I remember a day in the not too distant past, when you could engage in watching television as simply an amateur. You could just come home, push one simple button, and presto you were in a land of giggle-worthy mediocrity. Now it seems that everything in my magic moving picture box with even a marginally dramatic plotline has been inflated to a system of epic multi-season mind benders.
Our evenings are filled with dozens of hour-long shows demanding that we not only watch them, but have a full historical knowledge of them. If you remember how to properly erase an Etch A Sketch, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. If on the other hand you've never lived in a world without color-coded threat levels that never get into the comforting colors, well, just play along.
In today's frantic TV market, the competition is so intense that any spark of ingenuity or cleverness can be assured of that most sincere form of flattery: the blatant rip-off. There was an era when if you had enough time to invest in any TV show to be able to follow a drawn out, multi-episode plot line, you were in a very specific demographic: the soap opera viewer.
Those days were amazing; they spawned a wonderfully iconic/ironic washed out color tone that was instantly recognizable, formulaic plot lines, and best of all, they stayed out of prime time. Prime time, that orgiastic symphony of catchy theme songs and predictable characters, all trimmed to the classic sitcom mantra: always start every episode from scratch. That was the key. No matter what happened to Steve Urkel or Danny Tanner, you knew that next episode was a clean slate, just like your Etch A Sketch. In my day of ultra-bright primary colors, TANG, Pop Rocks, and the musical styling of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, no one was expected to know what happened last week on TGIF, much less two seasons ago. But those days have shifted away like the swirling sands that once eradicated Brendan Fraser's career. But who, who is to blame for this paradigm shift in the land we know of as prime time?
"Heey, Jack here. Just calling to make sure you're still watching. I saw you go into the kitchen for a snack, didn't want you to miss this next part. Seriously, it's important…. Alright, call me back. Bye."Jack Bauer. Yes he's a fictional character and I should probably be complaining about some group of degenerate, cocaine-fueled writers instead, but no, I blame the (fake) President of the United States of ‘Merica. You see, way back in 2001, when we braved several national disasters, Y2K not happening easily being the worst, the FOX network decided fear was the perfect way to ensure consistent viewership. Fear that this would be the episode Jack finally takes a dump onscreen; fear that the ridicule at work or school would be too much to bear when the cool kids found out that you don't have your own TV and were forced to watch Smallville because it was your damned sister's turn with the remote (insert mocking, nasal juvenile voice here). And much to FOX's chagrin (they hate it when their shows are actually successful—see Family Guy), people loved it. In fact people loved it a little too much, and soon the other prime time networks caught on. Now our evenings are filled with dozens of hour-long shows demanding that we not only watch them, but have a full historical knowledge of the fictional world they have created, lest we face the ridicule of the public for having left the house on that crucial Thursday evening at 10/9 central.
We too forgot exactly what Community is about.
How could I have known as a child, giggling as a bespectacled, suspenders-clad manchild with armpit level jeans who pleaded for cheese from his obviously annoyed neighbors, that one day I would be forced to know the full familial lineage and historical significance of half a dozen characters on LOST before they even so much as hinted why there was a polar bear? Or why exactly Ryan, a troubled youth, was being brought up in classy Orange County? Or why Marissa couldn't just come to terms with his bad boy nature? Hell by this point if you even try to ask someone why Walt and Jessie's meth turned out blue you'd probably wind up cowering in the gutter beneath a cacophony of laughter and finger-pointing.
Perhaps I'm just lazy—well I am actually lazy—but by the time the sun begins to set, the last thing I want to do is haul out my binder on "The Community of Modern Family's Big Bang Theory on How to Meet Mothers" just to figure out why the hell they keep talking about a blue French horn.