Life as a fourth year university student is monotonous at best. I wake up, I go onto campus, I work until I want to collapse, I come home and I watch television. This is my routine every day and the only variation is the television I choose to watch. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the cusp of finishing an era of my life where I suddenly realise that I’m nearing the same age as most sitcom characters, yet my life is changing far more rapidly than theirs.
As a Brit we have a culture of creating amazing TV shows but only offering a measly six episodes at the time. While I grasp at the opportunity to binge watch home-grown television, it actually only takes a few hours to catch up on a whole series. I’m having to turn more and more to American programming because there’s so much of it. Netflix only exacerbates this further.
However it’s starting to make me a bit depressed, as the more shows I watch, the less actual content I notice there is. While 22 episodes might seem a lot, it’s only a handful – 3, or 4, which actually progress the series forward. While I like occasional escapism, it just gets to the point where I feel like I’m wasting my time.
Let’s take New Girl as an example. Likeable characters, fantastic casting (Winston is so underrated) but so cliché. We know how it will end; with some sort of big event where Jess and Nick and Cece and Schmidt will get together. A few of the details may change, but that’s pretty much how it will go. There’s something so depressing about the fact that these characters are in their mid 30s and act like they’re in their early 20s. Why would you live with four other people in a flat at 35? Especially when you can clearly afford not to? We knew Jess would break up with the English man a few episodes after we met him because ultimately she will get with Nick – so what’s the point? I almost want to skip forward a few years to the season finale.
It seems more and more typical trope by the screenwriters to keep the situation as-is because they can’t think innovatively and don’t want the essence of the show to change. It’s the same with 2 Broke Girls: after four years the same characters are working in the same restaurant, making the same racist, stereotyping jokes. Would Caroline Channing REALLY not have figured out with her business brain SOME WAY of earning more money? Even working as a secretary? Even applying for a better waitress job?
We can say this about so many sitcoms – Modern Family needs excuses for the children growing up to still be at home (they can get away with it with Haley, but if they find an excuse to keep Alex in as a regular I’d be disappointed; particularly as she’s the weak link of the series.) Modern Family did, however, produce a highly innovative, stand-out episode which was set on a computer screen a few weeks ago though, so it is mildly excused for the time-being.
A few sitcoms which have truly prevailed, in my biased view, are the ones where the characters have adapted and developed. We can certainly say that about Parks and Recreation, which just finished on a brilliantly euphoric high note, and Girls, which, while subdued this season has shown how the unlikeable but relatable Hannah continues to develop as a person. We may not even be invested in her, but it feels so much more true. Even the Big Bang Theory has showed real character development, even though we’re still having to believe that Penny has lost all her other friends from earlier series, and has lost the majority of her charming quirks. (She’s basically a sarcastic girl who relies on alcohol jokes now).
But, in general, this is what I want to see. A representation of real life and how other people are coping in this modern world. I’m not asking everything to be mumble-core; I’d still like to escape, but what I would like is change and development. Even Him & Her, which was set entirely in one flat and is supposedly about nothing led me to crying profusely near the end because I’d been so adapted to the characters. What was so successful about Him & Her was that it showed a fish-bowl narrative of a particular point in time and time of their lives, and the series finale ended when, essentially their life began to change.
Do you disagree? Do you think of television as escapism and nothing else? Or do you agree? Do you think that television shows should have more plot development or is the formula, to you ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?