10. Amish Mafia
I think it’s with Amish Mafia that the “reality TV” trend jumped the shark. It was at this point that premises for shows had to start becoming so outlandish and ridiculous that viewers could no longer be expected to put up with the charade that they’re watching something “real.” With Amish Mafia the show has to be upfront about the fact that the footage is all actually “reenactments.” It’s the TV version of non-alcoholic beer.
The show’s amusing novelty — hearing the Pennsylvania Dutch spoken by some Amish subtitled and saying thuggish things — wears off quick.
This Showtime crime/comedy/drama ran for eight seasons from 2005-2012. You should not bother getting into it because it gets progressively worse starting with season 4. The show’s premise is a suburban housewife chooses to start selling marijuana to maintain her children’s upper-middle class lifestyle after the death of their father. She then proceeds to get deeper and deeper into the drug world to the point where, like Amish Mafia, it’s just too absurd and there isn’t a sympathetic character to be found. She just makes way too many unbelievably stupid decisions.
This is a trend that happens a lot in many of these premium cable shows and other TV popular today centered around criminal anti-hero protagonists. The character starts out trying to be good and just going over to the dark side a little bit. But the show has to keep upping the ante, allowing the hero to engage in more and more depraved acts. Eventually they’re no longer a sympathetic character and we’re just waiting for them to get killed off or go to jail.
Last year my friend Susan L.M. Goldberg did a thorough take-down of Seth MacFarlane’s postmodernist-nihilist cartoon Family Guy. I collected the five articles into a compilation and asked an over-the-top question, but one still worth pursuing: Is Family Guy the Most Terrible TV Show of All Time? Check out the subjects she covered:
American Dad! is a kind of cousin to Family Guy, doing a variation on the same premise and with the same problems except instead of the father being an attack on the nuclear family he’s shifted into being a caricature of a patriotic Republican and a lawless, conspiratorial CIA operative. Just as Family Guy promoted Marxist disinformation about Walt Disney, American Dad popularizes the false version of a boogeyman CIA that the KGB disseminated for decades.
Memo to Susan: now that we’ve both gotten a better understanding of Soviet disinformation tactics through studying Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa’s work and interviewing him, I think it’s time for more list articles building on your initial analysis of MacFarlane, looking into the themes of American Dad and his films too…
Dexter is the TV brother of Weeds, also appearing on Showtime, also celebrating a criminal protagonist spending years trying to avoid getting caught, and running about the same time and length (2006-2013, eight seasons).
Dexter is superior to Weeds in every way and it manages to stay excellent much longer. Not until the seventh and eighth seasons does Dexter Morgan, Miami Metro forensic blood spatter analyst, family man, and secret serial killer of criminals, get so evil that we stop caring about him and all the other characters on the show. That the show is so good and entertaining and intellectually challenging during many of its first seasons makes the massive fail of its conclusion (especially the final episode!) a disappointment on such a magnitude that I can no longer recommend the show at all.
I don’t understand why anyone would want to watch Ricky Gervais pretend to be mentally challenged. Nor have I ever gotten the appeal of trying to mine this subject for comedy.
Gervais is one of the more troubling comedic influences right now. From his break-out with The Office onward he’s been a fervent promoter of comedy-by-awkwardness. Make the audience feel uncomfortable! Show some painful social faux pas and laugh about it! Each of his shows is the comedic equivalent of a root canal. The real reason why The Office was such a great show wasn’t because of his obnoxious, overrated character but the moving relationship between Dawn and Tim.
5. The Bible
I watched how this miniseries decided to do “Sodom and Gomorrah” and was disgusted. That was enough. They completely invert the point of the story, turning the angels’ destruction of the city into a gory action movie for people to get excited watching.
The Bible is not supposed to be made into a John Woo shoot ’em up for cheap thrills. Images glorifying violent death are at the heart of the primitive paganism that the ancient Israelites rose up to oppose.
Nip/Tuck ran for six seasons from 2003 through 2010 on FX. It features two Miami plastic surgeons, their strange clients, and their increasingly more bizarre and shocking personal lives. Creator Ryan Murphy seemingly has a catalog of every strange sexual combination (polyamory, trans-genders, castrated characters, incest) and transformation that he works into the show over the course of the years.
Most disturbing and morally problematic is the effect the show produces similar to what I’ve criticized in Game of Thrones. Like a slasher movie it cuts quickly between scenes of bloody violence (both crimes and graphic depictions of plastic surgery procedures) and sex scenes that wouldn’t have made it into R-rated movies a decade ago. The eroticization of violence signifies the show’s pagan tendencies. By the third season it’s jumped the shark, shifting to more of a lurid crime show as the plastic surgery practice is stalked by a serial rapist who mutilates his beautiful victims as a terrorist campaign against their profession. Show after show just piles on the shocks and there’s barely a sympathetic character to be found.
This Netflix original show builds on the same formula and themes of the creator’s previous show, already mentioned on this list, Weeds. And it carries with it the same problems. Yes, it has its entertaining moments and engaging plot twists. But at core the show is as morally confused and lost as its protagonist. Becky Graebner wrote several thoughtful articles about it last summer:
David Forsmark, a campaign professional for decades, explained in March why season 2 of House of Cards was such a huge disappointment.
What to do when a show starts out good but goes sour? Do you still recommend people watch the early seasons and then just stop? In most cases, honestly, I can’t recommend a show after it goes south. The first season of House of Cards is dynamite but the second season is such a let-down with Frank Underwood also crossing over into too-evil-too-boring-to-care-about territory and the plot becoming too implausible to indulge.
Over at the PJ Tatler this week I concluded my list of “30 Books For Defeating Valerie Jarrett’s Cult of Political Criminals” with beginning to talk about Scandal, a show embraced by both Barack Obama’s wife and her best friend, his most influential adviser. Here’s what I wrote there, which I’ll be expanding on in coming months. This show embodies all the negative cultural pathologies of today more than any other I know. In examining what it proclaims we can gain new insight into the cultural and political elite that embrace and celebrate it:
What I hope this list has demonstrated is that the political world is just one of many battlegrounds that intersect in a broader battle amongst many different cultures. This isn’t just a contest of Democrats and Republicans or two competing ideologies. Issues of race, terrorism, disinformation, assassination, family culture, economics, media and TV shows, and law intersect and affect one another.
In particular: there is a big link between criminal culture and the fatherless home, a central theme in one of the most popular TV shows today, including in the Obama White house, ABC’s Scandal:
The show features the machinations of “scandal fixer” Olivia Pope and her team of do-whatever-it-takes super lawyers, thugs, and hackers who manipulate the mass media, neutralizing a client’s bad news while pinning the blame on others. As the show progresses through the seasons Pope and Associates gets progressively more criminal, at times even resorting to torture.
Michelle Obama is a fan:
“I watched all the seasons, I caught up on ‘Scandal,’ I had never watched it,” she said. “I love Kerry Washington, she is amazing, so it makes the show fun.”
During the Bush years the fictional presidency that Democrats had to escape to was The West Wing, which presented the dream leader baby boomers wanted. Now in Scandal we have a fantasy of Republicans doing the kinds of cover-ups the real presidency has engaged in for years.
Jarrett herself wrote the Time 100 profile celebrating Kerry Washington’s portrayal of the show’s anti-hero, a woman carrying on an affair with the married president (emphases added):
Occasionally in American pop culture, an icon emerges who captivates us and provides a vivid snapshot of who we are and the changing times in which we live. In her role as Olivia Pope, Scandal’s unflappable political fixer, Kerry Washington has used her grace and vibrant magnetism to transcend age, race and gender, and to provide a new mainstream media lens through which to view modern womanhood and professional excellence.
Setting aside the “scandalous” melodrama necessary to sustain a fictional series so titled, Kerry has offered up a fresh new archetype for what it means to lead while combining courage and compassion, strength and vulnerability, passion, steely discipline and unfailing loyalty. It is a role that makes full use of her distinctive talent for drawing in audiences with such authenticity that we often forget she is acting.
Scandal is a deeply disturbing show with themes and content often shocking to see in primetime. It’s so sad to see a combination soap opera and torture show held up as though it presents anything positive for young people to strive toward. In addition to boosters from the world’s most powerful women, the NAACP has also given it multiple “Image” awards. Scandal is like House of Cards in its depiction of a wild, bacchanalia Washington D.C. The big difference is that it’s on ABC in primetime instead of tucked away on Netflix streaming amongst other “mature” programming.
This year my wife and I watched all three seasons of Scandal as research for her master’s of fine arts thesis project this spring. “Keep Calm We’re All Evil” was the slogan she chose for the painting and wall installation inspired by fans who embrace the nihilistic values celebrated on Scandal.
Now this fall as I continue to study the books on this list and observe the continuing unfolding Jarrett-Obama administration scandals I’m going to draw the parallels between the fantasies on the show and our perpetually more surreal American reality. Art and fiction have more power than we usually give them credit…
“It is also significant that all early musical instruments-drum, musical bow, rasp, rattle or harp-were originally shaman’s magic paraphernalia specifically and still are among primitive Siberian and American Indian tribes.” – Weston La Barre, page 422 of Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion
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"It is also significant that all early musical instruments-drum, musical bow, rasp, rattle or harp-were originally shaman's magic paraphernalia specifically and still are among primitive Siberian and American Indian tribes." – Weston La Barre, page 422 of Ghost Dance: Origins of #religion a head-expanding book. #music #magick #occult #culture #history
What do you think? This is the first version of this list but in the future I’ll plan to do an update as new shows are added or if I change my mind. Maybe I’m wrong about one of these shows and should give it another chance? Is my order off? Are there shows worse than Scandal on Netflix?