If I know our audience, and I think that I do, everyone reading this is a stay-at-home, middle-aged mother who loves the shit out of Internet comedy and Oprah Winfrey. Unfortunately, for everyone else it may not be immediately apparent how profoundly The Oprah Winfrey Show controls our everyday lives, so here's some context: Of the 70 books in Oprah's book club, 59 of them went on to become best-sellers after her endorsement. During an episode of her show discussing mad cow disease, she said, "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger." Cattle ranchers then sued Oprah for single-handedly driving beef prices down to the lowest they had been in a decade. And in case you're a vegetarian who doesn't read, she was also credited with netting Barack Obama over a million votes in his run for president, and we all know how that turned out.
Her approval or critique of any person, business or product on The Oprah Winfrey Show can be the difference between its success and failure. And now, after 25 years of teaching the world what to like and hate, the cancellation of The Oprah Winfrey Show is leaving a bigger vacancy than just a network TV time slot -- it is creating a cultural void. She is forcing her audience out of the studio and into the streets to decide for themselves what books to read, what charities to sponsor and what skin-cleanse systems to buy.
Damn. Anyone know what brand of crazy Camping uses?
The Walking Dead is the only show in America that all of my friends watch despite the fact that we all mostly hate it. I've seen that phenomenon with reality TV shows (the audience of Jersey Shore is made exclusively of people who only watch on the off chance that one of the characters might choke to death in the middle of an episode -- but I'll let Dave talk about that), but never with a serious, scripted television show on a network known mostly for its quality.
This isn't the place for me to talk about why this show is bad (the pacing, unlikable characters, not enough zombies, a lack of fresh ideas, child actors, what's-her-name, Rick's terrible accent), and I know that taste is subjective. Just because all of my friends watch the show begrudgingly doesn't mean the rest of the world does. That said, we have a Forum where people can talk about movies, TV shows, music, life and whatever else they're interested in. Everyone's usually pretty articulate and thoughtful, it's nice in there. Here are some quotes from various folks in the thread dedicated to The Walking Dead:
"Why are the writers doing their best to make us hate the main characters?"
"Man, this show is getting more and more soap opera-y every week. They really need to get back on the road because it's starting to stagnate."
"I was trying not to dislike Dale and Andrea, I've failed."
"I think at this point, the words that come to mind when I think of Lori are 'useless' and 'no redeeming qualities.' That's probably not good for your leading lady."
"Yes, I do hate the shit out of most everybody."
It's not like we have a special section of our forums for people to hate a TV show. Those are people in a thread reserved for fans of The Walking Dead! And the weird thing is that they are fans. The people who don't like the show don't watch it, but the people who love this show hate it. Go to the comments section over at the AV Club whenever they recap a new episode, and you'll find that most of those commenters are similarly pissed off at the show. The show that they keep watching. Every. Single. Week.
And why do they do that? One word: Hope. And now for some more words: Everyone who watches The Walking Dead isn't watching it because it's good; they're watching it because it can be good (and because Daryl rules). When I heard about this show, I was on board because I thought, "This could be either a show about people fighting zombies OR a show about interesting, diverse strangers trying to set up a new life at the end of the world, and also there are zombies in the background." It is, unfortunately, neither of those shows (it's a show where 12 unlikable people get into tense whisper-fights inches from each other's faces and between two and four zombies get killed every episode to remind people that HEY ZOMBIES). But I keep watching because, one day, it might be one of those better shows I envisioned when the show was first announced.
Some people watch because the graphic novel on which the show is based is awesome, and they're holding out hope that, one day, the show might be as good as the comics. Some people keep watching because it has all of the ingredients of a good show (money, the creative freedom a network like AMC allows, great source material, lots of characters, a liberal amount of side-boob, zombies), and even though it hasn't embraced those ingredients yet, it still might some day.
The Walking Dead is successful because people are tuning in but watching a different, better show in their imaginations, every single week. We, as a television-viewing audience, have never been this optimistic.
With the success of the hilarious Bridesmaids, the smart cookies behind great things decided that "a funny movie that focuses on funny women" meant "let's make some pretty standard television with nerdorable star Zooey (sp?) Deschanel(sp?) and also this Whitney girl. Let's give her 2 shows, in fact."
"That sounds like one 2 many shows," other female comedians mentioned, probably.
The Jokedorable Whitney spawned 2 Broke Girls and Whitney and the Girls (later shortened to just And the Girls [later fixed to just Whitney]). Here's what I think a full episode of 2 Broke Girls is like, because apparently I was feeling like a real prick on the day I made it:
In the spirit of community and the holiday season, I just want to say that I'm sure everyone who works on the show is really wonderful. I haven't even seen it, so, you know, fuck me, I'm terrible. I've honestly only seen JUST over an episode of The New Girl. I'm not interested in watching 2 Broke Girls in the same way I'm not interested in watching Two and a Half Men. Meanwhile, there are the female-centric Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, which are two of the best shows on right now. That's how TV is regardless of gender. 1 percent incredible and 99 percent not very incredible at all. And I promise I won't relate this to the #Occupy Movement even though I totally could and it would be awesome for at least a little bit. But for the purposes of this, I will just say let's bring on more of The Adoragirl Gals so we can get more KNOPE 2012s. Because for every 1 Liz Lemon, we've got 99 Whitneys, and a bitch ain't one, nor is a bitch 99. None of them are bitches. Yeesh. Something about 99 balloons. #Occupy Balloons. The end.
I have never seen one full episode of this show. And I can't stop talking about it.
Specifically, I can't stop talking about how I don't watch it and joking about how shitty the show is, and how shitty the cast members are and how shitty their fans must be. When I went home for Christmas last year, we spent hours around the table talking about Jersey Shore. I bet that, combined, the people at the table hadn't seen three episodes total.
I edit Cracked articles for a living. In the past two years I have edited probably three dozen Jersey Shore jokes and deleted another hundred from article drafts. I'm guessing very few of those writers watch the show, either.
That is, of course, the point of Jersey Shore. We need Snooki, and the Situation, and Stinky, and Fat Joey (OK, I only know two of their names) to perfectly define for us in stark detail exactly what kind of humans we don't want to be: shallow, stupid, promiscuous, arrogant, lazy, devoid of useful skills. "Look at them! Go stand in the spotlight, Snooki, so everybody can see how much you suck. No, stay there, we're going to talk endlessly about your suckiness as if we're the only ones who have figured it out."
A society dies without villains -- we think of our life as a story, and a story doesn't make sense without a bad guy. The Jersey Shore cast members are the highest grade of villain -- the kind who are objectively repulsive, yet have enormous popular support from ... somebody. Enough that the Situation made $5 million last year and Snooki became a New York Times best-selling author. So we get to first revel in how much better we are than the shrieking, drunken Snooki, and then congratulate ourselves a second time for being better than the millions of adoring, approving fans that we imagine Snooki must have (but that we have never actually met).
And make no mistake; everyone involved knows exactly what they're doing. MTV knows, the producers know, the cast knows. That's why they're always trying to top themselves ("OMG, this time Snooki TOOK OFF HER PANTIES AT THE DANCE and then VOMITED ON HER PANTIES!").I mean, you know this isn't a hidden camera situation, right? When Snooki danced and passed out and showed everyone her vagina, she did it in front of a camera crew, and a sound guy, and a director, and other people holding equipment. She knows she's the star of a TV show, and that the only thing standing between her and having to get a real job is acting in a way that society finds shockingly inappropriate. Ann Coulter knows the same thing. So does Charlie Sheen. So do the Kardashians.
To this day, I can't tell if the public in general knows this and just pretends not to know it (because, like a placebo, the benefit derived from a Snooki vanishes as soon as we understand it) or if it's one of those shared fictions that keeps society from imploding, the way we don't think about the work conditions at the factory where they made our iPhone. I guess it doesn't matter. All I know is that in periods of tremendous economic, political and social upheaval, we depend on our Snookis more than ever. They are the real heroes.