Sunday, March 24, 2019
Want to Critique TV? Here’s Your Chance
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Mimi Avins, shown here with her husband Bill White, says the golden age of television that has loomed large in entertainment for a number of years has morphed into the era of “too much good TV.”
 
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

It’s no secret that Sun Valley boasts as many book clubs as hiking trails, ranging from one geared towards military books to one geared toward spiritual books.

Mimi Avins leads a discussion group with a twist. Her “club” thumbs through the chapters of TV series, analyzing the latest in popular culture the tele is bringing into our homes.

She’s led four TV Discussion Groups already. And she will start another on Thursday at Ketchum’s Community Library.

The TV Discussion Group, open to anyone, will meet from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Thursdays, beginning Jan. 3 and continuing through Jan. 31 in the library’s conference room. 

This particular group will focus on “Ozark,” an Emmy Award-winning satirical crime drama starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. The series follows a couple who are forced to make a hasty retreat from their home in Chicago to Missouri’s Ozarks.

But they quickly learn that the Ozarks are not a bucolic paradise where frazzled city slickers can breathe easy in the company of down-to-earth locals.

“We talk about the moral dilemma, how the protagonists in some of these shows could be considered a villain and how we feel rooting for someone like that,” said Avins. “We ask, ‘What are the commercial considerations?’ and ‘What are the artistic considerations?’ We learn how to evaluate quality and we talk about why quality takes a back seat when it does. We also call out clichés and predictability, while looking at the structure and storytelling devices.”

Avins made a living writing about popular culture before moving to Ketchum.

A graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she worked for several years as a freelance writer for such magazines as “Rolling Stone,” “Vogue” and “Allure.”

Eventually, she moved to Los Angeles to cover fashion shows in London, Milan and Paris and write  stories on $20 million spec houses for the Los Angeles Times.

And, because Los Angeles is a company town when it comes to Hollywood, she interviewed  film producers and editors, critiqued movies and books and wrote thoughtful pieces, such as one comparing the emerging TV dramadies to the literature of such authors as John Irving and Larry McMurtry.

“I had the best job in the world,” she recounted. “I’m a research nerd and they would give me three weeks to research one article and then another week to 10 days to write 3,000 to 4,000 words. I liked to start with a premise, hoping that it would be disproven.”

When she noticed that more and more people went through three or four spouses, for instance, she set about to find out how many spouses is too many.

The answer, she said, was that three is the new two.

“I started with the premise that these people didn’t respect the institution of marriage. It turned out the opposite was the case. They were romantics who were always looking for the perfect love,” she said.

When it came time to retire, Avins and her husband Bill White, a marketing consultant, piled their Alaskan Malamute Oreo and a Golden retriever puppy named Coach after Coach Taylor of “Friday Night Lights” into the car.

And they arrived in Sun Valley in January 2008 when there was 17 feet of snow on the ground.

“We wanted a mountain ski resort to do all the kinds of things we never could while working,” said Avins, who learned to ski at Sun Valley during the 1970s. “In many ski resorts everything is geared towards the tourist. That’s not the case with Sun Valley. It’s a special community with an intellectual life and philanthropy. My husband, who lived in Aspen twice, says it’s like Aspen was in the 1960s.”

Avins started the TV Discussion Group after conversing with numerous people who said they never watched TV, with the exception of news reports

“They said there was nothing worth watching, except maybe PBS,” she said.

Avins believes nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, she says, we are living in a golden age of TV, in part because of technology that allows us to select the program we want to watch when we want to watch it.

“I never turn on TV just to see what’s on. I watch what I want. And there is so much good on. I want to be in on the cultural conversation.”

Past discussion groups have focused on “The Americans,” about two KGB spies posing as Americans in Washington, D.C., and “Friday Night Lights,” which revolves around a coach who must build a winning football team in football-crazed Texas.

They also discussed “Fargo,” a black comedy crime drama revolving around a self-made real estate mogul and his envious brother, and “Mad Men,” about an alpha male who struggles to stay on top of the high-pressure world of New York’s Madison Avenue advertising firms.

“You may think these shows are about a certain subject when they’re really about something else,” said Avins. “ ‘Friday Night Lights’ appears to be about football, but it’s really about family, community and coming of age. And it avoids clichés. The girl who would’ve been the town tramp had ambition and drive. And I love Coach Eric Taylor—he’s a good hard-working guy with a great sense of fair play.”

Similarly, Avins noted, “Breaking Bad” appears to be about a man who turns to crime.

“But it’s really about the rage of American white males. Isn’t it interesting we knew about that culturally before it came to prominence politically!?”

Long-term series like the ones the discussion group analyzes are a new animal, Avins said. They’ve evolved from formulaic predictable shows into series that resemble novels.

“Each episode moves the character along a journey,” she said. “And you never know where it’s going to end up.”

 

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