Without baring flesh, exchanging fluids or even shedding blood, Will
& Grace has become the craftiest, if not the most radical, show
in the history of network television--though not
HBO's new political program is a vivid (and disgusting) expression of our decayed democracy.
Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey
On September 17, PBS aired Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman
Documents. On the surface, this documentary is a posthumous homage
to a worthy blacklisted screenwriter.
Science fiction routinely gets away with subversive gestures that would never be allowed in any realistic program. Thus it is that people who don't watch Star Trek are probably unaware that its vision of our future is socialistic, anti-imperialist and passionately committed to expanding the list of sentient life forms who are judged to have rights and acknowledged to be persons. (If you think this question applies only to hypothetical androids and blobs and has nothing to do with you, you haven't been watching Star Trek, which makes it clear that its disfranchised beings are surrogates for people of color, colonized workers, Palestinians--yes, there was an entire plot arc devoted to Palestinians--disabled people and others.)
I'm speaking of the post-Kirk Star Treks, of course, and the "socialism" I'm referring to is limited, more a matter of providing food, housing and medicine to everyone than preventing some from getting richer than others. But it's still pretty damn good to see a popular series proposing that everyone is entitled to healthcare and abundant, no-shame-attached welfare. And in the sphere of race the show has been bold, exploring racial self-hatred, exploitation and cultural imperialism more acutely than almost any realistic series.
Star Trek's audience has always been far bigger than the hard-core fan base widely mocked for wearing Vulcan ears, or more precisely, for the intensity of their commitment to a shared communal fantasy. In its thirty-five-year history--with five television series to date, nine movies and hundreds of novels and comic books as well as unauthorized, but wildly popular, fiction by fans--it has shaped how most Americans see space travel, our eventual contact with other civilizations, even the future itself. NASA astronauts have asked for tours of Star Trek ships because to them, as to most of us, Star Trek is spaceflight.
The first series, which began in 1967, was an odd amalgam of manly Buck Rogers adventure, cold war pro-Americanism and utopian social drama influenced by the civil rights movement. When Star Trek was revived for TV in 1987 with The Next Generation, the show's tagline was tellingly updated from "where no man has gone before" to "where no one has gone before." And the changes went far beyond gender. Trek's depictions of racism and caste exploitation got acute, with a series of amazing shows about workers treated as things, and it explored torture and official violence daringly, bitingly criticizing them even as it showed our own implication in them. (TNG also utilized the skills of a heart-stoppingly talented Shakespearean actor, Patrick Stewart.) The next two series, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, steered Star Trek onward into the 1990s. (Voyager in particular took Trek forward, having three aggressive women as the show's main characters, and also making them the sharpest scientific minds on the ship.)
So, watching the first season of the latest Trek vehicle, Enterprise, I've felt...nausea and horror. It takes Star Trek so far backward that it's like Buffy becoming a sex slave chained to a bed for the rest of her television career. Set in Trek's "past," 100 years before Kirk's time and just 150 years after our own, Enterprise depicts the first humans to have contact with alien races. Emphasis on races: the interplanetary politics seem to have been framed by Pat Buchanan. Though there are two token humans of color on the ship, humans are heavily coded as white and male.
All the previous Star Trek series, over three decades, have been about becoming progressively more catholic, more aware of the astonishing diversity of the galaxy, the provincial limitedness of one's own assumptions and one's own potential to harm people who are different. The newest offering is a frank vehicle for white male suprematism and resentment.
Let's start with white. The titles, set to a hymn that combines the first Christian references ever heard on Star Trek with some boasts about resisting alien domination, show drawings of the ships of fifteenth-century European colonial powers and European maps and globes from the same period. On one is scripted "HMS Enterprise." This jibes neatly with the plot, the first ever on Star Trek in which racism is applauded. The normal, virile, white spacemen of Earth are being held back by the ridiculous sensitivities of the Vulcans, pushy, geeky aliens who want them to respect the cultural differences of all the alien races.
The Vulcans have withheld scientific information from "us" because they are envious, effete dominators who can't stand our vitality, our creativity, our closeness to life. Want me to spell it out? What they really hate is our balls. In this way, they are straight out of Nazi propaganda about Jews, so that I almost expected to see little comics of Vulcans poisoning the wells of Aryans and strangling Nordic farmers with their moneybags. Mr. Spock, the Vulcan in the original series, has been widely read as either a Jew or an Asian, but he was also the sexiest and most popular character on the show. If he represented a nonwhite race, he was one that the viewers desperately wanted to be. No such luck here. T'Pol, the Vulcan science officer that the humans are forced to serve with as a condition of getting Vulcan astronomical charts, is a caricature of a bitter woman of color, obsessed with human (i.e., white) evils, bleating endlessly about self-determination for Klingons and other people whose names sound dumb to humans. She's the unworthy affirmative-action hire foisted on "us" by cowards and spineless administrators.
The moral center of this roiling race opera is Capt. Jonathan Archer, who hates Vulcans because they prevented his astronaut father from perfecting the first big human ship with warp drive. "I've been listening to you Vulcans telling us what not to do my entire life," he shouts at T'Pol. "I watched my father work his ass off while your scientists held back just enough information to keep him from succeeding." There's a heavily Freudian element in all this: His father's failed big ship is referred to in most episodes, and we get frequent flashbacks of little-boy Jonathan playing with a remote-controlled toy rocket with his father, literally trying to get it up. In the show's iconography, T'Pol represents a castrating woman as well as a scheming racial inferior, and when he talks to her, Archer often sounds like the hero of a 1950s movie beating back the heart-freezing bitch who's trying to crush his vitals: "You don't know how much I'm restraining myself from knocking you on your ass."
Did I mention that he uses the word "ass" a lot? It's sort of like the way George Bush Senior boasted that he had "kicked a little ass" in the debate with Geraldine Ferraro. This is the first Star Trek really interested in punishing women. And the first Trek that makes women really punishable: A typical scene has T'Pol talking up how stupid and crude the crew are, telling them that they'll never be able to accomplish their mission, while trying to eat a breadstick by cutting it with a knife and fork. T'Pol is a sort of Kryptonite, wielding a wilting female discipline against their freewheeling male joy: She can't enjoy food, can't enjoy sex, can't enjoy violence. And this Trek, as though someone had joined together Gene Roddenberry and the WWF, wants to cheer on men for sticking it to her on every planet the crew visits. It apparently works: The show has achieved astronomical ratings with male viewers.
The treatment of T'Pol isn't the worst part. If women aren't harridans like her, they're sexy, exotic alien wenches, completely inhuman, who only, only, only aim to please. I thought I was in some different science-fiction universe altogether when, in the Enterprise pilot episode, two male crew members spent lots of time watching scantily clad alien dancing girls with three-foot long tongues flicking at insects and each other. "Which one would you prefer?" the manager asked the men. In my recollection, this is the first Trek on which Starfleet officers have ever considered buying women. The women were like insects themselves, fuckable insects, and in the time we spent mentally fondling their soulless, bouncy bodies I felt, for the first time, that Star Trek didn't consider me a person.
Oh, I forgot, there's one other possible role for women on the show. Hoshi, the one human woman on the ship, is an Asian who's supposed to be great with languages, but she spends most of her time as a sort of secretary who relays messages from other ships. And, surprise, she's as sweet and smiling as Uhura, the black woman in the original series, who was also supposed to be a highly trained officer but only ever got to get Starfleet on the phone. Now, this is allegedly set 150 years in the future, but somehow Hoshi hasn't been trained in self-defense, even though Starfleet is partly a military operation. In one episode enemies are chasing the crew, and the captain has to call two officers to "get Hoshi" inside. It's clear that she could never save herself.
Vulcans know how to do a very cool self-defense maneuver that involves making people unconscious by pinching their necks from behind, but T'Pol somehow never gets to do it. (She never gets to do the very cool Vulcan mind-meld, either.) And Vulcans have, in every incarnation of Star Trek until now, been supersmart. They aren't anymore. Every Vulcan on the show has been dumb as a rock.
Why the gods of Star Trek have seen fit to radically change the show's politics is a question I'd love to be able to answer. Enterprise was birthed before September 11, but it seems tailor-made for this time of alien-hating and macho heroism. The show actually has its mouthpiece characters say outright that Americans are better than other people, which even the first Star Trek had the taste to avoid. (At this rate, Star Trek won't admit the existence of gays and lesbians until 2150.)
I can only think that this Star Trek was set in the past--uh, I mean 150 years into the future--so as to give it a convenient excuse for turning back the galactic clock on race and gender. But given the place Trek holds in so many people's imaginations, the shift of the Trek world to the right makes it feel as though the future has suddenly been foreshortened.
"I remind myself that much of television is now comic strip," Ralph Ellison told TV Guide in 1988. It is not surprising that the author of Invisible Man would be uncomfortable with the cool medium. After all, Ellison's only completed novel repeatedly attacks the vulgarity of literal representation to the point where even the novel's hero is famously nameless. Ellison directs us away from appearances and keeps his hero running, from white cops, black nationalists, hypocritical Communists and corrupt academics, only to find himself nestled in the Dostoyevskian underground of the written word. Regardless of much of its politics, the literary Modernism of Mann, Eliot, Joyce, Faulkner and others provided Ellison with an unlikely harbor from racism; representing that literary process on television is a little like disobeying Kafka's instructions and drawing the insect of The Metamorphosis.
Yet in that same TV Guide interview, Ellison acknowledged that television "while very fleeting, has its permanent side, too, which allows you to go back." Poised somewhere between comic strip, permanence and VH1's Behind the Music, writer-producer-director Avon Kirkland has served up Ellison for middlebrow America in Ralph Ellison: An American Journey. At its worst, Kirkland's documentary stages melodramatic depictions of Ellison's triumphant novel, reducing its hallucinatory nuance to earnest television. At its best, the documentary stages melodramatic depictions of Ellison's disappointing life, and it is this haunting story that makes for a compelling made-for-TV biopic.
Since there is still no published biography of Ellison (there are two in the works, by Lawrence Jackson and Arnold Rampersad), Kirkland has the advantage of telling a story that has never been told in public before, at least not in any sustained, ostensibly objective way. Ellison may have told the story of hopping a freight train to enroll in Tuskegee as a scholarship student in an essay; but until you've seen his bandaged student ID and heard the narration of the story with a montage of trains, hobos and predators to the strains of Howlin' Wolf, it's not quite real in the way that TV makes events seem real. And unless you've dug through his archives at the Library of Congress, happened to be watching when, say, he was being interrogated by Bryant Gumbel on the Today show or had the opportunity to actually speak with him in person, Ellison's TV persona--with his halting, Oklahoman elegance and stammering, reticent speech--may seem at first a great contrast to the defiant iconoclast you would find in his writing. Instead, whether you see him recount how he modestly resisted Richard Wright's suggestion that he try his hand at fiction writing, humbly insist why he thought T.S. Eliot and Louis Armstrong were similar in their approaches, or listen to his own readings of his unfinished second novel--looking simultaneously bewildered and amused by the cadences of his own voice and the eccentricity of his own prose--he is the image of a man haunted. One photograph shows him hunched over the typewriter, with whiskey decanter ominously prominent, as the narrator gives us Ellison's account of his lack of productivity in the 1960s. Referring to the mounting attacks on his integrationist vision from the kind of black nationalist voices he had already dreamed up in the figure of Invisible Man's Ras the Destroyer, Ellison said simply, "It's hard to write with a clenched fist."
Audiences have thrilled to rise-and-fall stories from Oedipus to VH1's Behind the Music. But unlike the self-destruction of kitschy pop stars, Ellison's supernova is a genuine tragedy; the stakes presented are nothing less than high art and racial understanding, and it is these stakes that are so at odds with a medium that favors sensationalism over sensation, and sentimentality over sentiment. "Why do I write, torturing myself to put it down?" asks the narrator of Invisible Man. Ellison answers with another question: "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?"
Ellison was particular about the way he did speak for us, and he made it clear that his own prose would be the only truly acceptable medium for this representation. The Modernist who retreated from the superficial expectations imposed by racism into the perfection of his own art would probably have been troubled to see key episodes in his novel--the grandfather's deathbed speech, the Battle Royal episode, the revelation at the Liberty Paints factory--transformed from literary phantasmagoria into searing teleplay, in which Ellison's ironies are turned into pieties and his jokes are transformed into obvious slogans. This is what television usually does, of course, but the very reason Ellison the documentary subject becomes a hero is that his achievement is in the less-than-telegenic activity of spending long hours in front of the typewriter.
But even if Kirkland's documentary reduces Ellison's novel to comic strip, the medium serves him well to provide the cultural context so crucial to Ellison's reading of America. The sights and sounds of Ellison's early life--complete with baby pictures, Tuskegee footage and Jimmy Rushing clips--are expertly captured, and anyone who wants to understand Ellison's world would have to confront this context. Kirkland also succeeds by producing useful soundbites from commentators, including Robert O'Meally, Morris Dickstein, Farah Griffin, R.W.B. Lewis and especially Cornel West--who delivers his riffs like a Baptist preacher with borscht-belt timing and a Marxist liturgy. A word that many of these commentators use repeatedly is "complexity," a favorite of Ellison's. Yet sometimes complexity can be sacrificed for storytelling, especially on television.
This disparity is certainly evident when Henry Wingate tells a famous story of Ellison's confrontation with a black nationalist at Grinnell College in 1967. According to Wingate's version, when Ellison was called an Uncle Tom, he "became unglued and began to cry, repeating, 'I'm not an Uncle Tom, I'm not an Uncle Tom.'" Wingate, a federal judge, should be taken at his word, but the late Willie Morris, in his memoir New York Days, allowed Ellison to retort, "What do you know about my life? It's easy for you. You're just a straw in the wind. Get on your motorcycle and go back to Chicago and throw some Molotov cocktails. That's all you'll ever know about." Kirkland's version, corroborated by Morris's son, paints Ellison as the kind of helpless victim his own work avoided depicting. Morris's version allows Ellison to fight back--perhaps a little less congenial to a PBS tearjerker.
Of course, even a tragic TV documentary needs an optimistic denouement, and Kirkland provides it with the 1999 publication of Juneteenth. Ellison's inability to produce a follow-up to Invisible Man was the bane of his existence, and perhaps the most frustrating literary waiting game in recent memory. We see Ellison lose more than 350 pages of the manuscript in a fire, retreat from public appearances at the horror of having to answer yet another question about the book, and become an alcoholic hermit, obsessively poring over manuscripts. What the documentary doesn't mention is the quite legitimate argument leveled by many scholars, including Louis Menand in the New York Times Book Review, that Juneteenth isn't really an Ellison novel at all but a dubiously edited and spuriously marketed attempt by Random House to collect on its advance. Instead, we are shown a mellifluous reading by Toni Morrison of a passage from the book, with Robert O'Meally asserting that the passage seemed, "for that day, the greatest thing that had ever been written." We also see GQ writer-at-large Terrence Rafferty acknowledging that while Juneteenth may not have achieved its vast ambitions, it is, "like America, forever a work in progress."
It is true that textual scholarship does not usually make for good television, but there might have been another way to end the show on a triumphant note without making inflated claims for a highly disputed book. What the documentary could have shown was the rise of overtly Ellisonian institutions like the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard, where founder and chair Henry Louis Gates has done considerable work in restoring Ellison's reputation while using Ellisonian criteria as a curricular model, and Jazz at Lincoln Center, where Ellison's vision of jazz has been a guiding principle for his confidant Albert Murray and his disciples Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis.
Fifty years ago, Ellison's notions that Louis Armstrong was an icon of artistic independence; that white and black culture were interdependent; and that there was more than a unicausal explanation for the rise of black American culture were the product of an original, idiosyncratic and routinely attacked individual. In the past few years alone, Ellison's afterlife has been more prolific than the last forty years of his life: Philip Roth's The Human Stain successfully used the theme of passing that Ellison struggled with throughout the writing of his unfinished novel. Spike Lee's Bamboozled, filled with overt references to Invisible Man, was also a perverse riff on Ellison's integrationism, portraying whites and blacks as equally complicit in a common cultural phenomenon. And Ken Burns's Jazz demonstrated how Ellison's reading of Louis Armstrong as a transcendent genius who could "bend a military instrument into a beam of lyrical sound" could provide a significant basis for another PBS program. The frequencies of that station may not have been able to pick up on the full range of Ralph Ellison, but a rereading of his prophetic writings will continually remind us that, on the lower frequencies, he speaks for us more than ever.
"Bustin' Out," episode six of R.J. Cutler's breakthrough reality TV series American High, opens on 17-year-old Morgan Moss pointing a pistol at his mother's head and barking demands: "Say what a nice child I am on camera. Now." It's a chilling moment, despite the fact that the pistol in question fires only paintballs, and despite the knowledge (if one has followed the show at all sequentially) that the Moss family is a high-functioning team of caring individuals--especially when it comes to dealing with screwball Morgan.
Post-Columbine America has every right to be sensitive when the topic turns to teenagers. Sociologists inform us that the "generation gap"--the psychodemographic rift that was assigned a name in the mid-1960s--is wider than ever. Blame Sony PlayStation and Eminem and Maxim. Blame the presence of narcotics in our schoolyards. Blame, as former President Clinton did at last May's White House Conference on Teenagers, the fact that families don't sit down to dinner together anymore--at least not often enough to countervail the influence of toxic culture. Or that when they do sit down to dinner (according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation), two-thirds of families with school-age children leave the television on.
This doesn't have to be a bad thing. This summer PBS is rebroadcasting American High in its entirety, giving teens, parents of teens and our largely teenophobic population a second chance to grapple with and maybe even understand one another better, through the potent (at least in this case) medium of documentary TV.
American High is an obsessive chronicle of the lives of fourteen upperclassmen, mostly seniors--jocks and band geeks, a pierced punk rocker, a couple of delinquents by default, no cheerleaders--at suburban Chicago's Highland Park High School. Executive producer Cutler chose Highland Park for its receptivity to his vision for the project, which included not only an entire academic year of on-site filming but an addition to the school's curriculum: A video-diary class taught by producer Jonathan Mednick. The 800 hours of self-reflexive footage shot by Mednick's chosen students, plus an additional 2,000 hours (documenting everything from earnest powwows in the girls' room to out-of-control keggers to senior prom) shot by Cutler and his crew, are the raw material for American High.
It's hard to imagine the blood, sweat and tears it must have taken to cut this quantity of tape into thirteen twenty-two-minute episodes. But Cutler managed it. Superbly. The end result is a multifarious collection of coming-into-adulthood stories that rub shoulders with one another and trip gamely over one another's limbs as they unfold side by side, week after week. Each story is, in and of itself, a vivid and affecting slice of life-on-the-verge. Shuffled together, they form a discursive epic of both the inner and outer struggle of the Misunderstood American Teen.
The video diary excerpts are, as intended, a revelation, a chance for Cutler's subjects to rage against their parents and the societal machine, wax philosophical or get up close and personal. Morgan breaks it down for us: "These are your teen years...you're supposed to go wild...have unprotected sex...go pick fights, stay out all night, look at the stars." Regarding that little thing called "life," Sarah, a doe-eyed redhead, deep in the thrall of a Turgenevesque first love, says, "It's this road we're all traveling on. I have no idea where my road is going to take me." (From the mouths of relative babes, this and other, similar platitudes are strangely moving.) Robby, the chronically good-natured lacrosse player, tells the story of when his buddy Brad (another featured student) came out to him: "His eyes were absolutely, totally lost.... He was like so scared. And I'm like, y'know what Brad? That's cool. I still love you."
A testament to Mednick's instruction, the diaries also often pack a whopping cinematographic punch. In one particularly effective tableau, Kiwi, Highland Park's champion field-goal kicker, records a moment of (literally) naked truth. Slumped in half-shadow, microphone taped to his bare chest, he describes a gut-deep fear of turning 18, brought on by missing a crucial post-touchdown point. Says Cutler of Mednick, "He never discussed content with them. What he discussed with them was form, formal expression, the expressionism of where you place the camera or what light does.... It's not like he said to Kaytee [a budding singer-songwriter, unlucky in love], 'Wrap yourself in red when you're talking about being heartbroken.'" Mednick's students learned their lessons well. The pictures prove it.
In contrast to the talk-to-the-camera nature of the diaries, Cutler and his crew are both everywhere at once and nowhere to be found, as they collect the Home Depot's worth of narrative nuts-and-bolts from which the framework of the series is constructed. Cutler learned his doc-chops from D.A. Pennebaker, one of the medium's old masters, as a producer on Pennebaker's Clinton campaign saga The War Room. Like Pennebaker's films, American High is firmly rooted in the tradition of cinéma vérité, in which the capture of spontaneous action is the prime directive, interpretive narration is eschewed and the presence of the filmmakers deliberately obscured.
One of rawest, realest stories Cutler documents is that of Pablo, the self-described "poetically inclined hooligan," a sweet, deep kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Over the course of many episodes, we watch Pablo confront the blunt economic realities of his broken home (one tragic scene shows him begging his estranged father for the change from their not-so-Happy Meals). In a midseries moment, Pablo, fresh from a viewing of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, tells his mom that he's thinking about joining the Marines. It reads as a joke. Not long after, however, he appears at a recruitment office, aces the aptitude test and is told that his numbers qualify him for any job the corps has to offer. On the drive home, he comes to his senses: "I thought [the Marines] would be a great place to write poetry," he says. "If I went to war...I'd probably go AWOL." Case closed. But in the penultimate episode, after a vicious fight with Mom, he returns, grimly determined to muster up. "This is going to be my declaration of independence," he says. One breathes a sigh of relief when, after failing the drug screening, he's thrown back into the muddle of civilian life.
Later, Cutler proves that he is not entirely beholden to the principles of classic vérité. "We're working with people who are pioneers in this area," he says, "but we've all learned that rules are made to be broken." In the final episode, flouting the noninterference ethic of the genre, Kaytee (who speaks mostly disparagingly of her formidable musical talent) is spirited off to a professional recording studio. Headphones fitted snugly over her ears, a look of pure joy on her face, she lays down track after wax-worthy track as her parents watch, bewildered, behind soundproof glass. "The lovely thing is that you wouldn't normally do it," says Cutler, "and if you did do it, you wouldn't tell anybody about it. But maybe the truth is that in Kaytee's junior year of high school she met this group of people that were making a documentary series and it had this impact on her life.... It's not that they turned her into an artist. It's a much more symbiotic experience."
It's just this sort of reverent irreverence that makes watching American High such a pleasure. Cutler's love of his work, and of his teen subjects, is everywhere detectable. From the punk-pop theme song that blares, "We walk the halls of life/See the things that we wanna see/Be what we wanna be/Wherever I go I search for me," to the company credits that end each episode: "Actual Reality Pictures," splashed across the screen while a helium-altered voice squeals, "Hey man! Trust me, dude!"
On a more critical note, one could argue that Cutler's love has blinded him to some of the more unpleasant aspects of teen life. The brutal cliquishness of high school is barely addressed. And the oft-crushing tedium of classes disappears via a postproduction hat trick--the number of minutes devoted to student-teacher interactions can be counted on one hand. Hopped up on Cutler's distilled and purified Bildungsromane, older viewers might (as I was) be temporarily brainwashed into thinking that adolescence is something they'd jump at the opportunity to re-experience.
The series closer is a graduation double-episode in which art and life converge to offer up a grab bag of terrific moments. Prom queen Anna is held hostage and forced to listen to a ballad of reconciliation performed by her remote, chastity-fixated father, a gesture that backfires horribly. His treacly Stevie Wonder stylings leave her scrambling for the edge of the familial nest. Pablo, reduced to almost-tears when the graduation planners refuse to let him wear a Greco-Roman wreath in lieu of the standard-issue mortarboard, recovers quickly. "Next week is senior prank time," he announces, "and from the heart of hell I stab at thee!" Morgan, lacking Pablo's sense of timing, spends graduation eve in jail for vandalizing school property. Barred from the ceremony, his parents photograph him in cap and gown, holding his case number against his chest. And then there's Allie, battered survivor of the college application process and her parents' ugly divorce, whose last hurrah is easily the most symbolic. Having barely squeaked by grade-wise, she proudly displays her diploma for the camera. "Nobody can tell me I didn't damn graduate," she says. "I'm closing the chapter to high school, and I walk away, and then there's a new beginning." As she turns to make her exit, she runs headlong into a metal post.
American High ran into its own rude obstacle on its way into the big, bad world. The first four episodes, commissioned by Fox, ran last year during what Cutler describes as the network's "summer from hell." Airing opposite the CBS juggernaut of Survivor and Big Brother, American High--perhaps too real for the "reality TV" market, with its lack of hard-bitten contestants scrabbling after prize money and its non-escapist obsession with the high-stakes game of life itself--was quickly squashed. Much to Fox's credit, however, it paid for the remaining episodes and promised not to stand in Cutler's way if he found a new home for the show.
Enter PBS, which, according to Gerry Richman, VP of national production for Twin Cities Public Television, was thrilled to offer asylum to American High. TPT, the affiliate in charge of packaging the series, has done a bang-up job, holding town hall meetings at which Morgan and Kiwi have been special guests, and maintaining a website (www.pbs.org/americanhigh) that offers everything from cast photos (suitable for locker posting) to a detailed curriculum for Mednick's video-diary class. (The "station finder" link will take you to the website of your local public television station, where a schedule for summer reruns of American High, which started in mid-July, can be found.)
Teen viewership spiked dramatically for PBS when it premiered the series back in April, and the network hopes to build on this success by creating more smart, youth-friendly programming. An American High 2 is also in the works. Says Cutler, "We're hoping to continue into the second season with an inner-city school, and instantly the contrast will provide all kinds of answers." Answers to what Richman rightly calls the "monumental mystery" of high school. Answers that our country sorely needs.
"We are all German Jews" chanted 50,000 Frenchmen at the gates of the Bastille in 1968; I was recently reminded of this episode, which has become revolutionary lore, when Holocaust was sho