What makes us so fixated on the TV we watch being completely flawless?
By Lauren Hunter (she/her)
We’re living in a time where entertainment media is everywhere in all forms, from TikTok to podcasts, movies to music videos. With that the stakes of absurdity continue to climb to insane heights simply to try and capture a second of our goldfish-like attentions – imagine explaining to your gran ten years ago that a Channel 4 show where you rank people’s genitals based on how they look would soon become compelling Friday night viewing. It’s weird, right?
But in many ways it’s just not seen like that now. For all of Gen Z’s shortcomings, we have refined a talent of being able to keep up with the streaming service steam train, spitting out opinions on everything we watch – and it seems that we’re never satisfied by any of it anymore. We’ll spend hours binging Netflix’s latest offerings, come away feeling completely underwhelmed, have a quick rant on how what we just watched could have been written better, before doing it all again.
This struck me while watching the final season of Sex Education recently (hot take: I quite liked it). But by the onslaught of irate opinions on X and TikTok I felt like I somehow shouldn’t have. Had I missed some gaping plot hole? Completely bypassed some contrived metaphorical message? No, I hadn’t; I just didn’t put too much pressure on it in the first place. This is where the crux of the issue lies for me: we consume so much in today’s culture that we now sit down to watch TV and fully expect every single show to change our lives, where we co-exist in characters’ arcs as they experience the most acute heartbreaks, epiphanies, and redemptions, and after eight episodes we want them to ride off into the sunset to happily ever after. But good writing isn’t like that – because life isn’t, either.
Watching TV for escapism is entirely understandable, especially when we use it so often to tune out from life’s trials and tribulations. Yet when we say we want to see realism, it seems a bit of a double-standard to then criticise the shows that offer it for not having plots with a rose-tinted glow around them. This is of course not a suggestion that we need to be permanently shrouded in misery through every aspect of our days, but maybe we should re-adjust ourselves to see that TV is simply something to engage us for a short time before we move on again, and doesn’t need to be full of life-altering revelations. If you don’t like something, that’s ok too, but not everything requires a dissertation-worthy analysis.
Yeah, Fleabag and the Hot Priest maybe should have got together. Marianne and Connell maybe should have reconciled. Otis and Maeve maybe could have worked things out. But they didn’t, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t have perfect lives, so why should we expect TV characters to have them either?