I don’t have cable and haven’t had for about eight or nine years now. I have a digital antenna, but I’m too lazy to hook it up, so I don’t even get network television, which means I missed all of the Olympics. I don’t even know who won.
Anyway, I haven’t watched American television in a very long time. I’ve recently been into watching television shows, because they allow me to not watch television while watching television. The result of getting an iPad is that I have the TV on in the background while I’m doing something else. You don’t generally have to pay all that much attention to television shows.
I’ve been watching foreign shows, a lot of them BBC, like Copper (BBC America), Ripper Street, Whitechapel, Sherlock, the Aussie show, Underbelly, etc. But, I’ve watched all of the newer non-American shows I can find and most of the older ones, too. It’s either watch all of the ninety different versions of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or find something else, so that leaves American television. Sigh.
I will say that some American television isn’t half bad. I’ve even watched some American shows that made me put down the iPad, like Game Of Thrones, Sons Of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, and Hell On Wheels, but the good shows are few and far between.
This is a list of a few things I’ve noticed about American television that they really should stop doing. There are spoilers, but they’re all contained in the examples. If you are worried about spoilers, don’t read the example bit.
The “Oh, shit! We’re canceled!” cliffhanger
Canceling shows seems to happen a lot with American television. Television shows are expensive and studios are greedy. If shows aren’t making enough money right now, they get canceled, regardless of whether they’ll be a hit later or not. Television is a business like any other.
The problem is that these shows are canceled mid-season. Instead of building story arcs over the course of a season or the entire show, they can only write in bursts of fits and starts, because they never know when they’ll be canceled. It sucks for us, the viewers, because it means the writing is compromised.
Imagine you’re writing a novel. You’re about 2/3 through it when someone tells you that you only have one day to finish it. Oh shit! You can either choose to sloppily wrap it up in a few pages, not at all the way you wanted to, or you can choose not to compromise your artistic integrity and leave a cliffhanger… forever.
Fortunately, Firefly was able to have a feature-length movie to wrap it all up, but it just wasn’t the same. The show ended with a confusing wimper and that’s unfortunate, because as far as sci-fi television shows go, aside from the terrible title song, it was one of the best.
The “Oh shit! We thought we were canceled but we’re not” weird-ass storylines
Imagine you’re writing that novel again. You’re about 2/3 through it when someone tells you that you only have one day to finish it. Oh shit! So, you wrap it up as best you can. Then, that same someone tells you that you can finish writing it after all. Hooray! However, you’ve already written the compromised ending and you’re not allowed to change it. You have to start from where you left it and continue. Uh, what?
It makes for some pretty damn confusing viewing. You have all your characters going their separate ways and saying goodbyes, only to have the next episode act as if nothing had happened at all. It’s like waking up hungover and naked next to your roommate and choosing never to speak of it ever, but we all know it happened.
When I had the flu, my sister gave me this one to watch. It’s pretty good. It’s suspenseful, dramatic and funny. It goes a little top-heavy on the interpersonal relationships for my liking, but there’s enough other stuff in there to keep my interest. Halfway through season 3, they were informed they were canceled. Then, they were told, they weren’t canceled after all! Move along. Nothing to see here!
This push me/pull me destroyed the flow of the show and ruined the whole season. The worst part is that, towards the end of season 3, they really were canceled, so they had to do the weird wrap up again and it’s awful. I’d recommend watching seasons 1 & 2 though.
The ridiculously obvious product placement
I don’t mind unobtrusive product placement–characters usually have to drive some sort of car or drink some sort of beverage. That’s not the kind of product placement I’m talking about though. I’m talking about the kind where they weave it into the show. When characters stop talking about the plot and talk about the awesome features of the new Toyota Prius, that’s a problem.
If you’re not a car salesman, have you ever had a conversation that went something like, “This roomy, newly designed Toyota Prius, rated Car & Driver’s best hybrid, has voice activated GPS”? No, if you really were in a Prius talking about the GPS, you’d say something like, “Awesome GPS on this thing.” You wouldn’t mention what kind of car you’re in because the person you’re talking to just got into the car. They had ample opportunity to notice it was a Prius from the outside and nobody cares what Car & Driver thinks unless they’re car shopping.
Example: House Of Cards remake
Netflix’s House Of Cards remake is a commercial-free commercial. It was about as covert with their product placement as a ninja decked in a lighted, bright red Coca-Cola suit with bells wearing squeaky clown shoes, and one of those hat headlamps while singing the Coca-Cola jingle through a megaphone. That is to say, not very subtle at all. No self-respecting ninja would do that.
Plus, the original House Of Cards is way better. The writing is better. The acting is better. The story is better. The characters are delightfully evil and there is absolutely no product placement. Boooo on the House Of Cards remake. I didn’t even care enough to finish season one, let alone watch season two.
But, the House Of Cards remake starts off as a pale imitation of the original and never gets any better. It’s the kind of show I don’t even care enough to finish watching. If it’s stupid from the get-go, it’s really not harm-no foul since I’ve made a minimal investment. That kind of show doesn’t irritate me as much as another kind–the gradual decline into stupidity.
The gradual decline into stupidity
Premises are hard to maintain. Most television show synopses are a sentence or two. It’s how they sell it to the studio. It’s the same sentence you see on Netflix or IMDb that makes you want or not want to watch it.
The problem is, a lot of shows don’t really have much substance beyond the original premise. They may have a season or two written or in the works, but beyond that, due to the “Oh shits” mentioned above, they don’t really know where it will go. If somehow, they manage not to get canceled, to keep from being repetitive, they have to venture into stranger and stranger territory, farther away from the original synopsis.
Because shows with viewers make money, they can’t just cancel them when they have nothing left to say. Instead of going out with a bang like Breaking Bad, they just keep flogging that dead horse and it gradually devolves into stupidity.
This show starts off kind of far-fetched, but the science and characters are interesting enough to make me continue watching it. The first couple seasons of that show are actually rather good. There’s a good balance between drama and funny.
Then it gradually gets dumber. They turn one of the main characters into a cannibalistic killer, yet he keeps coming back. They replace him with an ever revolving cast of characters, none of whom are as good as the original character. They break up a couple with three sentences worth of discussion and then bring them back together. There are comas and dream sequences.
Dream sequences really are the death knell for any form of entertainment. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road starts with a dream sequence if that’s any indication. Bones just slowly got so dumb I couldn’t watch it anymore and that’s a damn shame.
The Slaughterhouse Five
You read the synopsis for a show and think to yourself, “Alright, that seems like something that might be reasonably interesting to not watch while ipadding.” So, you start watching it. It goes along like the synopsis for a while, and then it takes a Slaughterhouse Five turn.
Slaughterhouse Five is my least favorite Vonnegut book. I sum it up with “…and suddenly, ALIENS!” and “Bah.” Unlike the gradual decline into stupidity, a Slaughterhouse Five show is a sucker-punch. It starts off one way, then takes a turn into the supernatural, paranormal or otherwise odd with no warning.
The IMDb synopsis for Alias: “Sydney Bristow is an international spy recruited out of college and trained for espionage and self-defense.”
The Netflix synopsis for Alias: “Jennifer Garner redefined armed and dangerous in this spy series as a double agent CIA operative on a mission to destroy a global crime syndicate.”
Seems like a spy show, right? She’s a double agent spy. Alright then. Do you see anything in there about 500-year-old prophecies, body doubles, mechanical hearts, immortality, angel-like figures, pulling strange things from tubes implanted in her while she was missing for two years during which her boyfriend got married to someone else?
No, you don’t. This is not a spy show. It’s a dumb show where dumb things happen. Had I known it had preternatural elements up front, I might not have minded, but there is no mention of that tomfoolery. It sucker-punches you into strange and hopes you don’t mind.
Her best friend and roommate is killed and replaced with a body double and Ms. Superspy doesn’t even notice. If some other person pretended to be my best friend without any of her memories and personality, I’d notice and I’m not even a paranoid double agent who’s trained to notice things like that. Some spy you are, honey.
I only made it through the first season and a couple of episodes from season 2. I can only imagine what happens in season 5. I would be willing to bet that there’s an episode where “…and suddenly, ALIENS!” happens. Bah.
The romance that drags on forever
For some reason, shows about spies, dead bodies, forensic science and science fiction, hell, even shows about mass murderers (I’m looking at you, Dexter) all feel the need to have a love interest. Why? Why do we need love interests in everything? Love isn’t really interesting. Science is interesting.
I tolerate all the interpersonal drama from television shows because real life has interpersonal drama, but never once, in all my years on this planet, have I ever seen mutual attraction take five or six years to pan out. If two people like each other in real life, they tend to do something about it. They don’t drag it out for half a decade before they even kiss. They make with the bang bang and either get married or break up. It’s really rather simple.
Examples: Bones, Alias, Firefly, etc.
Why is it that these shows feel that it’s okay to drag a potential romance through every possible mud puddle along the way from characters living out a romantic fantasy while in a coma (Bones) to waking up two years later to find your boyfriend thought you were dead and got married to some other hooer (Alias)? Real life doesn’t work that way and if it does, it’s an anomaly.
I realize that part of the reason some people even watch these shows is because they like the unfulfilled chemistry between characters and that would be lost if they got together, but really, people, dragging out flirtation over a decade is dumb. Get a room already.
All images in this post are from IMDb.