Pop Rocks: We Take Our Television Seriously

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Hey America, what did you think of the season finale of The Killing?

- S U C K S! Not wasting another minute watching or thinking about this show!
- I want 13 hours of my life back!
- Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me
- A cheap, crappy cop-out.

Whoa. That's pretty harsh. Not Cavemen harsh, but close enough.

Well then, what'd you think of the "Baelor" episode of Game of Thrones?

- Way to go HBO, time to switch to Showtime.
- Fuck that shit!

[I wish I'd started following people on Twitter who were watching the show without reading the books and posting their GoT-related Tweets up to and including episode 9. Next time, I guess.]

Maybe I'm just noticing it more lately, but folks sure seem to be getting worked up over their television programming these days. And lest you think the phenomenon is limited to the cable networks, people are just as indignant about the goings-on in their network TV offerings.

For example, American Idol (James Durbin's elimination):

It made me physically sick watching

Or Law & Order:SVU (the "Avatar" episode):

more like Law & Order: We Gotta Eat Too

Or C.S.I. (Warrick's death):


Or...well, you get the idea.

To what can we attribute all this righteous indignation? Has the steady rise in quality programming across the basic and pay cable board led to a decline in tolerance for subpar fare? In an era that's seen programming like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, maybe we're not as forgiving of the seemingly unending stream of clichéd police procedurals and medical dramas that shamble across our sets every season.

Perhaps it's a simple question of access. Every show recap has a Facebook or Twitter link, and of course a comment submission form. And we don't take a leak these days without a smartphone in one free hand, much less watch TV, so everyone everywhere has the ability to instantly "register their disgust throughout the world," as Comic Book Guy might say.

Or maybe we need another world war to put things in perspective.

Ha ha, not really. Look, I understand certain aspects of TV-induced rage. If you invested a whole season in finding out who killed Rosie Larsen, only to have yet another red herring dangled in front of you, you have a right to be annoyed. And sure, I guess if you allowed yourself to get emotionally embroiled in the fortunes of Ned Stark, you were probably upset by the events of episode 9. I shudder to think what would've happened if blogs were around when Col. Henry Blake died. Society as we know it might have collapsed.

But while it'd be easy to blame the internet for all this, it isn't like our basic impulse hasn't always been to complain about the mundane. When I was in high school, I remember reading an impassioned letter to the editor of TV Guide protesting Lassie's placement on a list of television canines (she, or rather he, failed to come in first, but don't ask me who beat her). I remember being astounded that someone actually took the time to put pen to paper to write out a lengthy and impassioned defense of...a dog. Who didn't exist.

It's an easier thing nowadays, yet no less perplexing to me. But then, I haven't been emotionally involved in a TV show since Joe Hardy's fiancée was killed in that accident (Season 3: "Last Kiss of Summer"). They even torqued up the emotional manipulation by using "If" by Bread. Bread! Your penultimate beheadings make me laugh.

In a recent interview, Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Paul) explained why he bothered to get involved in the nerd debate over slow zombies vs. fast zombies (a matter of no minor signficance): "because it's fun to get annoyed over something so trivial." In the end, maybe we just like getting our knickers in a twist over something that doesn't really matter. Reality is often brutal and unforgiving, so why not allow ourselves our mindless diversions?

The alternative would be that we care about TV characters more than real life, but I'd rather not dwell on that possibility.

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