I don’t aim to be an Elitist, but according to my sister, I can’t avoid it. Meanwhile, a medium is dying, but I’m the asshole…
Network Television is in its death throes. Tired tropes wear veils so paper-thin that one wonders if anyone involved in their production is even trying anymore.
If a studio executive actually came forward and admitted that it was all just an Enron-esque “rat on a sinking ship” cash-grab, I could at least understand despite my disapproval. But, Network Television is slowly eating both of my parents one scheduled DVR recording at a time. So I feel obligated to speak up.
How many failing shows does a network have to cancel before it ditches the predictable archetypes, cuts the cheap one-liners, and starts assuming that the audience has a longer attention span than a goldfish driving a bumpercar? The answer, it seems, is “virtually all of them”. Dear network executives, please give us a “courtesy flush”. It started to stink ages ago.
What’s that, Dear Reader?! You doubt me?!! You want context?!!! You demand examples and clarification?!!!! So be it.
How about the relentless incontinent stream of civil service dramas and semi-dramas? Cop shows. Lawyer shows. Doctor shows. “Enhance”, “Objection”, and medically-incorrect use of defibrillators are all so rote that they collectively make my argument for me. I don’t even need to cite specific shows to prove my point here. The lexicon already has.
Then there’s the ensemble casts of specialist misfits on weekly missions to do some “new” dumb bullshit the A-Team already took care of back in the mid-1980’s. Only now, it’s nerdy guys and tough girls with a grudging attraction to one another. It’s skinny girls in high heeled boots attempting unconvincing martial arts (I call it “The Joss Whedon Roundhouse”). It’s guys in black frame glasses hammering away at computer keyboards. And don’t forget the intense and charismatic mastermind who keeps them all together. Look, if somebody can actually convince me that “Leverage” and “Scorpion” are substantially and substantively different shows, I’ll buy that person a bourbon.
Next, we come to the lone eccentric geniuses and their more pragmatic partners paired up to solve crimes that nobody else can. Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes. All you did, dear producers, was make a good thing bad. You also managed to make it boring. Again. Thanks to you, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s corpse has long since been torn apart by the immense centrifugal forces of spinning endlessly in his grave to the tune of your awful shows. I’m looking at you, “Bones” and “The Mentalist”. Sure, “House” was passable, but only by the sole virtue of Hugh Laurie’s impeccable and wonderfully shitty attitude.
Then there’s the bad special effects and slow motion fireball explosions. Pro-tip: If you’re going to have a lousy Michael Bay-quality plot, then you really ought to have some awesome Michael Bay-quality effects and stunt budgets to offset it. This particular problematic issue crosses several genres and has far too many examples to list. And speaking of budgets, for the love of God, quit spending the lion’s share of your budget on a single movie star with a flagging career. It’s probably flagging for a reason. Besides, I’m not that easily bought or fooled.
How about the endless parade of competition shows promising a more populist premise than the last competition show it was built to surpass? Thanks for the attempt at an attempt, but I’ll pass on the whole singing dog and dancing pony show. You know who you are and you probably are (or answer to) Ryan Seacrest or some pretentious British ass-hat.
Then, of course, we come to bad sitcom upon bad sitcom upon bad sitcom. That’s not to say there isn’t an occasional gem, but the laugh track is the death rattle of the format. If you feel the need to tell the audience when to laugh, then either you think they are idiots, your show isn’t funny, or both. None of the above are a recipe for anything approaching Quality. See most any post-Frasier or post-Seinfeld sitcom on Network Television.
Now, I’ll readily grant that as humans, we often love to have our stories retold. Some of my favorite narratives frequently echo Norse, Greek, and Roman mythology. There’s no end to Shakespeare inspired re-tellings, re-imaginings, and allegories. There’s even the celebrated thematic genealogy of Shakespeare to Samurai Films to Spaghetti Westerns. But Network Television is just insulting. And if you don’t feel insulted by it, we’ll just chalk it up to The Dunning–Kruger Effect (look it up).
So, do us all a favor, Network Television. Kindly and quietly gather your forgettable actors/actresses. Collect your cellophane-transparent cliffhangers. Box up your dishonest promises that your network is the one to tune into on any given night. Array them all around you in a well-appointed coffin. Then kindly bury yourself with them in a grave that’s unmarked save for a solemn monument to your countless victims. You can go to hell, Network Television… I’m going to cable (I’m not above channeling Davy Crockett).
And before you get too cocky, USA Network, you’re no better. “Mr. Robot” is certainly a daring move for you, but I’m not willing to suddenly trust you after just one episode. You may be on cable and you may have higher production values, but (!NEWSFLASH!) a $1.99 microwave burrito ultimately ends in the same 30-minute diarrhea that a $1.49 microwave burrito does. Granted, roasting on USA Network is kind of like peeing on poop and I suddenly feel a little gross for even bringing it up.
Meanwhile, FX and AMC prove fairly regularly that “Premium Channels” like Showtime and HBO don’t hold the iron-fisted monopoly on Small Screen gold. And for that matter, if networks like Showtime and HBO are losing social media buzz to AMC, FX, and (more recently) internet shows like “Orange Is The New Black” and “House of Cards” from Netflix, then traditional Network Television might want to cue up its funeral dirge. To that end, I recommend bells and minor keys.
If this is Elitist, then consider me Unapologetic, if not Apoplectic.