I watch a lot of TV. I have to stay on top of pop culture because of my job, but I imagine I'd find some justification for my television obsession even if that weren't true. You know, like a drug addict.
One of the things you notice if you watch a ton of TV like I do is how so much of it sort of blurs together. At first I thought it was because I generally binge-watch shows, where I consume an entire series over a period of a few days before moving on to another series, but that's not the case. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the reason certain shows get confused in my head isn't because I watch too much television; it's that television isn't different enough.
4 Three to Four 20-Something Slackers Work in a [Blank]
Amazon recently got into the TV development game, which is pretty exciting. They're not bound by the same rules as network television, and they're free to experiment and try new things. Looking at their programming slate, we have:
Oh, cool, a bunch of slacker friends hanging out together, doing a job. That should be good.
Another group of friends who work together. This time at a video game place! Nerd friends!
Different ... this is different, it's a different kind of four nerds who work together ...
Really? Another show with four male friends who like video games and seem to be living in a sort of suspended adolescence? Is this one different from that other one because they like video games instead of working with video games? Why can't one of them be a woman? Or, and I'm just spitballing here, two of them?
Maybe it's just a problem with Amazon. They're new, and even though they've got a lot of freedom, they don't want to take any chances. Let's check in with NBC ...
OK. I get that most comedies eventually end up being "a bunch of friends hang out," but the specificity of three to four male slackers/misfits is really staggering to me. What does Fox have to say?
What does it take to get a TV show? Do I need to walk into a room and say "It's four slacker 20-something male friends who work in a [blank]," provided the "blank" is something that isn't currently on TV? Because I'll make the shit out of that show. Four friends who work at a zoo. Or a summer camp. Or a fake haunted house. Or an Internet comedy office. Or a whogivesashit, give me money please.
Why It Needs to Stop
Most of these shows are just "What if Workaholics was set somewhere else," and as much as I like Workaholics, I already HAVE Workaholics. Let them tell all of the stories about 20-something slackers for a while. TV networks know that "post-college graduate refusing to grow up" isn't the ONLY developmental stage and that male isn't the ONLY gender, right?
3 A Man and a Woman Solve Crimes and We Hope They Eventually Have Sex
Moonlighting ruined everything for everybody. Or, not everybody. It skyrocketed Bruce Willis' career, which resulted in Die Hard, which is basically the only reason I have a job. So while it was good for me and my spirit animal, John McClane, Moonlighting, the hit show about a private detective and a former model who join forces to solve crimes, was nothing but trouble for everyone else. It didn't have the most exciting mysteries, the directing wasn't great, and the plots often fell apart to fourth-wall-breaking, deus ex machina bullshit, but what the show did have going for it was the powerful, will-they-won't-they sexual tension between the two leads.
Half of America needed a cigarette after this scene.
And we've been paying for it ever since.
Castle is a show about a sexy detective paired up with a charming and witty novelist who solve crimes together and we the audience would really like to see them have sex. Bones is about a sexy bone specialist and a handsome and capable detective who solve crimes together and we the audience would really like to see them have sex. The X-Files was about two FBI agents and holy CRAP did we want them to have sex.
That's how powerful the will-they-won't-they trope is; even in a show about aliens and government conspiracies and time travel and monsters, the audience is still preoccupied with "Yeah, but are Mulder and Scully gonna make out or am I going to have to kill myself!?
"Oh ... so you're actually going to get as close to me as you can without kissing. No, no, that's ... that's fine."
I'm an emotionally retarded robot, so it's always surprising when a show that I thought was about crime or a magical island reaches its final season and I find out the show was actually about love. When Lost ended and there was so much emphasis put on the love between Jack and Kate, I thought, "Wait, that's what I was supposed to be concerned about? I thought- Where's Walt?"
Turns out the REAL monster-filled island was inside them the whole time.
Even shows that AREN'T about sexy law enforcement officers throw sexual tension into the mix. The Office had the Jim and Pam will-they-won't-they subplot, and as soon as they got together, the show scrambled and put the will-they-won't-they responsibility on the shoulders of Dwight and Angela, and then Andy and Angela, and then Michael and Holly, and then Andy and Erin, and then Erin and Pete, and then Kevin and Phyllis, and then Creed and Janis Joplin's ghost, and then Pam's baby and a cartoon cat. (I think. I sort of stopped watching this show.)
House and Rachel ...
Why It Needs to Stop
Don't get me wrong: I understand that plot is based on conflict, and sexual tension is the best kind of tension there is. Long-running will-they-won't-they subplots have yielded some of my favorite TV moments, but it's almost always a death sentence for a show. For the sexual and romantic tension to seem convincing, the lead characters need to have a tremendous amount of chemistry. The Catch-22 of this is that, eventually, it would be stupid for the characters not to get together. Two sexy, interesting people with great chemistry who spend all of their time around each other: Why wouldn't they get together?
The problem is that when you build your whole show around the will-they-won't-they mystery of your two leads, you no longer have a show after they get together. So, either you have to keep them apart, defying logic but keeping your show going, or you cave to logic and make your show immediately boring.