So I'm watching "Get Real," the new Fox contribution to misunderstanding the American family. Dad seems to have forgotten just why it is that he'd like to be alone with Mom. His best pal is sneaking around with a Laker Girl. His oldest son has smuggled his latest girl into the bedroom for a quick hormonal turnaround and sleepover. It's explained in the voice-over that he's the only one in the family "who's getting any." (Could Keats have put it any better?)
Sis is thinking of finessing college altogether. And the post-pubescent youngest brother secretly lusts after a girl with whom he has about as much chance as Britney Spears or Jewel.
All the kids have cell phones.
One other thing -- Mom, whose attractions Dad has conspicuously overlooked, is played by Debrah Farentino.
The name, again, is "Get Real," which was my response exactly when I saw Jon Tenney have such difficulty remembering what he ever saw in Debrah Farentino.
Batten down the hatches. Stock up on Biore strips and Oxy 10. As everyone knows by now, the teen deluge is coming: "Jack and Jill," "Popular," "Freaks and Geeks," "Manhattan Prep," "Wasteland," "Roswell," "Malcolm in the Middle," "Shasta McNasty."
The networks' viewer shares are plummeting and they're trying to stay afloat with bad teen bonanzas.
What gives here? A couple things, I think.
1. Teens are one of the most coveted advertising demographics because, such as it is, their disposable income is almost all spent. And they are, being teens, nothing if not suggestible. Adults -- "NYPD Blue Watchers," say -- like to buy things, too. But they don't need to, just to prove they're alive. If you're a teen, mass consumerism is power, just about the only one you have (other than the power to drive your parents nuts).
2. As adults have, the smarter teens have long since jumped ship to cable, the Internet, the occasional printed artifact. That leaves the networks to go after the Other Ones.
Welcome, then, to the season of the Other Ones. American media have now -- temporarily -- been put at the service of the Other Ones, those who hunger for, say, a snazzy fantasy about teen aliens ("Roswell").
I like teens. I like some of their TV -- "Felicity," "Dawson's Creek." The thing I like best about teen-agers is that I no longer have one in the house. So my attention to the networks' crazed spasm of under-age barrel-scraping will be notably light.
"Manchester Prep"? Sure. It's the Teen TV runoff from the movie "Cruel Intentions," which had the notably hilarious notion of doing a high school version of Choderlos de Laclos' great fictional masterpiece "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." (The movie, sadly, was all notion, very little pleasure.)
Where else in this TV season, I ask you, will you find Teen TV with that kind of pedigree? Besides, this is the show, you remember, that "Entertainment Tonight" went into high dudgeon over because its cameras caught a teen-age actress in the throes of simulating carnal satisfaction on horseback. Mary Hart, the transplanted North Dakota 4-H mom, wanted to tsk-tsk the scene into oblivion. Any show that has Mary Hart tsk-tsking until her gums bleed can't be all bad. So count me in.
Otherwise, I'm invoking the privileges of maturity -- I'm going to let the kids lead the way, sort through the whole pandering mess, decide what's worthy and what isn't, and settle on the stuff they think ought to be hits while the rest drops off the screen.
This was my "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" strategy. I had no interest in the show until it was generally agreed by cultists, cult critics and its target audience that something was happening there that deserved attention.
So I watched a few times. I wish the show well. I hope Sarah Michelle Gellar has a great career, makes zillions of dollars and has a passel of healthy, happy children someday, if that's what she wants. Otherwise I'm delighted to leave Buffy to do her slaying on her own time, thank you.
Another thing I'm thrilled to leave alone is the throng of Hollywood bashers who think that the current tidal wave of teen smut is a symptom of hopeless millennial degeneracy.
Let the pols bloviate about that one and the finger-wavers whose fingers need exercising. (I'm a writer. My fingers get plenty of exercise.)
For demographic (i.e. advertising) reasons, family has been the focus of TV since the beginning. The great American irony is that the more family there has been on TV, the less there has been in society. So the result is that generation after generation has consumed TV's family "reality" with the result that "real" reality seems to some people ever more alien.
The giveaway moment on "Get Real" is this one: A character turns to the camera after Big Brother has been in a car accident and asks us, "You didn't think we were going to kill my brother off in the first episode did you?"
Of course not. Get real. We know what we're watching. Television, where it isn't the American family that's under attack, it's just TV's eternally self-cannibalizing version of it.
For a real -- as in real, actual, palpable -- look at the American family, see the bitter, brilliant upcoming movie comedy "American Beauty," a movie that touches on emotions that are actually found in the world, is wickedly funny about them and, when all is said and done, insists that we all understand our state of grace.
As for the great teen deluge, I eagerly await my next tape from all those millions of Felicitys telling me what I ought to watch.