An analysis of modern mediocrity
Don’t worry, this is not an piece about why Honey Boo-Boo is the last sign of the coming apocalypse (although seriously, they got a second season and that Mayan thing is coming up) but instead I want to pose the question: why do we seem to reject quality and embrace mediocrity when it comes to TV these days?
I don’t see the same issue when it comes to movies, print media or music; there may be rampant remakes, tabloids and Nicki Minaj, but there is also a great deal of quality to be found. Obviously, every creative industry could be doing something better, the only pop culture segment we see this trend toward saturation by mediocrity is TV.
I’ll give you an example: you’d have a hard time finding someone who says that Breaking Bad is a bad show, it is almost universally acclaimed for its complex themes, willingness to explore difficult subject matter and employment of some of the most realistic characters in TV history. Now, do me a favour and guess what you think the highest rating Breaking Bad has ever gotten is, don’t shout it out, just think about it.
Two and a Half Men is the other side of the coin, it is a by-the-numbers sitcom with the basic premise that “Charlie Sheen is a misogynistic drunk, Jon Cryer is a neurotic loser, the kid is a lazy idiot” it makes liberal use of a laugh track to the point where you would have a hard time finding the jokes without it and the most innovative thing they’ve ever done is kill off Sheen when he went on a coke-fueled rampage. Now what do you think its ratings were like? If you guessed 5 times higher (14.6/2.9) than Breaking Bad you’d be correct!
So why is this? In any serious conversation about television you’d be laughed out of the room for suggesting that Two and a Half Men is a better program. So why does it get such dismal ratings? Maybe its because Breaking Bad is on cable and Men is on CBS, a broadcast network with a higher consumer base and more viewers? Makes sense right?
However, that doesn’t hold up. Community, a hilarious, interesting, genre- defying series (highest rating: 7.8, current: 2.4)Parks and Recreation, one of the funniest shows on television (highest, 6.7: current: 3.4)and 30 Rock, the elder statesman of quality programming on the broadcast networks (highest: 8.2, current: 3.4)all air on NBC. So they should see similar viewership, but instead are slaughtered in the ratings by Two and Half Men and Chuck Lorre’s other disaster, The Big Bang Theory, which subsists on the simple idea: “Oh my god, the people on TV are playing Halo! I play Halo too! I love this show!” which infuriatingly yields ratings.
So it seems we as viewers are not drawn to quality, at least when it comes to TV. Why is it that we’ll watch The Artist because of its artistic merit, read Ulysses because we desire to understand it (or we’re just masochists) but when it comes to television we embrace mediocrity?
Because its easy. It requires no effort, not even complete attention to get the full experience. It’s for this reason that the Breaking Badsof the world are slaughtered in the ratings, because a show about the rise of a meth kingpin is so much more complex and challenging than the show about two brothers who just can’t seem to get their lives together.
I hate to sound like the old man (I’m only 20!) bemoaning the fall of civilization based on the trappings of modern life but this is a pretty distressing trend. MTV learned pretty early that it’s easier to just air Jersey Shore and Teen Mom than to actually work at good programming, and for the love of god Here Comes Honey Boo Boo airs on The Learning Channel! What are we learning? The dangers of Type II diabetes?
I realize its hard to combat this trend, it’s pretty easy to not care about what’s on the TV behind your laptop screen, but if I’m doing anything here it’s asking you readers to please watch some good TV. Maybe you can stop watching the 25th season of Survivor and check out Archer, instead of the 15 or so crime procedurals watch Boardwalk Empire or grab The Wire on DVD, and to those of you in Management: Suits is a better option than The Big Bang Theory. Lets do our best to stop the rush towards the worst programming before everything on TV is just dumb people doing dumb things for a dumber audience.
(a bit of the info is outdated but the point is still valid dammit! -WH)