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Do You Watch Good Television?

November 10, 2010

My friend Micah has a blog, and he has been doing a series of blog posts called Micah’s Guide to Not Sucking at TV.  It’s  a fairly opinionated look at television viewing, which I like because I’m fairly opinionated myself (shocking to readers of this blog, I know).  And it doesn’t hurt that Micah’s opinions on good television are often similar to my own.  It’s well worth checking out – the post linked above is about some current shows he thinks are worthwhile – all good suggestions.  And if you check out Part 1, you’ll get to see a picture of an aye aye.  If you’re wondering what the heck that is (as I was), click here.

But Micah raises an interesting question in his most recent post: what is good television?  And do you watch it?  I suspect many of us would have differing definitions – what is “good” is often a somewhat contentious topic.  Here’s what Micah says:

Most of the shows filling up the network schedules are at best diversions. Shows like Jersey Shore (the latest incarnation of what the Real World started years ago) and Real House Wives of Biclebil, Utah are cheap to make and quick to turn out. They exist because people watch them. They don’t challenge viewers in any way; they don’t portray anything resembling anyones real life and it perpetuates our culture’s dangerous obsession with fame.

Other shows at least have the pretense of an actual narrative but rest on tired formulas to churn out episode after episode of recycled content. While a step up, they still don’t offer much past the momentary distraction (and do we have so much time to kill that we need three CSI’s, three Law & Order’s and numerous clones of each to fill up our time?).

But there are shows out there that are willing to try something different. Rarely are they popular and often disappear just as quickly as they came. By their very nature they turn off most viewers who don’t understand what they’re doing, don’t have the time to follow a story that builds on itself, are offended by the riskier content or simply don’t want to start another series only to see it die before it gets to episode six. And really, all of those are good reasons. Just because a story is good, doesn’t mean everyone will like it.

I think he’s onto something.  What is good tv (or good art in general – movies, music, etc)?  I don’t think there is any one definition, but we should certainly be able to develop certain criteria that help us to identify “good” from “bad” television.  Does a show somehow challenge its viewers?  Does it do something different, avoiding tired formulas?  Do they perpetuate harmful or dangerous ideas (like our obsession with celebrity that Micah points out above)?

I’m interested in the discussion of what makes various forms of art good, or even great – I’ll be returning to the topic in the future, and will link any posts that deal with this idea using the tag “great art.”  Often we use art – especially popular art like tv, movies and music – simply for entertainment and escape.  And I don’t think this is always bad – I know I sometimes use art for the same purpose.  But I don’t think we do ourselves any favors when we only look at art as a means of escape.  Art (and not just explicitly Christian art) can challenge us to love God more, to love other people more,  and to generally be better people (by which I mean, people who live more like God has called us to live).  But a steady diet of reality television and Transformers movies isn’t going to do these things.

So if you’ve made it this far, let’s bring this back around to good television.  I’m curious what you think makes a television show “good”?  What criteria would you add to the partial list above?  Are there any shows that you think exemplify “good” television?


From → Culture

One Comment
  1. Cari permalink

    Anything that challenges me to think outside myself & my own “known” world is helpful (aka “good”) to me. Usually when it’s doing so in a quality (aka meaningful dialogue, not forced or predictable) way.

    This idea of “good” is very hard for me to define & tackle down. I know you’re know supposed to use the same word in the definition when you’re describing it & I’m finding that difficult!!

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