Image: MGM Studios
We are in a post-The Young Pope world now, people.
This is the second article in a series dedicated to exposing the hollowness and inadequacies found throughout—the pontifically named—Peak TV as well as suggesting some better streaming options available to stave off that gnawing ennui of yours. Check out my first list of alternatives to overrated shows like Orange is the New Black, here.
People in general are getting a bit better at detecting bullshit TV. Everyone is slowly coming to the realization that just because it airs on HBO or Netflix, doesn’t mean that a series is automatically good. But with content-mill after content-mill depending on your clicks to sustain their existence, the pressure is on to crank out as many glowing internet reviews and ripped-straight-off-of-Reddit fan theories as possible in a desperate attempt to quash any dissent from analytic viewers.
So until it is legal to physically strike anyone who utters the phrase “Golden Age of Television”, I will continue to list all the reasons why pretty much every flag-bearer of the Prestige TV genre should be dismissed from your queue. Take my advice and you will be free from having to figure out yet another shitty app just to watch oh, I don’t know, Game of Thrones but in space this time?
Listen, there might be some spoilers. I’ll try to limit them to only the shows that I‘ll be talking shit about though. Shows such as…
1. This is Us
Recently I had the displeasure of reentering the workforce. This time, however, instead of being surrounded by a bunch of other twenty-somethings at a startup, I took a contract position at one of those unassailable mega-corporations where everyone is named Connie or Dick. Regardless of whether they were a dick or a connie, they all shared several key personality traits. For instance, each of their cubicle’s cork-boards were full of Family Circus newspaper clippings, pictures of animals in sticky situations, and printouts of Minions memes that were somehow created during The Great Depression. Where the two factions differed though was what television they consumed. For the dicks, their obsession was with college sports. But the connies, the connies had This is Us.
The allure of This is Us, and what separates it from its predecessors like Friday Night Lights and Parenthood (2010 series), is the unconventional way time is presented to reveal major plot points. Each episode jumps between three different time periods in the lives of one family. Literary fans will recognize this storytelling device as in medias res, and it is a fine way of constructing a narrative. But This is Us employs the trope as a way to hide the fact that their grand reveals aren’t really all that clever; forcing an emotional weight onto the story that is simply unearned though the merit of its actual writing.
Think How I Met Your Mother, minus the laugh track or narration, add an extra half hour, and throw in a whole bunch more characters (such as Mandy Moore and the other dude from Smallville). Diehard fans of the show will tell you that you need to watch more than the first two episodes, but here’s the thing: if I need to finish an entire season—or worse—multiple seasons to appreciate a show then that is a bad show. It’s borderline Stockholm Syndrome, actually.
On a positive note: Trump’s first state of the union speech delayed the season finale of This is Us, which is probably the most effective way to radicalize white Centrist and Liberal women over to the Left.
Watch this instead: Jane the Virgin
Yeah, I know it’s not an hour long dramedy, but if you honestly search your heart on this one you will realize that a full hour is way too damn long for these kinds of stories. Besides, I can promise you that when this show makes you cry—and it will—it won’t be from any cheap storytelling tricks.
If you take away all the temporal fuckery that’s meant to keep you guessing in This is Us, all you are left with is a particularly sanctimonious soap opera. Jane the Virgin knows that it’s a soap opera (a telenovela, to be precise) and allows itself to actually have fun while still grifting you into watching more.
All of Jane the Virgin‘s twists and turns happen in an effortlessly cool way, while simultaneously checking all the same boxes as This is Us, AND still being accessible to your average connie.
2. Saturday Night Live
It can be hard for citizens who oppose Trump’s presidency to agree on what form an effective and unified protest should take, but if the most potent rallying cry for the #resistance is Alec Baldwin putting on a wig and repeating the president’s own tweets into a camera then we are all motherfucked come 2020.
The thing about Trump being so cartoonishly evil and bad at his job is that as a comedy writer you are not going to outdo him; especially if the punchline is always just him kissing dudes or whatever. Toothless liberal comedy acts like this have Archie Bunker rolling in his grave! Even a show like Parks & Rec—brilliant in the Obama era—would be dead tired if it had the misfortune of airing today. Veep which filmed in June of 2016 already had to cut scenes which joked about a politician saying the word “pussy” as well as a throwaway joke about golden showers.
SNL has a storied history of dunking on presidents by making them seem less… well, presidential. Trump is, however, immune to any and all types of these dunks, and that poses a major problem to your standard batch of Ivy-League educated SNL writers.
It’s a little poetic, really: A bunch of private school Liberals who’ve been training their entire lives to write sick burns about Jeb Bush, but are now forced to completely reevaluate everything they thought they knew about their craft in order to combat a syphilitic gameshow host that only their industry of choice could have allowed to exist in the first place. To quote the man himself: sad.
Watch this instead: The President Show
I’m not going to belittle you by explaining how this is good satire as opposed to the Alec Baldwin shit.
What a bunch of charlatans, HBO. They realized that they could just crank out another show that every tired office drone in America would have no choice but to love. They knew all they needed in order to make a banger was put a bunch of tits and murder on screen, interposed with a little philosophy 101 and we’d just nod along because it’s A Deep Meditation On Human Nature Or Whatever.
Westworld suffers from the same kind of problems as This is Us: a reliance on parlor tricks that only emulate the kind of weighty reveals that the writers think they’re pulling off. As the incomparable Cushbomb pointed out in this article:
After a few episodes, the fundamental insufficiency of Westworld as a piece of art became impossible to ignore even to the most fervent television evangelist, but the flagship prestige show on the flagship prestige network was simply too big to fail.
With all its spectacle, it can be easy to overlook one other crucial fact about Westworld: it is yet another reboot/adaptation. The 1973 movie was just a bunch of shitty Chuck E. Cheese style robots running around, so the folks in charge or production figured that—just like a potential Highlander reboot—there would be literally no risk in making the show any worse than the original.
Watch this instead: The Good Place
You might be thinking I’m comparing apples to oranges with this one, but hear me out. While one is billed as a thought provoking hour-plus cultural touchstone, the other is seen as a lighthearted romp of a sitcom that most people haven’t even heard of, let alone watch. Which is a shame because despite being “low art”, The Good Place outshines Westworld in terms achieving a high concept within their respective genres.
Competing in the same time slot as Scream Queens, Fresh Off The Boat, and Bull (which is apparently a dramatic reimagining of Dr. Phil’s life story???), it is obvious that NBC felt that The Good Place was something of a wild card. It doesn’t quite fit the mold of any other comedy on air (the closest being Last Man on Earth, which kind of sucks). It’s got the homie Ted Danson in a leading role but that’s pretty much the only indicator most people would have to not flip the channel over to one of the NCIS shows after The Voice is over.
Anyone who HAS taken a chance on the show will tell you that it’s a lot smarter than the average sitcom, far smarter even than its creator’s previous shows: Parks & Rec and The Office. Weighing complicated issues of morality and ethics like a dang Dostoevsky novel, The Good Place actually manages to quantify the exact meaning of goodness. Maybe.
The producer conducted a year’s worth of real world research, studying with actual theologians, ethicists, and philosophers in order to cultivate a perfectly believable afterlife for the show. Whereas the people behind Westworld clearly just watched The Matrix Revolutions once and called it a day.
4. Legion, Orphan Black, Game of Thrones, et al.
Holy fuck, shock value! All of these shows are more or less interchangeable if you compare their approach to driving home a character’s frame of mind: cram as much needless sex and violence into the exposition as possible.
In the first two minutes of Orphan Black, two whole sentences are uttered before a woman jumps in front of a subway cart; in Legion, the way we are initiated into the love interest’s romantic history is by listening to her nonchalantly recount the time that she telepathically raped her mother’s boyfriend at age 10; and no matter how many thinkpieces get written a day, the nudity in Game of Thrones doesn’t really come off as all that empowering.
I don’t mean to sound like a nerd or SJW or whatever, but it’s plain to see that in every one of these shows, substance gets sacrificed for style in far too many scenes.
Watch this instead: American Gods
Much like Game of Thrones and many other page-to-screen adaptations with adult content in the source material, American Gods is also plenty gory and chock-full of boning. Televised on Starz, a premium cable station, the series is able to get as nasty as it wants, but actually does so in a way that compliments the tone throughout.
For example, when a dude gets eviscerated in American Gods, there are no close-ups of his dangling bowels. If anything the violence is campy most of the time, with the only instances of any serious brutality reserved for moments that make statements on race in America.
There are plenty of tits, you can’t have a vengeful sex demigoddess without those, but as Jezebel pointed out, this show has single-handedly tripled the amount of (quality) dicks on television.
In any case each scene containing violence or nudity actually serves a purpose, making this an adaptation done right for once.
5. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
How in the hell did this show become so culturally embedded? There is absolutely nothing remarkable about it. Is that its appeal? Is it one of those “it’s so bad, it’s good” kind of things? Like The Room? I’m literally asking.
I somehow managed to never watch a single episode until my late twenties and I’m starting to see why I’m so relatively well-adjusted. No wonder all of you are fucked up if you’ve been watching this show for the past twenty-some years.
Watch this instead: Actually, just go to sleep.
Honestly, don’t put this kind of garbage anywhere near your brain, especially any time after 8 PM. While we’re at it, why are all these OJ Simpson shows popping off in recent years? Why are we still on about this shit? That’s it. You are grounded from seeing the 90’s until you two can play nice together!