The Boob Tube

At the age of twenty-five, it is finally becoming apparent to me that I am no longer an adolescent. My perceptions and attitude are changing. Some of the most obvious examples are my opinions of popular television. Now, I can't be entirely sure whether this is due to a gradual decline in quality of programming, or whether I'm simply becoming more cynical with age. I do know there was once a time when I enjoyed watching new hit shows. Most of the time now, aside from a few exceptions, TV just makes me grumpy.


Exceptions include silliness.

I'll avoid discussing "reality" shows here. Those come with their own philosophical debate about morality, sadism, and exhibitionism. I would rather focus on the drama and comedy series that impress their stories on us. These are the shows that overwhelm every corner of the Internet , the ones your coworkers won't shut up about during coffee breaks, where accidental spoilers can end friendships. The characters and stories that resonate with us can be an apt commentary on our psyche.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I do want to make a quick disclaimer. There will be some spoilers in here. I split it up by show, so you can skip over whatever you need to. Additionally, the shows I chose to focus on are the ones I have sat down to watch. There are many shows out there that I haven't been able to force myself to watch. Revolution had so much bad science in the first ten minutes that I had to shut it off. Judging by the commercials, Sleepy Hollow is so far removed from the original story, I have to wonder why they used the name. Also, because I got an overwhelming amount of response when I asked for your input on this entry, it's going to be the first of several. If I didn't get to your favorite series this time, I may cover it in the next.

The Walking Dead*

You cannot escape The Walking Dead. Even if you have avoided watching it (as I did until recently), you probably already know Lori is a conniving and manipulative stereotype of a terrible wife, and that Carl is never in the house. I'm not going to go hyper-feminist on you here and go on a rant about Lori. There are some horrible people in the world, and some of them are female. Plus, there are enough people on the web complaining about her already.

As a matter of fact, I am interested by the current trend of flawed protagonists. Most of them don't quite reach the point of the Byronic hero I love so dearly, but it does hint in that direction. Daryl's character comes extremely close, but lacks the necessary education and sophistication to be a pure example. Although he doesn't have much in the way of schooling, he's one of the most perceptive and intelligent characters on the show. This is one of the reasons he's everyone's favorite character. His experience in practical skills like hunting give him a leg up in the game of survival.

In truth, most of the characters on The Walking Dead strike me as incredibly dim-witted, and not only when compared to the capable Daryl. There are a lot of moments in the series that seem to be either added or drawn out to increase the emotional tension. I'm referring to how long it took Rick to notice the hatch in the bottom of the tank that was mere inches from his face. Another prime example is Andrea sitting and caressing her zombie sister's face for nearly two minutes.

For all the internet hype I was exposed to about Carl's idiocy, he's one of the most competent on the show. Yeah, he taunted the walker that was stuck in the mud that one time, but he's a kid. By the end of the third season, he's a total badass. Now compare that to the myriad of stupid decisions made by the adults around him. I've heard the argument that all of the characters were "dumbed down" in order to give the average viewer more self-confidence, and allow them to believe that they would survive in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

I had a lot of trouble refraining from punching the television whenever contamination or medical treatment were featured. Let's talk about the episode "Guts" (Season 1, Episode 2), during the scene where the group uses a dead walker for scent camouflage. They give a big speech about how important it is to avoid getting walker innards on your skin. Therefore, everyone is dressed in rubber gloves and lab coats. Despite blood spattering in all directions as they bludgeon a walker, only one person is wearing face protection. Once everyone is good and smeared up, the gloves come off. People also have a habit of touching the blood on their weapons, or disregarding blood flying in their faces.

When it comes to dealing with injuries, all I can say is do not use this show as first aid reference. They do better than most fictional series, but having EMT training, I find myself subject to frequent face-palming. If someone is actively bleeding out, do not keep changing the dressings. Apply more on top. Different kinds of antibiotics are for different types of infections. They are not mix-and-match.

One scene that caused a lot of frustration for me in particular was when Daryl got an arrow through his side. He secured it as best he could, which is the right move if he were about to be loaded into an ambulance - not for climbing a cliff. At the very least, he should have shortened the arrow shaft. Leaving an object that long in place during excessive motion will only cause more damage.

Finally, I have to point out the show's blatant case of Token Black Guy Syndrome. They only have one male of African-American descent in the group at any given time, and they all have the same character description. Each one comes across as a tough guy, but he has a heart of gold. He's not proud of his past, but he's working hard to redeem himself, and will do anything to protect those he cares about.

From a writing standpoint, they do an excellent job of character development for the most part. Aside from a few of the fringe characters, the personalities are very believable, if not always relatable. I also want to say that I have never seen a show deal with the issue of suicide so brazenly.

Game of Thrones*

I absolutely love the book series Game of Thrones, so I probably hold the show to an especially high standard. However, I am fully aware that television is a different medium that has to present the same story in its own way. I understand why they have to make a lot of changes. I understand why Arya's character was so watered down, as well as much of the world's general brutality. I get the viewer appeal of adding more background on Robb and Jeyne's relationship. The story line where Danerys' dragons were kidnapped never happened in the book, but it does a good job of illustrating her emotions toward them.

There are some other alterations I'll have to see the result of before I can judge. For instance, Jeyne wasn't supposed to be at the Red Wedding. I can see why they chose to merge Gendry and Edric's characters, but I'm not sure how Melisandre will be able to justify her motivations with Stannis now that she knows about Beric Dondarrion and his sword. We'll see.

I get concerned sometimes, because occasionally when they make changes for the show, things go horribly awry in the consistency department. In the second season, there was an instance when Danerys returned to find her entire Khal slaughtered. At the end of the season, they were returned to her side with no explanation in time to see her revenge. Another anomaly is that Gilly Craster gave birth to the same baby twice.

Someone argued recently that the inconsistencies here are a consequence of an inadequate budget. The writer in me wants to insist that forethought and planning cost nothing, especially when the story has already been outlined. Monetary issues explain why so many characters were cut, combined, or simply introduced late. I don't see how they factor into these manufactured plot holes.

Overall, I think the show does really well at staying true to Martin's world and the characters in it. I really enjoy the underlying contentions of human nature, and the varying perspectives on a single action. Martin is one of the most remarkably gifted writers of our time, and there are few book series more worthy of a screen translation. I would love to see Discworld though, now that I think about it.

Orange is the New Black

In all honesty, when Netflix asked me to rate this show, I didn't know how to answer. Purely as entertainment, I really enjoyed it. It made me laugh, and I got invested in the stories of the characters. I wanted to find out how each of them had reached that low point in their lives. It's a good show.

Still, from a social commentary standpoint, they touched upon a lot of important issues that I felt they could have gone much further with. In that regard, I found myself disappointed. In the interest of full disclosure, I ultimately decided to watch this show because someone had recommended it as a show that demonstrated "real" women. Now that I've seen the series, I take issue with that comment.

From the very first episode, there are baffling statements, like when the protagonist insists she's "not a lesbian anymore." Getting engaged does not change a person's sexual orientation, but the word "bisexual" never comes up at all. Piper seems to consider her preference to be a switch, that she can only be attracted to one or the other, even though she has enjoyed relationships with both.

Another statement I couldn't easily swallow came from the prison administrator. When discussing the cessation of a transgender inmate's hormone medication, the female administrator compares a male to female sex change to winning the lottery, then giving away the ticket. Unless she's a man stuck in a woman's body, that makes no sense, but the show hasn't delved any more into that.

The show also spends a lot of time skirting the issue of mental disorders. Mention is frequently made that many of the prisoners are on antidepressants, but there is almost no communication with counselors. Specific conditions aren't named, and it's easy to believe they aren't treated. If the show's creators are trying to make a point about treatment in the penal systems, the subtlety is not doing them any favors. At the very least, they could emphasize the role of psychiatric disorders in the crimes that cost the characters their freedom.

There's a lot of opportunity with this subject matter to make a point about real social concerns. A second season is in the works, so I have hopes that they will deal with some of these topics more head-on. They could conversely choose to go in a more comedic direction, but as shows like Derek illustrate, there's no reason they can't do both.

*I have not read The Walking Dead graphic novels. I'm currently on Game of Thrones book four: A Feast for Crows.

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