‘Ello ‘ello. It’s your favorite married blogger, Nikkie, saying thanks for taking a break from your murderous, psychopathic shopping sprees to feast your eyes on our humble little slice of the Internet. How will I reward you? By complaining about “Gilmore Girls” some more. You’re welcome!
I know what you’re thinking. “Nikkie, you were supposed to do another blog post before you go to the continuation of your ‘Gilmore Girls’ rage.” And you’re right about that. But then the election happened—enough said. So I’m sorry that this post, in conjunction with my last post, makes me seem all grouchy. On the other hand, I’m not that sorry! Sometimes things suck, and that needs to be conveyed.
Additionally, while I will be using “Gilmore Girls” as an example throughout this post, what I’m really trying to do is point out some issues I have with the way a lot of shows are being written. So, I arguably apologize for crapping all over this show yet again . . . but at this point, you should know what to expect from me.
I want to start this by saying that I love TV. Oftentimes, it’s pretty good. Sometimes it’s spec-freakin-tacular. Most of the time, though, it’s just barely mediocre. I know I’m not an authority on the topic—I haven’t watched all of “Mad Men” or any of “Breaking Bad,” and I stuck around way too long with “The Big Bang Theory”—but I feel like I’ve watched enough to notice some of the less-than-ideal patterns in TV writing and discuss them with others.
I think about these things a lot, honestly. I’m very analytical, even of things I enjoy; it’s the editor in me. But watching “Gilmore Girls” was like having a floodlight trained directly on all the things I find lazy and unsatisfactory about TV. And it was too much for me. I had to say something! I know it won’t change anything, but damn it, if I can’t act with the entitlement and narcissism that supposedly embody my generation on my own blog, then what’s the point of anything?
Let’s jump in.
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Television, like any form of storytelling, is often a form of escapism for the viewer. When life isn’t going your way, or when you’re just looking to de-stress from a particularly frustrating day of work, one of the tried-and-true methods for mood brightening is tossing on a show. Whether you’re a proponent of comedic relief or prefer a little dramatic catharsis, you likely have a go-to selection for your half-hour to hour-long viewing pleasure. I know that I do. I’m a huge fan of escapism. But I’ve begun to notice that what a show is trying to promote as escapism is just annoying as hell to me now.
The biggest culprit? The characters’ ineptitude with relationships.
TV show relationships are almost entirely terrible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a comedy like “How I Met Your Mother” or a dramatic show like “Parenthood”—at least one person on the show is the absolute worst at dating and/or love. And not only are they the worst, but they are PERPETUALLY the worst. As every horrible relationship comes to its inevitable conclusion, at no point does the character we’ve been following acknowledge a lesson they could take away from the experience. They just keep doing the same thing until they’re ultimately rewarded with the One True Pairing the show was setting up from the very beginning. *cough cough the Ted and Robin of it all on HIMYM cough cough*
Take Lorelai Gilmore. She is the type of person who, despite appearing to be crazy about her latest love interest, basically has one foot out the door from the very beginning. When she was dating Rory’s teacher, she knowingly hit her “This is getting too serious, so I need to blow it up” period (the super realistic timing of about two months, if I’m not mistaken), and she was just happy to go along with that. Obviously she wasn’t happy, but she let it happen regardless because actually being an adult was just WAY MORE WORK than she wanted to put in. No wonder Rory also sucked in the love department.
I understand that not every relationship can last, especially if the OTP hasn’t even been fully explored yet, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if it was a solid relationship that just petered out? Why does it have to be some huge dramatic thing? More importantly, why does it have to be so formulaic? Whenever it’s a relationship that the showrunners are trying to trick us into thinking is going to go somewhere, it lasts between four to eight episodes. It’s gotten to the point where I can feel when the relationship is about to implode. In one of my absolute favorite shows in the world, “Happy Endings,” I predicted almost to the episode when a relationship I really liked was headed for the shitter.
Does my unhappiness with TV relationships stem from being married? Does my contentedness with my current set-up mean that I’m now incapable of finding entertainment in bad relationships? Maybe. But, honestly, how long can one realistically ride the “I’m so glad this isn’t me” train as their primary show-watching motivation?! Schadenfreude shouldn’t be the best part of a show!
Also, if the majority of relationship examples people get are terrible (because the few good relationships are treated as boring or not worthy of focus), how can we as a society expect anyone to get better at them? We bitch and moan about the divorce rate, to the point of denouncing marriage, but we don’t do anything to learn about how to make a relationship work. Everyone is quick to point out all the flaws that led to a couple’s break-up, but no one can dig up any solid advice DURING the relationship to try and keep it afloat. It’s insane. If art and life mimic each other, shouldn’t shows do a better job of portraying/focusing on good relationships so fewer people in real life have to suffer through a bad one?
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This leads me to my next point: Why are the characters always so emotionally stunted?
I don’t need to explain to you (at least I hope not) how Lorelai is emotionally stunted, and how that stuntedness has rubbed off on Rory. But they are not the only ridiculously flawed characters on TV—not by a long shot. Here’s a short list.
- Penny from “The Big Bang Theory”
- Emma from “Once Upon a Time”
- Robin from “How I Met Your Mother” (also Barney, because this list so far is all ladies, and that’s probably something that should be looked at in this context)
- Shawn from “Boy Meets World” (which I love, but hello)
- Nick from “New Girl” (which I also love)
- A majority of the characters from “Parenthood” (the 2010 series, based on the Steve Martin movie that I love, which I couldn’t finish because too much drama)
So as you can see from my limited TV knowledge, this comes up a lot.
I have no issue with flawed characters. Most of my favorite books involve someone who has issues; I love reading about my people. But the way flawed characters are portrayed in shows is problematic. It stopped being realistic when shows relied on the flawed character being the fuck-up. It implies that people who are emotionally mature have no problems whatsoever, which is a dangerous idea to promote. No one in the world is perfect, so implying that the stable character in a show has no issues (i.e., depth) is just built to make the viewer feel worse.
This is actually one of the reasons why I love “Happy Endings.” The married couple, Brad and Jane, is totally nuts, but their relationship is rock solid. They often have some of the best shenanigans in the show, thus blowing the whole “the long-term relationship couple is the most boring aspect” trope out of the water.
It seems like writers equate drama with being interesting. Sometimes it is; one of my creative writing professors said that it can be fun to throw in some huge, unstoppable dramatic event to force the characters out of their habits. But a lot of show writers today rely on the same kind of drama to propel a show forward, and it’s exhausting.
Just look at how many times they force the Paris Geller as Rory’s greatest nemesis plot arc on us! How many times they force the Regina or Mr. Gold was on the road to redemption only to turn evil again plot on “Once Upon A Time.” ALL THE TIMES TED PINES OVER ROBIN. It’s ridiculous.
If the only way to make a show good is to blow it out of proportion, then it’s likely that show was never good to begin with. And, again, it perpetuates the idea that we should think a character’s life going well is boring. We expect it to be shitty until the very end of the show, when it suddenly blossoms into this picture-perfect life that ties the show up neatly and without incident. Why can’t we just watch someone grow for several seasons, getting little rewards as it goes on, until it ends with them being a fully formed person who earned their successes instead of stumbling into them?
So let’s talk about the quality of writing in these shows: It’s lazy as fuck.
The examples above should be enough to prove that, and they’re certainly the worst of the bunch. They build this horribly lazy foundation that leads to unrealistic characters. This is the sin of lazy writing. It creates these scenarios that don’t make any sense once you step outside the context of the show, yet we’ve been letting the writers get away with it for decades!
The biggest offender I can think of right now, aside from “Gilmore Girls,” is “How I Met Your Mother.” I know, I know; when did this post turn into a HIMYM bash session? I can’t help that I’m still upset about the series finale!!!! While it had been steadily declining, it was the last two seasons, to be honest, that ruined me. Because what the actual fuck did they do with Barney?! He was doing so well—turning into someone who wasn’t completely terrible, actually dealing with his abandonment issues, learning to love—and then they just throw all of it out the window so that Ted and Robin can get back together. Why would they have us spend an entire season in the 48 hours leading up to Barney and Robin’s wedding only to have them get a divorce about 15 minutes into the season finale?!?!?!?! It makes no goddamn sense, and it’s some of the laziest storytelling I’ve ever witnessed. And sure, it’s super adorable that he has a child and finally knows the purest form of love, but did we need him to go back to being a horrible womanizer to get to that place?!
The laziness of the writing that shows often employ is just insulting. How stupid do they think we are?
Then again . . .
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We are not innocent in this. Lazy watching is definitely something we need to own. I powered through “Gilmore Girls” being fueled by hatred and the fact that I was already in it, so I may as well finish it. That’s usually not my style. I stopped watching “Greek” about halfway through the second season because my laziness (i.e., desire not to have to find a new show to watch) was no longer enough to carry me through how bad that show is/was. Yet that show had like four seasons! There’s no way everyone watching it was still watching it because they thought it was good.
Because of our collective laziness when it comes to watching shows—which I believe is a desire to finish what one has started plus a desire to just have something on plus a desire to be pop culturally aware—WE are what is keeping shitty shows on. Because we watch shows just to watch them, despite all the ways in which they suck, they continue to get high ratings, which makes the producers and advertisers think they’re popular, which keeps them on air for WAAAAAAY too long (see: HIMYM, “The Big Bang Theory,” “Friends”). I’m so glad that “Castle” ended this year because, going into the eighth and final season, I knew we were past the sweet spot.
I think this is very connected to lazy writing because once a show is past its Air By date, writers are strapped for ideas. They’re burned out! So one result of this is that they start to recycle things that worked in the past, either not noticing or not caring that it’s spitting on whatever modicum of progress had been made up to that point. The other effect of writer burnout is that they bail, and new writers get brought in. I don’t know how much viewers pay attention to the writers on the show—”Castle” was the first time I started tracking the writers of a show and getting excited when a favorite’s name showed up—but I think the general consensus when new writers show up is wariness. Even if they are fans of the show who want to pay their respects to the characters they’re taking on, they also want to add their distinctive flavor to the pot. This can lead to things that don’t make complete sense compared to a character’s current growth pattern.
I mean, everyone hates the last two seasons of “Gilmore Girls,” and especially the seventh because it’s the first without the Palladinos (the creators/showrunners). So new writer wariness is a thing! I think it might be the ultimate manifestation of what can go wrong with the writer/consumer relationship. Writers pour their souls into this thing they’re creating to the point where it kind of IS them. It’s their baby. But it’s also a commodity. It’s being given away to people who can do with it what they will . . . and they WILL. It’s why fanfiction exists. Fans feel betrayed when new (or old) writers do something that doesn’t feel true to the way a character’s been progressing, so they retaliate by taking the show back.
I don’t know how to fix this. I mean, arguably I do: everyone just stop being lazy. But that’s easier said than done (because laziness).
What’s definitely not helping? The ability to binge-watch.
Bingeing isn’t an entirely new concept. Anyone who’s marathoned the Harry Potter movies without the assistance of ABC Family/Freeform knows how to binge-watch. I frequently binged “Boy Meets World” once all the DVDs were finally in my possession. So this isn’t something that sprang up out of nowhere. It’s just that all the streaming services available to us have made it soooooooooooo easy (there’s that laziness again) to do. And that’s a problem.
As I was watching “Gilmore Girls,” I found myself asking Was this show ever good? I was partially convinced that the reason I hated it was because it didn’t age well when watched all at once (which is the case with “Friends”). Perhaps, I thought, if I had watched the show as it was coming out, I would revere it as so many people do to this day. I was very willing to blame binge-watching. And I do think it deserves at least some of the blame.
When you can just devour a show (over a weekend, in a week, over a few weeks), it’s a lot easier to see its flaws, easier to decipher the patterns. Having a week-long break, plus the mid-season breaks and the between-season breaks, made it easier to gloss over some of a show’s weaker points because there’s always the potential for it to get better! If there was a cliffhanger, that week’s worth of WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!? carries the viewer into another episode. It’s not a great system (for the viewer; works out well for the TV people), but it’s what we have.
This system is destroyed by the ability to binge. We don’t have to wait anymore, and this is a curse and a blessing. I had to stop actively watching “How To Get Away With Murder” because it was just too much drama and too much tension to have to live through; I fully intend to binge the crap out of it when the show ends. So I love being able to watch a show all in one go. But when it comes to watching a show like “Gilmore Girls,” I don’t think being able to binge helped me out at all beyond the sense that it was over a lot faster. Every fight felt like a fight I had just watched a few minutes before; every dramatic crescendo felt like the last peak in a roller coaster, which is less about thrills and more about getting you acclimated to being still again. Instead of feeling significant in any way, everything just falls flat because it all came directly on the heels of an equally lame situation.
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So WAS “Gilmore Girls” ever good?
I feel like it wasn’t. I may not be the target demographic for it beyond “having a uterus,” but I like to think that I know when a good story is happening—I’m kinda basing my career on that belief. And I do not think this is a good story. It has its very, very brief moments. But in the grand picture, it’s not that great. It promotes terrible values, it has main characters who are practically impossible to relate to, and it often punishes the few people who didn’t suck (I CAN’T STRESS THE LANE HATES SEX THING MORE).
But considering how many people continue to think it was amazing, what does that say about me? What does it say about the state of television?
I can’t watch HIMYM anymore because of what was done to it; even episodes from its peak (seasons 3 to 5) aren’t enough because I just think about how it’s all for nothing. Am I going to watch “Happy Endings” in 15 years and think that it’s the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen?
God, I hope not.
I still love TV, and I truly hope that all the shows I love will age gracefully. But I do think there’s a larger issue at hand here. How can we make sure binge-watching doesn’t wreck the relationship we as viewers have with storytelling? How can shows put in more of an effort with the stories they’re telling, helping to create a better class of person? I know there’s no way we can rely on people to get better on their own! Have you not been paying attention to how lazy we are?! We need to follow examples, and as of right now, they’re not being properly set by the shows we consume.
So that’s where I’m at right now.
“Gilmore Girls” didn’t break my will to live or anything. Apparently, upon the conclusion of this post, I’m going to watch the revival; I’d been on the fence, but Super Hubs has put his foot down because he wants to get it over with so that “we don’t have to think about it ever again.” And as I said, I still love TV. It’s great! If anything, “Gilmore Girls” has fueled my desire to try and write my own show because at the very least, it’ll be a little bit better than that! But it definitely made me think about all the issues with television as it stands today. I don’t have much to offer you in ways of solutions, but I felt obligated to point things out on the off chance one of you has something in mind!
Now I’m off to buy some pomegranate soda because if I’m subjecting myself to more of the Gilmores, the last bit of raspberry vodka in my freezer is getting drunk the hell up.
May your friends always share their logins,