Hatewatching TV

13 Nov

I don’t watch a lot of TV. There are a few shows I like and try to watch. Two  shows that I make sure I see every week are Family Guy and Glee. I go out of my way to ensure that I see each new episode. I hate both of these shows.

The emotions involved in watching a show you hate are complex. I didn’t always hate them. I used to love them both. They’ve both changed in ways that make them bad shows. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them. There’s something fascinating in watching a show that used to be great and has, for varying reasons, become terrible. It’s not just an impartial interest that draws me to them, however. There’s a perverse satisfaction to be gained in watching and making mental notes of all the things the show is doing wrong, all the things they should be doing instead, all of the ways in which the show has failed and let you down.

Family Guy and Glee are two shows that, at their peak, were not only entertaining but ambitious. I give a lot of credit to shows that try to do more than occupy space between commercial breaks, especially on the networks. This is obvious in the case of Glee: it’s the only televised musical I can think of. It’s not the musical aspect of Glee that drew me to it. At the beginning, it had characters that were interesting and compelling. Both students and adults. This was something that you don’t often find in a show just starting out. Most shows, even great ones, start out with loosely drawn stereotypes that eventually grow into well-rounded characters. Subversive is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but I think it applies to a lot of what Glee was doing. The main character framed one of his students for drug possession, there was a barely below the surface blowjob joke between the guidance counselor and a student, there was a former teacher turned drug dealer fired for some vague indiscretion with a student. That all disappeared pretty quickly. The show was also really funny. For example, I remember a particularly hilarious joke about Andrew Cunanan that came out of nowhere. Most shows don’t have the balls to make breezy jokes about serial killers. Recent serial killers at least.

Brittany and Santana are my favorite characters on Glee. According to the internet they’re called Brittana. Also according to the internet the way I feel about them is called “shipping”. This caption is sort of embarrassing.

Family Guy, on the other hand, got a lot better from its original premiere to some point after it came back from being cancelled. Love them or hate them, but the cutaway gag concept isn’t something that other shows were trying. And at its best, the show did things that no one else was doing, and no one else was even trying. Jokes about Broadway or obscure celebrities and such. Beyond that, some episodes are really well-constructed and interesting. The murder mystery episode from a couple seasons ago is a prime example. It was an hour-long parody of movies like Clue and Murder by Death that I’d wager the vast majority of the Family Guy target audience hasn’t heard of, much less seen. The Star Wars parodies are really well-executed. The episode where Brian and Stewie were trapped in the bank vault was something that most other shows would never dare try.

Seth MacFarlane came across as a total douche in his recent New Yorker profile

But this post isn’t about how Glee and Family Guy have been or could be good. It’s about how they’re terrible and why I still watch them regardless.

I think a lot of the terribleness stems from simple laziness. The creative forces behind the shows know that they can coast and rake in cash. So they do. I’ll frequently watch Family Guy and not laugh once. That’s kind of amazing, considering that the goal of the show seems to be to insert as many jokes as possible. But I’m not the target audience of Family Guy. I’m sure that a lot of dumb people and 14-year-olds love these lazy episodes.

Glee has a similar problem. One of the reasons I’ve stuck with it is that my sister loves the show. I like talking about it with her. Sometimes I’ll call her to complain about something implausible or ridiculous that happened and she won’t even have noticed it. She’s the target audience. I’m not. The target audience doesn’t care that it’s 100% impossible for a student in a wheelchair to become the star of the football team. They simply don’t consider that that’s an indefensively dumb plot for the show to have. And when she does notice a character’s motives or behavior change without explanation from one episode to the next, she just shrugs and moves on. Writing a TV show for that audience must be the world’s easiest job.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a list of the things I dislike about Glee and Family Guy. That would be boring.

I took my sister to see the Glee live tour last summer. It was great. I’m going to need you to go ahead and stop judging me.

It’s hard to explain why I like watching these two shows even though I think they’re bad. My relationship with them is a lot more involved than with shows I like. One of the things about watching good show is that it’s comforting. When I turn on Parks & Rec, for example, it’s like meeting an old friend.* I turn the critical part of my brain off. Watching the show is enjoyable, but I’m not as intellectually engaged as I am watching Family Guy.

*Lazy writing alert. Also last week’s Parks & Rec featured a pretty solid joke about people from Minnesota.

I, like most people, enjoy feeling smart. Watching Family Guy and Glee definitely makes me feel smart. A great show can be humbling, in a “Wow, how do they come up with this stuff?” kind of way. A bad show makes you feel like you could do a better job producing the show yourself. That’s a great feeling. A lot of people underestimate the esteem-building power of self-satisfied smugness. Not me.

Don’t even get me started

It’s nice to have something to root for when you’re watching TV. Whether it’s a character or a relationship or a storyline, that’s the kind of emotional investment that all shows strive to create. I have something to root for in Family Guy and Glee. For them to be as bad as possible. I’m kind of disappointed when something funny happens. These shows have successfully gotten me emotionally engaged. This is perverse, but the function is more or less the same. Rooting against things can sometimes be just as good as rooting for them. It’s like watching the Yankees lose. I can’t get enough of that shit.

Preach it Mindy

In the end, I get more enjoyment out of watching these shows I hate than is reasonable. More enjoyment than I get from some shows I like. I’m so glad I didn’t stop watching them. Maybe I should start seeking out bad shows to watch. Although I think two is probably my max. The way things are going, my two hatewatching gems will be off the air soon and I’ll need to find replacements. I can only hope there are other bad shows on TV somewhere.

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One Response to “Hatewatching TV”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. SUCCESS « The Pensive Years - December 22, 2012

    […] one cartoon I do watch is Family Guy. I hate Family Guy. You loyal readers remember my post about that. I just watched the most recent episode. As it turns out, Seth MacFarlane is also a regular TPY […]

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