Most grown-up TV babies are unduly devoted to some crappy show or other, but it’s a preoccupation that’s usually indulged in private: It doesn’t take long to figure out that people find the pop-cultural obsessions of others as indecipherably banal as detailed accounts of their dreams. A cursory reading of Douglas Bauer’s Prime Times—23 essays in which writers illuminate and justify their cathode-ray passions—bears this out. Entries like Richard Bausch’s “Rob and Laura and the Little Garage” and Jill McCorkle’s “The Andy Griffith Show” traffic in the sort of soft-pated nostalgia that fuels TV Land, while James Alan McPherson’s explication of the original Star Trek is condescending and embarrassingly un-fact-checked.
But at the heart of the book, in pieces like David Shields’s fiercely confessional assessment of Howard Cosell and Monday Night Football and Douglas Rushkoff’s brilliantly reasoned defense of MST3K, is a subtle argument that television matters (per Rushkoff) as “social nourishment.” The contributors are cagey as to whether it amounts to anything else: Elizabeth McCracken promises that “there will be no comparison of America’s Funniest Home Videos to poetry, fiction, [or] any of the plastic arts,” while Nick Hornby spends eight pages working up to his suggestion that The West Wing accomplishes what “the best art” does. To paraphrase Cosell, witness the guarded adulation.