In the coming weeks, I plan to do a few short reviews of TV shows I’ve been catching up on this summer. Some of them – Rectify, Les Revenants – have been good or excellent. Others… not so much – which led me to ruminate on the special pleasures of bad television…
Hi, I’m David – and I watch Revenge.
Even at my most stick-out-my-chin defensive, I know this is nothing to be proud of. The bigger question is – should I be ashamed?
I could make excuses – we’re nearing the end of summer, and the new season hasn’t started yet. I need a show that’s easy to follow, since mostly it’s background noise while I’m on my laptop.
But the plain fact is I enjoy bad TV.
Don’t get me wrong – I know good TV from bad. I’ve watched quite a bit of the top-tier – Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under (not as good after season 1, but still). I’ve also watched what I think of as the best of the next level down – The Good Wife, for example, which is not in the same league in terms of innovation and imagination, but still solid, well-written and acted, and glossily enjoyable.
But there’s a particular satisfaction for me in bad television – or, at least, certain kinds of bad television. Apart from one particularly egregious example (see below), I have little interest in reality shows, though I occasionally watch Say Yes to the Dress, mostly because I love hearing vulgar, whiskey-voiced mothers-of-the-bride say the name, “Pnina Tornai.”
Once, I actually silenced a room where a group of us were playing a game of TV one-downsmanship, by admitting that I watched a daytime reality show called Starting Over. (And that was an afternoon show that ran five days a week!)
In case you never saw it, I’ll just say it involved a bunch of women in a group house, with two “life coaches” helping them cope with various issues. In its awful way, it was kind of perfect – at least, it was till low ratings made them revamp in season 3, moving the show to Los Angeles, and adding celebrity guests and Iyanla Vanzant, and ruining everything. (If you want to know more about Starting Over, click here – if you dare.)
Still, Starting Over wasn’t the worst. I believe I hit rock bottom with Smash.
I didn’t take to it right away. I watched the pilot episode in real-time, found it laughably awful, and stopped. I had friends who stuck with it, and kept at me to stay tuned – it’s silly fun, they said, pure camp. But I wasn’t buying. After all, the theatre is something I know, and I care deeply about it.
So I can’t really explain what brought me back to it. If I recall correctly, it was the dead of winter, so most of the good stuff was on hiatus. Meanwhile, NBC was hyping Smash like mad, including offering an early look at the first episode of season 2.
Anyway, not only did I finally succumb and watch Smash – I watched the entire first season, and the first episode of season 2, in one day!
You can do the math, if you want. I have – that’s 16 episodes, and each runs roughly 42 minutes – so I watched for 11 hours and 20 minutes without stopping. I can’t explain it – I just think of it as a psychotic break. (In my memory, I never got out of my pajamas that day – but it may be that it only felt like that.)
Ultimately, I made it through the entire series of Smash, though I never again indulged in quite that kind of marathon. Truth to tell, I was pretty bored by season 2, and more than ready to have the show end when it did. To me, Smash was always bad – but only season 1 had that delicious guilty pleasure sensation that some (but only some) bad TV provides.
If you have recommendations for other shows in this category, please share them! It’s the dog days of summer, and there’s still time for me to find something wonderful/terrible to hold me over till the Fall.
Just so you know how low I’ll go – I recently finished bingeing on Revenge season 3, which I think of as what you do when you’ve already watched Scandal season 4.
Think about that.