“In my opinion, good energy—kindness, decency, and love—is the most transformative force in the world.” (Cory Booker)
We don’t watch a whole lot of TV anymore, and when we do, it’s just as likely to be a vintage sitcom as a current show. Bill and I realized some time ago that there’s a lot of television other people say is top-quality—well-written, good acting, compelling stories—that we just don’t find enjoyable. And one of the reasons is that the characters are all rather unkind.
Our friends have raved about Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and several other top-rated shows, but I was turned off by the violence, and the fact that “good guys” were few and far-between. I know I’m probably missing some great stories and some tremendous acting, and perhaps even being stubbornly short-sighted, but if I listen to my gut—which rarely steers me wrong—these are not shows that serve the world I aspire to live in.
I’ll admit that I haven’t really given some of these shows much of a chance, and I may be basing my judgment on too little evidence. I like to think of myself as open-minded, so my obstinate refusal to watch shows that others—including critics—deem outstanding is somewhat unsettling. I’m reminded of the fact that I refused for five decades to eat broccoli, and then when I finally did, discovered that it’s one of the best things on the planet.
Still, if all the characters on a TV show are people we wouldn’t want in our house, chances are, we don’t really want the show in our house either. Take Seinfeld, for example. I know everyone loved Seinfeld and it’s probably sacrilegious to be saying that we didn’t. We watched for much of its first season—and saw that these weren’t especially pleasant people. They were not people we would want as friends, and, in fact, might be people we would go out of our way to avoid having to interact with. So, why were we inviting them into our home every week? The show was often funny, and funny is usually good, but this humor was frequently hurtful and mean: the main characters were smugly judgmental and mocked people with little justification, achieving laughs at the expense of others. After watching Seinfeld, we didn’t feel good or happy. We just wanted their energy out of our house. And it raised the question: does watching meanness make us more inclined to be mean, or make us more accepting of unkind behavior?
Likewise, we watched House of Cards for a couple of seasons—who wouldn’t want to watch anything with Kevin Spacey in it, after all? But, toward the end of the first season, we realized there was not a single likable character on the show. They were devious, manipulative, cruel, and immoral. It depressed us to wonder how true-to-life some of the political intrigues and plots might be. Despite great acting, the show was a downer and the characters were not people we wanted in our home.
That’s become something of a litmus test for us when we watch a new show. In addition to wanting quality writing, stories, and acting, we want there to be at least a few characters we can root for, people we’d love to live next door to or encounter in our day-to-day lives. The last thing we want to watch is a show populated with mindless Pollyannas, but a couple of intelligent and likable characters—even amidst a number of unpleasant ones—that will at least give us something or someone to champion.
Yes, we’re probably missing some great television, but we’ve got books, and Netflix, and reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show—now that’s a group of people I’d welcome into my home any day!
Who are you inviting in?
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” (Fred Rogers)