Saturday, November 19, 2011

America Loves Crap

Those of you who know me personally -- by the way if you don't, I'm Ben, how are you doing today? -- have likely heard me proclaim the title of this post on a number of occasions. Whether brushing off the latest fad, dismissing some new pop star or, far more frequently, proclaiming in a state of exasperated despair like the howl of an injured animal when yet another great creative work dwindles into oblivion while mindless drivel flourishes.

I've said a lot recently about Community and Prime Suspect so for the sake of redundancy I won't waste more time there, suffice to say that in the most recent week Community rose 10% to just under 4 million viewers. It's great that the fans are rallying in response to the midseason hiatus but it's hardly enough. Rules of Engagement still scored 11 million viewers and NO ONE likes that show. Not even the 11 million people who had their TVs on (I suspect they had fallen asleep after Big Bang Theory, or left the room without turning off the tv, something NBC fans should do more often).

Fact is, the problems at NBC are just a recent example of America at large choosing bad over good. Take for instance the premiere of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. In midnight screenings alone the movie raked in more than $30 million dollars. Contrast that with critically-beloved flop Serenity, which pulled in $28 million in its entire domestic run. You could point to the shows being marketed to different target audiences (Serenity to people that like to be entertained and BD to prepubescent girls and women in midlife crises), but the fact remains that the Breaking Dawn is a bad movie (C- on EW, 27% on RottenTomatoes) and Serenity is a good one (B, 81%). Advocating for Serenity, EW's own TV critic Ken Tucker said "Go out and see Joss Whedon's witty whizbang of an action movie, or we will kill a kitten." America did not, and part of me hopes he followed through. DWYSYWD.

You could also argue that Serenity's cast of relatively unknown actors dampened it's mainstream appeal, which it did, but you should remember that when the first Twilight premiered, Robert Pattinson was just that guy that died in Goblet of Fire and Taylor Lautner's only acting credit was Shark Boy. Yes, women the world over, the man who fills your night time fantasies is Shark Boy.

The fact is, Twi-hards don't care if the movie is rubbish. Bill Condon could just as well have decided to rush through the wedding and birth scenes and spend 45 minutes watching the human-vampire hybrid do the Ally Mcbeal dance to "Hooked on a Feeling" with a swastika tattooed on its chest. They would still camp out for days and the movie would still make 7 bajillion dollars.

It's not just Twi-hards. I just barely got around to seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (C, 33%). Why so late? Because after sitting through parts 2 and 3 of the one-great-but-mostly-not franchise I decided part 4 wasn't worth my theater patronage. That's what a rational person does after being spoon-fed excrement. They don't ask for seconds and they darned sure don't ask for thirds.

But America did ask for thirds, to the tune of $234 MILLION. Since we, in a capitalist society, vote with our dollars, what message does that send Hollywood? It was "Dear Hollywood, we LOVE it when you make crap movies. Please give Mr. Bruckheimer our love and remember to hang the script writers, who needs them anyway. Best, America."

Other examples. Why is it that the mind-numbing and utterly uninspired Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (B, 31%) makes $352 million when the surprisingly heart warming and fresh, family friendly Real Steel (A-, 58%) makes a paltry $80 million? Why does the exquisitely brilliant Crazy Stupid Love (A, 78%) which practically boils over with chemistry between its stars and genuine emotion makes an "ok-but-not-great" $80 million while the crap-bomb that is The Proposal (B+, 43%) walks away with $163 million?

Speaking of Ryan Gosling, remember Drive (B+, 92%)? You probably don't since the movie only clocked $30 million dollars but it's actually one of the best movies of the year. It's kind of like The Transporter (D+, 54%), if, instead of being completely ridiculous, The Transporter was a retro-cool film noir and, you know, really really good.

But it's not just movies. Remember back when the only Reality TV was The Real World, Survivor and Fear Factor? Those were the good days. Now we have multiple singing competitions, multiple dancing competitions, a generic talent competition, cooking competitions, modeling competitions, shows that make stars out of the dregs of society and a whole network devoted to the "real" housewives of various cities. There was a time when you actually had to be a decently talented human being to get famous on TV, those times are over.

How about scripted? For every decent show on television there's at least 2 CSI, NCIS or Law and Orders. Not that those shows are intrinsically bad, but the reason that spin-offs exist is because the networks have figured out that the average viewer would rather see more of the same dumb thing than try something new. They're betting their paychecks on the theory that we, as a society, are lazy mindless sheep and you know what? It's working.

Yes, Playboy Club was a colossal failure and Terra Nova and Pan Am are all but done for. Are those shows any worse than the average episode of Unforgettable? Don't know, I've never seen it nor do I know anyone that has but the thing still pulls in 11 million viewers. Keep in mind, as well, that the reason Terra Nova is boring is its attempt to be all things to all people (family friendly, teen-bop romantic, action-thriller, sci-fi fantasy) and in its haste to open the umbrella it forgot to put pants on before walking out the door.

So, at least there's been some victories. Lost made it 6 seasons after all and more recently the guilty-pleasure-tastic Revenge is pulling in decent numbers. Cable dramas like American Horror Story, Psych and The Walking Dead are still managing to find the niche audiences they need to survive. Happy Endings was recently picked up for a full season after being ABC's whipping-boy for more than a year.

On the cinema front, there will always be great movies coming out. Hollywood is a business that runs on the model of making $10 for every $9 you spend and as long as studios have their aces-in-the-whole like Paranormal Activity they can still fund their awards fodder and feed our hungry stomachs (by "we" I'm referring to those of us that actually consider quality as a necessity). Still, the fact remains that we vote with our money so please, please, consider the implications of your next ticket purchase and if you love a TV show, watch it live. If you don't, we'll be stuck with Whitney, The Middle, and Last Man Standing for the rest of our lives.


  1. Wait, you don't like the Proposal??

  2. I wonder if the Megan comment above is meant to be sarcastic. Ugh, that movie was so awful! I brought that up at a baby shower and was shocked at how many of the girls thought it was "so funny." Ugh, give me back those two hours of my life.