I have this feeling lately that TV is getting worse (it isn’t) and that writers on many show are relying more and more on terrible cliches and crap groupthink (they aren’t).
I’m wrong. The sky is always falling except that it isn’t. So why is so much of the popular genre TV suddenly dissatisfying? Easy, so much of it is exactly the same as it ever was. It’s the viewer (me, in this case, but I’m sure this happens to tons of folks every day) who has finally reached a point where they are no longer willing to ignore lazy writing. And stereotypes. And common sense/logic/beliefs that just won’t die. And flat characters. One could go on and on.
I think what has happened, for me at least, is two fold. First, I’ve reached a point that I think many, many others beat me to long ago. I hit a threshold, where I’ve seen and read enough that cliches and tropes and bad writing are utterly transparent. Once seen, the threshold will not be unseen.
Second, I’ve found elements of genre and storytelling that, for me at least, work really well. I know what I want or need out of sffh and television in general and I’m unwilling to settle for the crap anymore.
What this has to lead to is tightened strictures around what I spend my time on. Just as I learned years ago when to call it quits on a book and when to give up on a movie, I may finally have found my way to a working list of reasons to drop a show, even when it promises to get better.
This is by no means exhaustive and the list is sure to grow, but for now, here are sure fire reasons to pull the trigger and drop that tired old crap.
- Anachronism in period pieces - Period pieces (and to an equal extend history in general) are to be viewed as cultural pieces wherein the present examines the past. As such, they are necessarily tied to their moment of creation. It’s a given. The way that we might depict Christian Bale as Moses must differ to some degree from how Heston portrayed him. That doesn’t excuse blatant cases of imposing modern thought, intellectual rigor, or worse yet technologies on the past. Attempts are often flimsy to the point of allowing the whole edifice of fiction to crumble to the ground. io9 pointed to such a case in the most recent episode of Masters of Sex and while I don’t totally agree with their reading, the arguments are valid and worth consideration.
- POCs solely in secondary roles - We try to pride ourselves on being a mixed, multinational, equitable, etc society yet the places where the real world has failed to catch up with all this back patting are painfully apparent in contemporary media. Just as it ever was, yet again, but I am sick of shows and books and films that consign POC (persons of color) to secondary or worse token roles. Not every hero need be white, male, hetero, etc. But they pretty much are. And while on the topic, pulling a stereotype, positive or negative, into a lead role is hardly better. No, strike that, it’s no better. POC characters belong, they ought to be characters and if you don’t stop pretending they exist solely in the margins, then I’m done with your story.
- Propagating bs science or cultural myths - SF is not necessarily predictive just as fantasy is not necessarily historical, yet to some extent we tend to look on both as such. Whatever, that is a topic for another time. However, it must be said because there is some expectation that sf will roughly conform to the understood world of the time of release (not so with fantasy and history…). That usually means that as works age, they cease to agree with contemporary scientific thought. That is perfectly fine. What is not fine are lazy and boring stories that rely on long disproved, if still popularly believed, bullshit. Movies like Lucy and The Day After Tomorrow hinge on completely wrong precepts and thus undermine themselves from the beginning. The human mind is still largely a memory but we use nearly 100% of it. The effects of human influenced climate change will be catastrophic but NYC will not freeze in less time than it takes to scale a skyscraper. Why do people pay to see this crap??
- Women as background characters - This goes right along with the POC and is fodder for many, many discussions (and is in fact the subject of probably 10000 tumblr posts today alone. Women are ~50% of the human population. Anything less that ~50% of proper characters is an insult to the idea of both genre and realistic fiction (discounting, of course, stories in which one sex has been destroyed or selected against. Have you seen Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women? Not for the faint of heart.)
- Police procedurals that don’t have a damn good reason to exist - this is a quick point and rests largely in the US. Most ideas are not improved by turning the story into a police procedural. MOST. Stop!
- Long arch shows that waste too many episodes - This is a pet peeve and I totally understand that some people like these kinds of shows. However, I could never get into House, despite really liking many of the central characters, because the bulk of the show was a plug and play formula that got tired really fast. I want a show about House, not one about House performing X, Y, Z.
- 30+ year old concepts (well past prime) - This is a catch all because I still have a lot of things on my plate and I feel I could give a week to this topic and keep on jabbering away. Some stories and concepts are timeless while others, like traditional fairy tales on down to Frozen perhaps, need only be investigated through a new lens to remain salient. Some other stories and concepts, however, are very much set in their time. Some stories need to be told, but their time may have passed or thus far has yet to come. How do you know the difference? Beats me. Market testing would probably work, but then the market allows all of the above to continue. Sheesh
What do you think? This isn’t really a negative. There is so much out there that finding a way to weed it down is a net positive. Even so, its a shame to see a show/story/film kill itself the slowest way possible.
What tired garbage sends you running for the remote/keyboard to clear the screen before another minute passes?