Thursday, 6 March 2014

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: A comment on the current state of television

These are some very weird times for TV. Allow me to elaborate.

The absolute very best and the absolute very worst TV shows that have ever been produced and aired are being produced and aired right now.

This duality leaves us in a bit of a pickle. We can't really say we've made strides forward and progressed to great TV when the worst of the shows keeps dragging the average down. For every Breaking Bad, there's a Toddler's and Tiaras. For every The Wire, there's a Cake Boss. In fact, I'm willing to bet there are more bad TV shows being produced than good TV shows right now.

Now here's where it gets a little odd.

In a lot of cases, the same people are watching both types of shows.

Weird, right? I know people that watch shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire and not only love them but recognize them for the truly brilliant pieces of drama that they are. But they also watch shows like Jersey Shore or The Bachelor or Duck Dynasty. These latter shows offer nothing to the collective culture of our generation. Yet there they are, being produced, broadcast, and watched not just by the lowest common denominator, but by bright intellectuals and everyone in between.

I know what you're saying. "Oh, Bitter Critic. These are just guilty pleasures. I know they're bad but I watch them anyway". It's a fair point. But at the end of the day, you're a viewer and you're providing ratings. You're helping to keep them on the air. Without viewers and ratings, these shows wouldn't exist. I'm talking about the kinds of shows that bring us all down by their very existence. The only way shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo are going to stop getting made is if people stop watching them.

Please don't misunderstand me; this isn't a plea for everyone to stop watching bad TV shows. Watch whatever makes you happy. I'm just fascinated by it. The sheer breadth of scope between the great shows and the terrible shows should make the division between those who watch the high end and those who watch the low end much more distinct. That distinction just doesn't seem to be there.

Having said that, it's obvious that we're living in the golden age of television. I don't think anyone can deny that.

For example, more and more actors are starting to realize that on TV, they can tell a much richer, more comprehensive story. A story that dwarfs any movie simply by being able to tell your story over hours and hours of television. Thus you end up getting shows like True Detective on HBO that stars two Hollywood heavyweights the likes of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

Or you get shows that start to blur the line between Hollywood movies and TV programs. A show like Game of Thrones with it's epic grandeur, massive scope and cast of thousands.

But then I'll be at a buddy's place and he's tuned to A&E and a commercial comes on for a new show called Bring It. The show, as much as I could gather, seems to be a "reality" show about little girls doing competitive cheerleading and their overbearing, living-vicariously-through-them mothers going with them all over the country. As one mom in the promo said "This isn't competition. This is WAR". After sitting through this promo, two things popped into my mind. The first was that I was never going to get that 30 seconds of my life back. The second, and more important of the two, was what in the hell happened to the "A" in A&E? Doesn't the "A" stand for Arts? Where's the art in putting together such catastrophically bad TV shows?

I'm not looking for a solution here. I'm not looking to judge anyone either. We all have our vices.

I'm kinda curious, though. What if the reason we haven't had any contact with alien life up until now is the fact that they saw an episode of Real Housewives of [insert city here] and realized that our culture would have nothing to offer them?

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