm notions about TV and you'll probably find that the real reason is that people get notions from watching TV. They learn things. They are moved, angered, informed and made aware. As far as certain authority types are concerned, there is too much of that going on.

I'm sure that Our Glorious Leader is a backer of TV Turnoff Week. As OGL sees it, I imagine, people know too much from watching TV. In fact, he probably sees television as the nefarious invention of a Liberal government at some point in the past. I can imagine him at the homestead the other night, shaking hands with the bairns and informing them that for seven days, it would be a no-TV diet. If they complained, they were likely informed that this TV thing was inflicted on innocent Canadians by the previous Liberal government, that in January Canadians had voted for change and that this inevitably meant less TV. He probably mentioned the Gomery inquiry, just to confuse the wee ones.

Television is art, information and entertainment. Television is our culture. Television provides knowledge and, as any fool is aware, knowledge is power. That would be why the media were banned from covering the arrival in Canada of coffins carrying our soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan.

If somebody turned off the TV this week, what would they have missed? The NHL playoffs, for a start. Also The Sopranos, on Sunday, with its scathing and black-comic take on both showbiz and the mafia. In particular, the breakdown of Artie, whose self-loathing and anger epitomized perfectly male rage at an unfair world. Also, La Sierra, a wonderful and startling documentary on some PBS stations about the lives of youths in Medellin, Colombia. And tonight, they'd miss Paydirt (Newsworld, 10 p.m.), a documentary about the discovery and development of the Athabasca oil sands. Of course, anybody who indulged in the TV Turnoff thing also missed a lot of the debate and analysis of the lowering-the-flag flap and the banning of the media from the return of the caskets carrying the bodies of our war dead.

It's not that TVs should never be turned off. It's that people are turned off when they're told what they can and can't see.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Showcase, 10 p.m.) is a new, sort-of sitcom that originates with the cable U.S. channel F/X. It's got a charming groove and is much better than the premise would suggest.

On the surface, the premise is very ordinary. The show is mainly set in an Irish bar in Philadelphia. The bar is run by three guys in their late 20s. They've been friends for years. They are Mac (Rob McElhenney, who created the show, made a minimalist pilot episode for $200 and successfully sold it to F/X), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Charlie (Charlie Day). A foursome is created and a much-needed female perspective is added by Dennis's sister Dee (Kaitlin Olson). The three guys aren't slackers; they are tryers, but hopeless. They hang around the bar, meet people (they don't really like people they don't know) and have peculiar but droll adventures.

In tonight's first episode, Dee brings a pal from her acting class to the bar. Obviously, she's trying to impress him. The barkeeps get a bit befuddled when it turns out the guy is African-American and they're not sure how to impress a black dude. The issue of racism is handled as comedy and treated as a matter of misunderstandings. Without much obvious effort, the show then moves quickly to the matter of these three straight guys being a bit freaked out by gay guys.

The show is low key, lacks a laugh track and is made with a single camera, allowing for lots of fluidity. It owes something to Seinfeld and to Friends, but only in the sense that it tries to stretch the formulae of those shows in order to create a sharper, more absurdist and politically incorrect comedy.

Anyone wondering how to create a TV series that's sharp, loopy and not expensive to produce should check it out.

Lost (CTV, 7 p.m., ABC, 9 p.m.) is a catch-up episode tonight. That is, it's a clip show, a summary of what has happened so far on the complicated and endlessly shifting show. It's the third clip show of the week. Last Sunday's Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy were both clip shows. Some viewers complain vociferously about these compilation episodes. Me, I don't see the problem. Keeping track of several series every week is a chore. If you're addicted to Lost and you feel cheated by this clip show, change the channel and watch a different series. It'll do you the world of good.

Dates and times may vary across the country. Check local listings.

jdoyle@globeandmail.com