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John Lithgow (right, with Michael C. Hall) did better work on the show Dexter than anyone did on the big screen last year, says John Doyle. (Randy Tepper/AP)
John Lithgow (right, with Michael C. Hall) did better work on the show Dexter than anyone did on the big screen last year, says John Doyle. (Randy Tepper/AP)

John Doyle: Television

TIFF or TV? Who's the champ? Add to ...

TIFF this and TIFF that. Hereabouts, if you're not TIFFing, you're nothing.

The Toronto International Film Festival has a paralyzing effect on Toronto. A 10-day frock opera and hunk-spotting festival, it causes normally sensible people to behave strangely. Ladies will spend an inordinate amount of time at the hairdresser and purchase yet another little black dress to attend some sad little afternoon soiree at a louche nightclub in an alleyway, on the basis that some C-list Hollywood type might show up and grace the tatty little red carpet with their presence. Men will threaten violence or promise money in order to obtain tickets to some gala because their manhood is at stake.

Parties, premieres, photo ops and gift bags for the stars. The excitement never stops.

The other evening at a TIFF-related party, a certain person in the employ of the movie racket accosted me. What did she want? To give me the scoop on all that tingly TIFF excitement? No. She asked, "When is Dexter coming back?"

The answer is Sunday, Sept. 26. But the question is what mattered. In the middle of the film festival, someone whose mind should be on movies is thinking about TV. I ask you: TIFF or TV? Who's the champ in terms of compelling storytelling and social relevance?

TIFF is tremendous fun. Of course it is. But it receives undue attention, because movies are far less relevant than they used to be. They just are. Last weekend, the New York Times film critic A. O. Scott weighed in on this issue. In a lengthy essay drenched in dejection, Scott asserted, early on, "There is still something special about the experience of buying a ticket and a tub of popcorn and sitting, alone or with friends, watching pictures projected through the darkness." The conclusion, however, is this: "But the traditional relationship between film and television has reversed, as American movies have become conservative and cautious, while scripted series, on both broadcast networks and cable, are often more daring, topical and willing to risk giving offense." Well said, fella.

The timing of the piece, coincidental with the opening of TIFF, the biggest film festival in North America, is fascinating., This is the time of the year when allegedly good movies are being released or getting pre-release attention. You know, the movies that matter. The ones that will be nominated for an Academy Award because they are serious, moving works of popular art. There's a vast entertainment marketing machine to ensure these movies get attention. And it is all increasingly irrelevant.

For all of television's faults, it now provides far more content that matters than movies. Last season's Dexter contained an acting tour de force that surpassed anything in any movie of the last year - John Lithgow's work as the Trinity Killer in the 13 hours of the season. And, overall, the show's brooding dramatization of sadism, self-hatred and the attraction of evil was far more chilling and profound than any movie of the last several years.

One recent episode of Mad Men, which featured Don Draper and Peggy Olson spending a long period in the office, working, arguing and bickering, had an angry conversation about work and the relationships between men and women that was unforgettable in its impact. It was better written than most movies released this year and Mad Men provides that impact week after week,

Enjoy TIFF and TIFF coverage, darlings, but turn down the volume. It's just not that important.

Airing tonight

Outlaw (NBC, 10 p.m.) is a sneak peek of a new drama series. Frankly, it's not the best advertisement for quality TV drama. We are presented with Jimmy Smits playing Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza. Cyrus has this notion that his life is better spent in private practice, doing good. His first case involves saving a client from death row. He also has wacky sidekicks and there's a character described as "a sassy private eye," played by Canadian Carly Pope. It's overwrought and for fans of melodramatic legal shows only.

Mystery of the Mega Volcano (CBC NN, 10 p.m.) first aired on PBS's Nova and is about scientists examining evidence of a massive volcanic eruption that appears to have had a devastating impact on the Earth 74,000 years ago. They also speculate on several "super volcanoes" that may reawaken, and what terrible effect that would have - they would dwarf the likes of Vesuvius, Pinatubo and Mount St. Helens. Time to be afraid.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle


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