Editor’s Note: We are very excited to welcome you to the relaunch of Channel Guide, our twice weekly column covering the world of television. Taking over the column are not one, but two talented ladies with a wealth of knowledge and wit. Every Wednesday will feature a new essay from Mikela Floyd, a newcomer to FSR and a voice we’re really excited to be able to share with all of you. And now, on with the show…
Something’s happening on network television, and it’s conjuring some pretty serious childhood flashbacks. That’s right, TV’s got a pretty big mean streak these days, and it’s got me feeling like my weekly viewing habits are just one televised squabble over the seating arrangements at the cool kids’ table. Sure, there are some notably peppy programs filling my DVR, but for every ‘Steak Me Home Tonight’ sandwich (Happy Endings) and anorexia-stricken stewardess (Pan Am), there are innumerable instances of primetime snark that are getting meaner and meaner.
Now, I’m not one to stray from sarcasm. Heck, it’s one of my favorite pastimes, a language in which I consider myself fluent. But as I watched a recent episode of Community, wherein a random classmate was harshly criticized by the study group (for no reason other than that he wasn’t one of them), I couldn’t help but think- can’t we all just get along? Over on The Office, poor Andy Bernard (finally branch manager) watched new boss Robert California sort the winners of Dunder Mifflin from the losers, (though, with a pool like that, can we really assume that any of them are winners?) while I yearned to give a virtual hug to that veritable island of misfit toys. They are the people person’s paper people, after all. And while Parks and Recreation is a weekly highlight, can’t anyone be nice to Jerry? I mean, poor Jerry.
It’s not just the Peacock Network that’s to blame. CBS breakout hit 2 Broke Girls’ centerpiece is the relationship between the “street smart” (read: abrasive) Max and the newly impoverished Caroline. On a recent episode, as Caroline gets… dirty (there’s horse manure, let’s not get into it) Max’s delight goes past the boundaries of fish-out-of-water humor and straight into cruel territory. It’s funny, but at what cost? Don’t even get me started on the FX lineup, which boasts The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While both shows are irrefutably hilarious, their one-two punch is like a weekly lesson in how to hate your friends.
There are plenty of shows that succeed at getting the laughs without being mean-spirited. On Parks and Recreation (Jerry-bashing as it may be), curmudgeon Ron Swanson can deliver searing put-downs with aplomb, yet his loyal core can’t help but be noticed. Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger? That guy oozes positivity like sweat after one of his many runs. Over on FOX, the Zooey Deschanel-led The New Girl has “adorkable” (a cringe-worthy adjective) Jess letting her freak flag fly, all while scoring more than a few twee laughs. On the USA comedy Psych (an underrated gem, IMHO), detective duo Shawn and Gus solve crimes while weaving a tapestry of pop culture references that results in a delightfully hilarious hour of television.
Am I alone in thinking that TV’s gotten a little mean? As viewers, aren’t we likelier to invest in characters that invest in one another, or (gasp) even like each other? The lovable oaf that was Michael Scott kept us watching because even though he was awkward, he was overwhelmingly well intentioned. Have our personalities become so sarcastic that we can’t simply enjoy some lighthearted laughs? I’m not suggesting we all devote ourselves to the laugh tracked-fare enjoyed by our parents – I delight in (and endlessly relate to) the misfortune of Liz Lemon as much as every other lady of my generation – but isn’t it time that we have a little fun? I think so, and if you need me, I’ll be sitting in the fetal position, watching The Wonder Years and remembering when times were just a little less jaded.
Kevin Arnold cures all.
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