Now I know that there’s a certain degree of irony attached to this post. Just now you read my question on why people don’t read anymore. I’m not really talking about reading in the the sense of skimming the occasional article online, though. Before anyone tries to point it out- yeah, I’m aware that the medium for communication has shifted a lot since video is now accessible to pretty much everyone.
I’m talking about books, people. When did we stop reading books?
I would go bankrupt buying books with gifs for illustrations…
I can’t count how many times I’ve been reading a book in public and people act as if I’ve started cleaning a black-powder musket.
There’s a stark difference between what’s on children’s programming now and what there was when I was younger. I’m not here to critique the quality of the shows, because stuff like The Regular Show and The Amazing World of Gumball are really good; I’m here to comment on the content.
Cartoons used to be about kids. At the youngest end of the scale you had Rugrats, which was literally about babies. Moving up you went through Hey Arnold!, The Weekenders, all the way up to the aptly named 6teen. These were kids who went to school, who had sleepovers, who hung out with their friends. They were relatable.
The following is the opening theme from The Weekenders [1999-2004]:
This is the opening theme from Sidekick [2010-present]:
Both of these shows are, at their core, about the same thing. The difference is the gimmick present in the latter. Sidekick is about kids, sure, but it’s about kids who are training at the Academy for Aspiring Sidekicks. To contrast, The Weekenders is about kids who enjoy hanging out with each other on weekends.
That’s not to say genre-mixing in kids’ shows hasn’t been around for ages, and that I don’t enjoy them. Programs about kids who are also spies have been around since Kim Possible and Totally Spies. One of my all-time favourite shows, Fillmore!, is a shameless parody of hard-boiled police dramas, with its characters often acting more like tiny adults than children.
The fact is, I miss shows without gimmicks. When all you have to deal with is a football-headed kid and his pals, that forces you as a writer to be creative, to make the ordinary extraordinary but still relatable. Stuff can get weird, like the barbarically tribal kindergarteners in Recess, but for the most part you’re sticking to real life stuff. Honestly, being a kid is a bizarre enough experience as it is.
I love Adventure Time and its protagonist, Finn the Human. He’s a fourteen-year-old kid, and his escapades are all kinds of awesome. The thing is, I’m never going to be best friends/brothers with a magical talking dog, or date a girl who is literally on fire. I get escapism, I know why it’s important, but I also can’t feel the same way about Adventure Time as I do The Weekenders. I could have been Tino or Carver, but there’s no way I can ever be Finn.
1) Bring Them Back to School 2) Have a Little Class 3) Have Mercy on Ben Chang 4) Where Are We Going? 5) We Should See Other People
If you want to elaborate on them ever so slightly-
GORDON: Alright. While Evan and I do differ slightly on what we’d like to see the show bring back, these ARE the fundamentals here.
The whole reason we first started watching was because we, like the target demographic, were either in college, about to go to college, or just graduated from college and were looking back with fond memories- forgetting the ulcers that Statistics classes gave you.
EVAN: I loathed Stats.
GORDON: Point is- it’s all about the college- put the characters back in classes, and back on campus.
Chang, of course, was one of the most mesmerizing characters in there; mysterious, inscrutable. The fact that he’s been reduced to a punching-bag who makes cameos every once in a while is just wrong. It’s like using the Venus de Milo as a door-stopper.
And of course, if we could actually see the characters progress, that’d be nice.
Troy, if I recall correctly, was dealing with the loss of his jock status.
EVAN: Way back in Season 1, though. They haven’t touched on his and Annie’s high school statuses in ages.
GORDON: Not at all.
And last but not least, it’d be cool to see some other characters. There’re only so many Starburns jokes out there. Remember that one teacher that Jeff was into?
That gal actually added to the show- she wasn’t some prop to set up jokes.
EVAN: As we talked about, way back, the show requires direction. What happened in Season 3, exactly?
EVAN: All the characters started moving out of their dorms and such, and there was this big outward push. Something which, I think it’s fair to say, we didn’t expect to see until Season 4. They started to remove themselves from Greendale, which again we mentioned weakened the show.
GORDON: Exactly what year are these people, anyways? They finished freshman year, but after that I don’t think I ever saw ’em in class again.
EVAN: Heh. Seriously, though, this final thirteen-episode season is their final year. They’re going to be graduating, finally on that thirteenth episode.
GORDON: Really? Dang. It’s a shame so much was just… wasted.
EVAN: How about this: Let’s talk about what they did right in Season 3, and what we hope to see in Season 4. Just because, well, there were some solid episodes in there somewhere.
GORDON: Such as?
EVAN: “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Third episode of the season.
GORDON: I’m gonna have to disagree with you on that one. Solid writing- but not good writing for the show.
EVAN: “Studies in Modern Movement,” seventh, and “Regional Holiday Music,” the episode right before their hiatus.
GORDON: I hated the musical one- but that’s no surprise. And what was “Modern Movement,” again?
EVAN: The one where Annie moves in with Abed and Troy. It ends with a weird medley of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” as it pans between every character.
GORDON: I think you’re forgetting what a scatter-brained episode that was. Great individual jokes- but really poorly stitched together.
EVAN: I’m going to have to disagree with you. I’ve rewatched it a few times, and it holds up. It’s pretty good throughout.
GORDON: Well, we’ll have to settle on that.
But even if those all were as good as you recall- that is one freaking shoddy record. Plus, they barely even touched on Greendale Community College. That’s like… “Hey, that’s a great story about food- but this is a murder mystery show.” It just doesn’t fit.
EVAN: And for those who might argue that-
GORDON: Let’s not do this, dude. The Community fans, they’re rabid, “ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD” kind of people.
EVAN: Looking forward to that gif.
GORDON: I don’t think I’ve seen this much undeserved adoration since Taylor Swift started her campaign to destroy feminism.
EVAN: Whoa, I love “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
GORDON: Every time you play that song, a feminist gets cancer.
EVAN: It’ll be your turn eventually.
Anyway. In terms of Community, there’s no better place to gauge the show’s popularity than my favourite [heh- Canadians spell weird, -G] place for TV reviews, the AV Club. The lowest grade the show got last season was a B.
GORDON: Which shows what lousy reviewers they have for that show (that’s right, come get me). Look- the show’s bad. It’s been bad for a while now, and the occasional bit of unrelated humor isn’t enough to redeem it. Back when the show supposedly got axed, I was happy. For once- just once- I saw it happen to a series that (I thought) deserved it.
Ok, we’ll do this- what would you want to see in the upcoming season?
EVAN: I would like to see . . . huh. That’s a good question.
I’d like to see a kickin’ [that’s what the cool kids are saying thse days] prof for History 101, their final class together. I want to see closure as they graduate and are forced to move on with their lives. I mean, man, we graduated like what, four months ago? People have to move on. Even if it does suck.
GORDON: With the debacle of the past couple seasons, simple truth of the matter is that what made the characters compelling in the first place can’t be resurrected- if the show’s gonna go out with a bang, new motives need to be brought in.
Specifically- I want Chang to get his job back. And I want Tina Fey as the history prof.
EVAN: Ooh. Impossible, but good.
GORDON: Well- perfect world, here.
EVAN: I think Troy actually working towards a career is good. I mean, his whole air con repairman thing from last season; he knows where he could be headed. Jeff wants to become a lawyer again. What about everyone else?
GORDON: Shirley and her financial independence.
EVAN: There’s a lot of potential here as far as what they want, where they want to go.
GORDON: I was actually surprised that her story was the only one that really lasted.
Abed? Poor guy doesn’t have much left in him.
EVAN: Abed could- I don’t know. Write for TV?
GORDON: Become a film prof?
EVAN: It’s hard to tell, considering the manchildren him and Troy have been reduced to.
GORDON: And as we like ending on high notes that’ll be it for us here at the CWR.
EVAN: We talked a little about what we liked about Community in the past, and what we hope to see in the future, and in spite of anything we said we’ll be watching “History 101” alongside all of you in two more days.
GORDON: As usual, be sure to vote for next week’s discussion topic below.
EVAN: And thanks for reading.
EDIT: We were way off with this, and apparently the first episode lands Friday, October 19th. Our bad.
Over the past couple days, actors Donald Faison and Zach Braff have been campaigning for Obama here in Vegas. While I’m not a fan of their political stance, I freaking love Scrubs and have been re-watching the show for what must now be about the ninety-billionth time.
It got me thinking about a discussion Evan and I had a while back, in which we concluded after some debate that Scrubs is the best show of all time.
Ok, that’s not going to mean anything to you if you haven’t actually seen Scrubs. If you haven’t, go watch it now.
Now think about it- has there been a bad episode of Scrubs? Has there ever been an even sub-par episode of Scrubs?
There really hasn’t. Not every episode is fun to watch (it’s a hospital- you can’t expect them not to deal with mortality and whatnot)- some episodes are downright depressing and tragic. Even so, there show never fails to have some substance to it and (and this is the big thing) never really diminishes in quality despite having been on air for eight seasons (nobody counts the ninth as cannon).
But more on that in a minute…
See, what makes Scrubs so consistently good isn’t that it’s funny- it is funny, but not every episode, and not every joke in the funny episodes will have you on the floor.
Though most will…
It’s that it’s consistent all the way through. The characters develop, certainly, but they never really shift dramatically or break away from who they were a season ago. JD is always JD, Turk is always Turk, and so on. The wacky, exaggerated universe of the show never strays too much into total realism or too far off into surrealism. In short, and episode seen in the last season of Scrubs is about the same (extremely high) quality that the initial episodes are.
Now I know you’re all saying, “But Gordon, you ruggedly handsome bastion of logic and truth, surely consistency isn’t all there is to it!”, and yes, it’s not just consistency that makes a show good. Comedies need to be funny, dramas need to be agonizing, and so on- nevertheless, these things are dwarfed when it comes to consistency- let me give you an example of this done wrong.
Community. I remember seeing ads for it in my first year of college and thinking “Neat- a show about college. Something I and my demographic can all relate to and get a kick out of. This looks like it’s gonna be good”.
And it was.
(Barring that they had an Indian guy playing an Arab kid because apparently all brown people are the same…)
Really good. In fact, the first season of Community is probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in the couple decades I’ve been alive. But what proceeded the glorious first season was one of the fastest and ugliest burnouts in television history.
You remember how Abed was socially-challenged but ultimately human in his attempts to relate to people and make is father (also played by an Indian actor) proud? Remember how Jeff wanted to get his degree and regain control over his life? Remember how Troy was trying to deal with the loss of his status? How Annie was trying to reinvent herself?
Yeah, all of that went down the toilet in the subsequent season. The motivations that gave the episodes conflict and helped progress the characters and the story as a whole were more or less dropped, and the little quirks that made the characters funny and interested got so blown up that they became the only aspect of the characters. Abed went from movie-geek to schizoid mess, Jeff became charming (and nothing else), Troy became just Abed’s buddy, and Annie was just the sweet naive straight-man (more or less) to the rest of the group. On top of becoming gross caricatures of their former selves, the show stopped dealing with college (which you might recall as being the reason so many people started watching the first place) and became centered entirely on the clownish escapades of the group. Granted, every once in a while you got good episodes, but never on the same level as the first season. Every time I sat down to watch Community the smile faded from my face and I could react in no other way but this:
“But Gordon, you roguish fountain of delight, isn’t this more a warning against being madcap than straying from the characters and story?”
I’d have to concede that, if it weren’t for such shows asSouth Park and American Dad. Both of these shows have been from their inception pretty surreal, nonsensical, and all-around crazy. Yet both shows have maintained that same level of craziness and remain (more or less) as popular now as when they started.
I admit, these shows are not for everyone…
Again, an excellent example of how shows drifting away from their original material kills them would perhaps the most iconic animated show of all time: The Simpsons.
My old roommate never saw the early Simpsons, and is to this day convinced that the show is side-splitting in its hilarity. And he’s probably right- I stopped watching the Simpsons after my first year of college- I got tired of having my heart broken.
Perhaps it’s best encapsulated in this quote by Lisa Simpson back in Season 2:
I heard you last night, Bart. You prayed for this. Now your prayers have been answered. I’m no theologian. I don’t know who or what God is exactly. All I know is he’s a force more powerful than Mom and Dad put together and you owe him big.
Would you ever hear that from Lisa in one of the later seasons? You would not. Why? Because Lisa has moved from being a brilliantly smart little girl to a pointy-haired midget channeling the whiny liberal indignation of Bill Maher.
Is there anything wrong with Lisa as she is today? Not really, no. If that’s who her character is, then that’s who her character is- only the hitch here is that’s not who Lisa started off as. Had Lisa started off as the yellow counterpart of Brian Griffin, then I wouldn’t have any problem. Had Homer started off as a food-crazed buffoon or Marge as a simple housewife, I’d probably still watch the show. Again, it’s the gradual change from one thing to another that’s responsible for people drifting away from the series. It’s not that shows go stale (not that staleness can’t be a problem- just look at the Gilligan’s Island episode where they’re almost rescued), it’s that they change too much.
And hey, with our ever-shortening attention spans and our rapidly changing culture, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.