It’s interesting how your perception shifts when you change your viewing patterns. When you watch classic programs only for a while and then return to what’s currently going on on TV, at the movies or online. It gives you a whole new perspective on what works for you and what doesn’t, on how styles have changed and what kinds of issues have evolved when and why. It can give you reassurance about how little our key issues have changed over the decades or make you cry at the loss of dignity and a certain kind of innocence that’s too often been mislabeled ignorance. My conclusion is this: they tend to overdo it these days.
Take Grey’s Anatomy. Once a celebrated new show, it is now a guilty pleasure gem with an entertaining cast and a soapy plot. Not only do they pick up where ER left off at trying to make its audience cringe every week by showing pseudo-realistic shots of injuries that border the macabre, they are also trying to push the boundaries of emotional storytelling. This year’s Valentine’s Day episode, for example, was a little bit of everything: romantic with the right dash of cheese and nostalgia, and a little bit of medical drama on the side. It all went well until the sappy was blown out of proportion as the episode was already on home stretch: a staged romantic dinner at the hospital, maitre d’ included, taking the twists and turns way beyond the already maxed out entertainment factor.
Something similar happened on an otherwise brilliant show now in its third year, The Good Wife. Early in its current season, two of the (vast pool of) main characters got engaged in a sizzling affair. Fine. Half of Perry Mason‘s clients were somehow affected by adultery back in the 1950s and 60s, and after all, that was one of the main topics The Good Wife started out on. But was it really necessary to show us scenes of the likes of a censored soft porn? It didn’t seem to fit the style of the show nor the voice of the characters involved. But maybe that was the point: expect the unexpected, break the rules to keep the audience on their toes. That’s how it works these days, isn’t it? It’s like film noir only at a much faster, dizzier pace.
When I compare contemporary shows with classic programs, it’s striking how dissimilar they are. Cursing, sex and violence – almost anything goes these days – trust pay TV to throw the last taboos overboard if necessary. Personally, I have tired of programs that keep raising the stakes, that show adults who behave like depressed teenagers and dress women in so-called hooker heels. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy some of what’s out there, of what 2012 has to offer. But the options are somewhat limited if reality TV isn’t for you and the ever so popular dramedies tap into the marginally acceptable areas of nerdification, pornification and gayification, repeating themselves over and over again by creating unfortunate clichés.
It doesn’t surprise me that so many people are buying their favorite childhood programs on DVD now, that they are looking for reruns on TV or online. Funny enough, that kind of repetition never seems to get old. And I can only recommend embracing your favorite classics, at least for a while. It may open your eyes.