Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sleeping on "Awake": Why it's okay not to watch good shows

NBC has not been doing well for some time, as any follower of the TV industry is well aware. After last season's Jay-Leno-at-10-p.m. debacle there was a return to scripted shows in that time slot, and they did make some efforts toward quality.

The fall opened with Prime Suspect on Thursdays, which was touted as good by someone I know who saw the pilot before the season (as well as many professional critics). So my wife and I watched the first few episodes and thought them good, but then subsequently it turned into another show accumulating on the DVR queue (along with a number of other shows we were sampling from the new season), not getting watched week after week.

Eventually we realized we needed to make some cuts from the programs that would make our watching line-up, and although it was clearly a well-made show, it didn't have that intangible element to make us clamor to press play on the remote right away; it definitely deserved to stay on the air, but just not something where there was room on our particular airwaves.

However, it appears that too many others were similarly not-quite-watching, and it got canceled.

Another touted show that premiered in the spring was Awake, which we did watch for the first few weeks it aired with the opinion it was worthwhile. Granted, around that time there weren't as many other shows on the DVR competing for our time, with the fall cuts long since made and February sweeps over. However, with busy days at work and consecutive weekends filled with activities we hadn't seen the last four episodes, and with other (what we might call) first-stringers also piling up and our DVR running out of space, we deleted the unwatched episodes; it didn't seem likely we'd reawaken to Awake.

(Sorry. Seemed like it would be clever at the time.)

However, from what I hear, the ratings are pretty bad, and I'd guess the only reason it gets to finish out its run is because NBC has nothing else to replace it in that slot.*

Part of me does feel as though those of us with a desire for good TV should support shows like these if for no other reason to get the executives to believe they shouldn't fill their prime time hours with more reality shows and that the public wants shows with good writing and good acting. However, it's tricky to feel guilty about this, because it's not my job to spend my free time pursuing some abstract ideal. Also, clearly we have plenty of other shows filling up our DVR, so it's not like there's some dearth of shows we do have to entertain us when we have that free time.

Ultimately, if those shows had that elusive aspect like the shows we prioritize after recording them (whatever that is) then these shows might be doing better in the ratings, as presumably it might appeal to more others. Of course, as we're not a Nielsen household it really is inconsequential what we watch, but let's not digress to that.

It's difficult to live life on principle. Even though intellectually I grasp the slippery slope to the future of Idiocracy if we eschew decent shows like these, I also only have so many hours to allocate to TV viewing and as these are not informational but solely entertainment I must draw the line at whether I'm being sufficiently entertained in actuality rather than in some principle based theory.

When it gets down to it, I already devote more time to TV than I probably should, so I don't need more shows to try to fit in. And if there's shows that are by some empirical standard of discernible quality that still aren't worth my time, that suggests TV is offering a bounty of entertainment that should be appreciated on principle. Heck, if all the networks (both broadcast and cable) had nothing but amazing shows every hour of every night we'd never be able to keep up—and obviously we're not really doing that now with the mere percentage of goodness offered now.

Even watching as much as we try to, we still don't see a majority of what airs, and the thing is: That's exactly as it should be. The point of entertainment is not for every single thing to appeal to everyone. I know how obvious a statement that is, but it seems worth stating outright, because it also suggests that not every piece of entertainment that holds some elements that we would support in theory is something we need to support in practice if the other elements don't quite push that pleasure button quite as well as the pieces that do.

It seems worth reminding myself of that at times like this.

And if the future of TV devolves into nothing but variations of the Real Housewives and Biggest Loser and America's Got Talent, that would merely open up the time for me to catch up on all the quality shows that didn't get into our active rotation for whatever reason (Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, The Wire) and go back to watch all the movies I never saw (streaming or on DVD), and if it gets to that point where I exhaust all that, I'm told there's these things called books (to which I vaguely recall being exposed in college) to which I could resort. Surely we'd find some way to fill the time.

However, I suspect that despite moronic doomsday scenarios we delight in imagining, the future will continue to present equivalent shows to Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, etc., for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing. And while there may be an increase in Kardashian-based programs, that will merely give us time to do something wacky, like going outside once in a while.

Until the atmosphere is unbreathable, that is. But hey, happy times from too much watchable TV now!


What other shows kept Awake off the TV (besides those two mentioned above), you may ask. 

Fringe, How I Met Your Mother, Community, The Good Wife, Happy Endings, The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Modern Family, Bob's Burgers, New Girl, Psych, Raising Hope, Nikita, In Plain Sight, Up All Night, The Office, Once Upon a Time, Suburgatory, Revenge, Key and Peele, Saturday Night Live, Archer, the on-hiatus Louie, Portlandia...

(And that's not counting The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park, which I watch without my wife, or all the shows she records to watch when I'm not around.)

Yes, the oxymoronic element of seeming like a quasi-snob in the realm of the least-respected, most populist entertainment medium is not lost on me. However, allow me to assure you I have watched and enjoyed plenty of mediocre to outright crappy TV; it's probably more coincidence than any shred of snobbishness that I like any show that's actually good.


* It is worth noting that Awake seems to be going downhill from the previews I've seen for recent episodes, or at least there's a conspiratorial element they're playing up that I must admit struck us as the producers trying to make it more like last season's poor drama The Event. So it may not be as much of a good example for this post as when I first started writing it, but let's not dwell on that, okay?

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one weeding out television shows. ;-) The premise of "Awake" seemed too creepy for me. The question of "what is real?" is one that is best not asked too forcefully.

    I like the premise of "Suburgatory" but it's just too much like shows I've already seen. And she's just wayyy too precocious. I like "Archer" but eventually it got too raunchy even for me. The rest of your list is familiar but I have never watched any of them.


So, what do you think?