Television is an ugly business. Sometimes a show gets canceled, and fans and critics alike scratch their heads for months afterward trying to figure out why it happened. A few years ago, that show was Arrested Development.
Unfortunately, in 2012, it looks like that show is going to be 30 Rock.
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone on the Internet who doesn't love 30 Rock. It's an expertly written comedy force. No show currently on television is able to pack jokes and gags into a few moments of dialogue quite like 30 Rock. The stars and various bit players who make up the cast regularly deliver comedic performances of the highest caliber. If it were just 30 minutes of Alec Baldwin delivering monologues as Jack Donaghy, it would still be one of the best things on television. It's a damn near perfect show.
And nobody watches that shit.
"This is fun, but I can't help feeling like I'm missing out on Family Guy reruns right now."
As endlessly entertaining as 30 Rock is, it also stands as a stark reminder that, quite often, critical acclaim fails to translate into people giving up their plans to stay home and watch television. It's also another indictment of the supposed "power of the Internet."
We've already discussed Arrested Development, which, despite howls of protest from every corner of the Web, was unable to stave off the hangman's noose. But the online community has a long history of failing to deliver results when it gets behind a seemingly doomed project.
From Conan O'Brien on the Tonight Show to that silly show about nuclear war on CBS that starred Skeet Ulrich, time and again, widespread outcry from the Internet rarely outweighs the emotionless financial decisions that truly make any television network or movie studio do the things they do.
"I 'Liked' it on Facebook. I signed a dozen online petitions. I did everything short of pay for it! How can they cancel my show?"
It's a great big world out there. The majority opinion online isn't always going to jibe with what the public in general feels. And when that happens, all the viral protests in the world aren't going to translate into enough viewers to save a sinking show.
At least that's what we should hope happens in situations like this, that we just live in some kind of Internet bubble where, if all of our friends there are saying it, the rest of the world must feel the same. Because the sad alternative is that, when it comes to supporting the shows we love, we're nothing but a lot of empty talk.
See, Internet, this is why we can't have nice things.
Either way, I'm really going to miss 30 Rock.
Before I start, I'm going to tell a quick story in timeline form.
January 8, 2012 - I send David Wong a text about a hilarious little beauty pageant girl named Alana. He responds with something along the lines of "Why is she talking like that?" and "Why do they have so many paper towels?" and "You will regret this conversation one day." He used the emoticon for hand steepling during that last sentence.
Summer, 2012 - I call Adam Brown "Honey Boo Boo" and he tells me to stop and never do that again.
October, 2012 - David Wong and I both have the privilege of visiting the Cracked offices. We're asked to start making our selections for the year-end article. While I was doing other important editorial work, David Wong picked Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for his TV show. I started crying and he laughed at my tears.
Noel Vasquez / Getty
It looked exactly like this.
October 30, 2012 - I calmly asked David Wong for custody of Honey Boo Boo, offering to give up any two of my other picks for that one. "This is really important to me, David Wong. Please, let me write about Honey Boo Boo. I'll even throw in a generous donation to the charity of your choice." He logged out of chat and I haven't heard from him since.
So, let's talk about Sherlock. I like it. The cheekbones and scarves on that show are the best. It's also a great depiction of an outsider, in this case a witty savant, making her way in a world that misunderstands and mocks her. In an age when bland, homogeneous Kardashians and frozen-faced housewives litter prime time, Sherlock Holmes couldn't care less what anyone thinks of her, even speaking in a heavily accented, rapid-fire pidgin language that requires subtitles or a degree in irony to understand. And that's refreshing. I also appreciate how Sherlock puzzles her way through sophisticated mysteries, like why she never wins the big trophy or what to do about the little pig living in the house. So she abuses totally legal substances to perform well ... big deal. Whether it's nicotine patches, Go Go Juice, coffee or cocaine, we've all got our vices. Let he who has never consumed 5 Hour Energy or given their teething child age-appropriate Benadryl to help them sleep cast the first stone.
A 7 percent solution of coke or Red Bull and Mountain Dew. Everyone has their poison.
At its heart, Sherlock is about one character's refusal to conform to the boring expectations of the world around her, as well as the small network of supporters who believe in her. Shame on you for judging them.
I'll spare you the alarmist bullshit about how shows like TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo prove that the apocalypse is upon us (meaning the "look at these out-of-control shitheads" reality show genre). That is, of course, ridiculous. They are not bringing the apocalypse, they are merely preparing us for it.
Noel Vasquez / Getty
"And I looked, and behold, a pink dress! And its wearer's name was Honey Boo Boo, and diabetes followed her."
Fans know that Jersey Shore was my pick for last year's TV show of the year, based on the fact that no one I knew actually watched it, but everyone I knew talked about how awful it was. It was all about giving us villains we could root against -- narcissistic, sexually promiscuous drunks cashing in on our outrage. But this change in targets from the slutty, artificially tanned fame whores of Jersey Shore to the impoverished, uneducated redneck fuckups of Honey Boo Boo says a lot about where the world is going.
The show follows a family of shallow, obese, low-education rednecks from Georgia trying desperately to cash in on their fame while contributing nothing to society. Honey's mother, June Shannon, has had four children by four different fathers (two of them convicted criminals, one jailed for sexual exploitation of a child). They eat roadkill, they feed their out-of-control daughter a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull. And, worst of all, they agreed to star in this show. So why does TV follow these people and not, say, some suburban family of high-achieving kids balancing their 4.0 GPA with violin lessons?
Because society is in the process of leaving people like the Shannon family behind, and we as a people are going to have to get to where we're OK with that -- it's going to be too horrible to watch otherwise. This is what the election was actually about, if you knew how to read between the lines -- when politicians talk about the 47 percent of Americans who are leaching off the system, they want you to picture 150 million Honey Boo Boos.
As if the world's sugar supply could handle that kind of strain.
People like the Shannon family aren't new, of course, but there was a time when uneducated fuckups could make a good living by working in a coal mine or on an assembly line, or by marrying somebody who did. But those jobs are gone forever, and society has absolutely no solution for what to do with all of its millions of uneducated fuckups who will never go to college or learn the kind of high-tech jobs the future will be based on. Society doesn't have the money to support them, and they can't produce anything society wants. There is no market for their continued existence.
But exist they will, and as low-skill jobs continue to vanish and government checks dry up, they're going to be left to scrounge in the junkyards and scrape up roadkill to eat. Well guess what: Here Comes Honey Boo Boo portrays the Shannons doing both of those things, and doing it happily. That's why the show exists.
That, and to keep PepsiCo's stock price up.
We need to believe that all low-income, low-education working poor are as cheerfully irresponsible, shallow and repulsive as the Honey Boo Boo family, because only then would they deserve what's about to happen to them. And only the belief that they deserve it will absolve us from actually doing anything to help. Why raise taxes just to benefit people who'll blow it on Red Bull and beauty pageant entry fees and pump out a bunch of babies out of wedlock? The show is not a conspiracy; the producers don't even know that this is why it exists. All they know is that there is a need among the audience to hate this category of people, and so they are giving us something to hate.
So thank you, Honey Boo Boo. You're going to make it way easier for them to cut the budget for Medicaid and food stamps over the next couple of decades.
Downton Abbey is the type of show that makes me grateful that time travel doesn't exist. Not because I'm afraid of visiting a pre-World War I era where the biggest issues people face are missing snuffboxes and girls wearing pants in public. No. I'm thankful that I will never have to explain to the childhood version of myself that one of his favorite shows in the future will be a turn-of-the-century English drama about etiquette and social scandal. I'm certain he would hate that.
Even though he'd love the tailoring.
Despite the fact that the show fixates on class structure more than a Jane Austen novel and that the most exciting plot development in the entire first season is a bunch of women moving a corpse between bedrooms, I love this goddamn show. I imagine I love it for the same reasons stay-at-home mothers love soap operas -- I'm hooked on the evolution of characters and the tacit relationships between them. I never would have thought I'd willfully watch two people stare at each other in a kitchen for a minute and a half of silence, but somehow Downton Abbey convinced me that it's something I enjoy. And judging by the 16 Emmys it won this year, it's apparently convinced millions of other people as well.
If people still dressed like this, there'd be far fewer unemployed lace makers.
The show is a success, and yet everything about that success seems illogical: The plot is painfully slow, the time period is notoriously boring and the dialogue is so dry, the characters seem to have a hard time spitting it out without a glass of water (in fact, I encourage you to watch the show and pretend that no one can ever say what they mean because they all have really scratchy throats). It's everything American network television tries to avoid like the plague. But that's why its success is such good news. Downton Abbey's popularity means that we've taken a turn, culturally, toward patience in entertainment. Primed by shows like The Wire and Mad Men, audiences are willing to follow a longer narrative, allowing it to unfold over several seasons, and now they've proven that they'll do it for a period piece about aristocrats quarreling over property. In a time when we won't watch more than one minute of a YouTube video and most people won't even read past the first picture of this article, who would have thought that it would be television that would be the great savior of our attention spans?