Wednesday, February 24, 2016

When will reality TV shows disappear?

We’re now well into season 6 of The Walking Dead; episode 10, entitled The Next World, aired on Monday evening here in Norway. Fear the Walking Dead starts up again in April, and tomorrow night the sixth (and final so far) episode of The X-Files airs. I’ve been watching them all and loving them. The return of The X-Files after so many years (it went off the air in 2002) made me very happy; I looked forward to getting involved with Mulder and Scully’s cases and their relationship all over again. And these episodes didn’t disappoint; despite mixed reviews (as always), they managed to hold my attention and left me wanting more. It’s not just that all these shows are sci-fi, horror, apocalyptic, or fantasy shows that appeal to me because I find those genres interesting. It’s that we get involved with the characters at the same time, characters that are dealing with life and death situations, survival, family matters, sickness and death. The zombies have to be dealt with and/or dispatched on The Walking Dead; likewise the mutants and monsters on The X-Files. No matter how fantastic it all becomes, no matter that the survival of the main characters is sometimes very surprising or even unthinkable, I am rooting for all of them to make it. This is television at its best—series that I enjoy following, that give me something to think about and look forward to each week; that entertain me, surprise me, shock me, and involve me. There are other good series too; Sleepy Hollow, Game of Thrones, Wayward Pines, and American Horror Story are just a few that come to mind. I’ve watched them too, but The Walking Dead and The X-Files remain my favorites. I’m just thankful that they exist at all, because most of what is available to watch is reality TV. I wish someone would take a hatchet to anything that even remotely smacks of reality TV, and put all these shows out of their misery forever. They include The Kardashians, all the cooking competition shows, all the lip-syncing competition shows, all the ‘how to survive on a desert island or on a mountain-top’ shows, all the shows about bratty children who fall in line when a nanny appears, all the shows about spoiled adults whose credit cards are maxed-out and who suddenly need professional help to get them out of debt, all the shows about presumably fashionable (not) women telling other women how to dress, all the shows about pawn shop users or those who go scrounging through other people’s garage possessions, and rich men’s wives. The list goes on ad nauseum.


I don’t know what I’d do without the TCM channel that serves up films from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, that even at their worst, are one hundred times better than anything offered me by reality TV shows. Most of the old films had real substance; a few were fluff, but the majority were not. These were films made about characters you wanted to get to know, involved in life dramas that mattered. Not so for reality TV shows. I wonder how our Western culture became so obsessed with the latter, and with one family in particular; that family’s every move is reported in the media. How did that happen, and why? Or is it just a matter of watching them because there is nothing else on? Why do I not care what happens to a single one of them? Why do I wish they would all crash and burn? All I know is that I am glad I grew up when watching television was an enjoyable experience, when shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maya, Bonanza, Kojak, Sanford and Son, Bewitched, The Bionic Woman, The Bob Newhart Show, The Partridge Family, The Waltons, The Brady Bunch, Hogan’s Heroes, Dallas, Knot’s Landing, All in the Family, MASH, The Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows, Night Gallery, The Night Stalker, Columbo, Cheers, Miami Vice, Magnum PI, Married With Children, Murder She Wrote, St. Elsewhere, Moonlighting, and Remington Steele, among many others, were popular. I watched them all and followed them all. They made an impression on me that has lasted. They were funny, sad, moving, provocative, entertaining, scary, intelligent, but above all, memorable. That cannot be said for reality TV programs. I feel sorry for this generation that has grown up with these shows; they have no real idea of what good television is, except perhaps when they sit down to watch the TV series that we grew up with. It is no wonder that streaming has become so popular; I can watch the shows I’m interested in and ignore the junk. That’s progress.  

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