Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A guide to overrated TV shows

To me, TV is a more frustrating and less democratic medium than movies, since it's based on Nielsen ratings which except for a week in my life when I was 6, I have no control over. Variables such as time slots, star power, initial ratings, etc. that have little to do with actual quality are the deciding factors as to what stays and what goes. As a result, I think a lot of crap ends up on the air and runs for several seasons. Here are some shows I find overrated:

Sex and the City-No, it's not anti-feminist to say that I don't want to see a bunch of sexually empowered women talking about their sexual empowerment. I don't want to watch any sexually obsessed characters talking about sex all day, regardless of their gender. So that includes the guys on Entourage, Nancy's brother-in-law on Weeds, John Laroquette's character on "Night Court." These are what we call caricatures, people. I've only seen something like two episodes of "Sex and the City" (I'm sorry, I could not bear to watch any more than that) but those characters are not real people. Real people think about more than just sex and have other concerns in life. One last point: the show is also such a celebration of materialism and wealth, they're always dining in posh establishments and stuff.

Will and Grace: Ok, I'm beginning to sound vehemently anti-gay by bashing Sex and the City AND Will and Grace but still, in order for me to like a show, I have to like at least one character on it. The only characters I like are the gay-friendly guest stars like Alec Baldwin, Woody Harrelson, Michael Douglas, and Jack Black but in terms of the characters: Grace is shrill and annoying. She's dated half the population of New York and still whines about not finding the right man. Megan Mullally plays a funny character who would serve as a good foil to a likable character but she's not really likable herself. Then we have Will and Jack. I wonder why the gay community isn't more up in arms about the portrayal of Jack on the show and how he caters to so many stereotypes? Granted, he did raise that kid with Rosie O'Donnell's character, but he's also incredibly petty, materialistic, and self-involved. Will is seemingly supposed to be the counterexample of gay culture to Jack to show that not all gay people are girly and self-involved. It's as if Will's entire reason for existence is to assure homophobes "don't fear gays, we might not like girls, but we can be funny," and he pushes it way too hard. For the record, I really like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, lest someone thinks I don't like gay-centered TV shows.

Sports Night-Fans of this short-lived show cite this as an example that networks don't know good quality when they see it. I, on the other hand, blame the network for keeping the show on the air as long as they did. The show is written by Aaron Sorkin so every character sounds exactly the same: everyone is incredibly intelligent, yet grounded enough in sports and culture to be able to pick up each other's pop culture references. They also finish each other's sentences and no, it's not adorable. It would be like the fictional TV sports network was staffed entirely by members of MENSA

The Cosby Show-This is a fairly dangerous show to attack because of its popularity. I wouldn't say I dislike the show in its entirety, but my beef with the show is that sometimes comics start out making us laugh and then tend to glide on those mannerisms. Bill Cosby probably was genuinely funny at some point (I'm guessing before I was born or old enough to speak) and he used to make jokes and contort his face and voice in funny ways while telling those jokes. To me, it seems like he got kind of lazy and just started doing those face and voice contortions without the jokes attached. Seriously, tune into an episode of the Bill Cosby show and notice how little about the show is inherently funny.

MASH-As I said in my post comparing MASH the movie to MASH the sitcom, the movie was brilliant in that it mined the inherent humor of the situation without ever telling a joke in the conventional sense. The TV show was all about jokes in the Groucho Marx form: constant one-liners delivered by Alan Alda as if he were part of a vaudeville show. After a while, Alda's wisecracks stripped the show of its gravity.

All in the Family-This show isn't really a rerun favorite, fortunately, so there's little to complain about. I know the show is revolutionary and was a vehicle for social change, but to watch it in retrospect provides virtually no entertainment value whatsoever. Could you imagine if someone pitched this show to ABC in the present day? "Hey, let's make a half-hour sitcom about a racist father, his grown-up kids and their family antics." (on second thought, I think SPIKE or FX would take that).

Roseanne-I think it was more of the revolutionary angle a la All in the Family that rubbed me the wrong way when I watched it from a historical perspective. Besides, Roseanne was just never a bright or charismatic enough personality that you would want to base a TV show around her, and she wasn't a good enough actor to make an unappealing character interesting. I'm certainly not saying that I'd like to see happy and harmonious families like the Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family, but a dysfunctional family like in Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has to find the right tone so that you're laughing all the way to the bank, and not just mulling over how dreary these people are.

Survivor-I don't buy that Survivor is the ultimate game. I don't think that putting people on a desert island or a jungle brings out their most competitive instincts. I think, instead, it just brings out a severe sense of discomfort, fear of contracting exotic diseases and hunger pains. A show like Weakest Link where everything happens in less than sixty minutes, brings out all that scheming and competitive instincts of Survivor in a far more compressed time period. Over the course of several days, I think the contestants are going to forget about "strategy" after a while.

Now, to show that I don't just dislike TV period, here are some shows that were that I think deserved the praise they got:
30 Rock
Arrested Development
Family Guy
The Office
The OC
My Name is Earl
Joan of Arcadia
West Wing
Spin City
Home Improvement
Beverly Hillbillies
Mary Tyler Moore Show
Twilight Zone
Star Trek
I Love Lucy
Andy Griffith Show

and shows I find underrated:
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Boston Public
Whose Line is it Anyway
American Dreams
Less than Perfect
3rd Rock from the Sun
Three's Company
Early Edition
Seaquest DSV
Third Watch
Malcolm and Eddie
The Rockford Files
Murder She Wrote


Justine said...

I (luckily) don't watch many of the shows on your overrated list, but I have watched fairly regularly Will and Grace and Sex and the City. The first I enjoy from time to time, although I have my problems with it... Sex and the City though... GAH, it drives me insane. Everyone I know adores and raves about it, but I JUST DON'T GET IT. Your point that the show is "a celebration of materialism and wealth" is only too accurate and one of the main reasons why I'm so turned off by it. I'm probably dedicating November to TV instead of movies, despite my general distate for television there are quite a few shows I enjoy or am interested in visiting.

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