Anyone else noticing that TV shows (as well as films) seem to be becoming more and more dumbed down in order to appeal to a larger audience? This can take place in many ways, whether it’s the shows characters doing something ridiculous to advance the story or revealing something about themselves that only the slower audience members won’t have noticed or even worse, things actually not making sense in the shows storyline. I recently binge-watched two seasons of The Flash which is what sparked this post so I’m going to use that as my point of reference as it highlights most of the issues I plan on mentioning.
I had never seen anything to do with The Flash before. If there are Flash films I haven’t seen them, if there are games then I haven’t played them and while I know there are comics, I haven’t read them. I only began watching the show because I’d been led to believe that it had interesting twists and turns and a generally cool storyline. While I did find myself ultimately hooked on the show, it wasn’t out of intrigue or curiosity as much as it was out of hate and disbelief. I’ll admit that it’s certainly an entertaining show (as much as it pains me to say it) but there are some very clear issues with the show that apply to many, many others like it.
One of the biggest issues is the number of episodes per season which in the case of The Flash is something like 22 or 23. Don’t get me wrong, some shows have a lot of episodes and manage it perfectly fine but others fall into a horrible pit where we notice a formula being used that causes each episode to mirror the one before it with only minor differences. This isn’t the case for every single episode but I found it went something like this:
-the audience is shown a new meta-human doing something at the time of the particle collider explosion;
-Barry and his team/family discuss some problem that they are having;
-the meta-human shows up and causes trouble;
-some member of the team (usually Barry) thinks they have the solution;
-they don’t and they fail;
-ultimately some important lesson about family or teamwork or patience or whatever is learnt and this is used to defeat the meta-human.
We get this for about 40 minutes and then in the last minute or so, some mysterious event happens that adds to the overall storyline in some way that is meant to be like a cliff-hanger but usually isn’t. Essentially, 80% of the show is filler material and 20% is unique storyline. Don’t get me wrong, some of the filler stuff is hilarious and interesting but you can only watch the same thing happen so many times before it becomes boring. The Flash isn’t the only show I’ve watched where this has happened: Take Elementary for example, a show I should have enjoyed a lot more than I did. Elementary also uses this technique in order to add more episodes to each season. This is all well and good but eventually you just become bored of it. Some other examples of this would include Criminal Minds, The Mentalist, Marvels Agents of Shield (specifically the first season) and Lie to me, which are all shows that I thoroughly enjoyed but even they had points where it just wasn’t that interesting and ultimately the success formula acts as a negative aspect of the show. Lie to Me didn’t even have any huge, overall storyline but it still became very formulated. Even The Walking Dead has started to drag its heels in terms of new story arcs. I mean Lost has plenty of episodes and (despite the fact that it ultimately ended up being wildly disappointing) managed to keep each episode unique and interesting. Sure, it may not always have made sense and caused us to have more questions than answers but if a bunch of plane crash survivors on an island can remain interesting, shouldn’t that also be the case with superheroes/villains? I find that for many shows, especially ones of this nature where the storyline should be the focus; less is more. Take Game of Thrones for example, we get 10 episodes a year…TEN! Ignoring season 6 which in my opinion has also become a tad too predictable and has certainly been dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience, I’ve found myself constantly wanting more of the show. I only started watching it last year and I binged 4 and a half seasons in less than a week and still wanted more. Since then I’ve watched the first 5 seasons all over again, as well as the 6th. Breaking Bad is another good example. The number of episodes per season varied a lot (8-16) but the show managed to keep me entertained for almost the entire time. Breaking Bad is another one I’ve managed to watch twice without feeling like the same thing is happening over and over in each episode. What about True Detective or Sherlock? Both incredible shows (perhaps ignoring the 2nd season of True Detective) and yet they have very few episodes per season. I mean Sherlock only has three episodes…just three. So of course the number of episodes can vary depending on the show and the content. I mean take House for example: House has many episodes per season, it’s basically the same thing every episode and yet it is entertaining to watch because it isn’t the storyline that is important quite as much as the characters. I mean this works with a lot of shows: Friends, Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, House…all of which are similar from episode to episode yet remain entertaining. That’s because while they may have an overall storyline, it’s the content of each episode that is important.
As I mentioned before, the general “dumbing-down” of TV shows is definitely an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent. We, the audience, are being spoon-fed every singly detail so that we don’t miss it. Why? Well because if some, if not all of the viewers can’t understand what’s going on or miss details that are vital to the story then they may give up watching out of frustration. I’ll once again refer back to The Flash here as I have a few examples in mind. As I mentioned at the start, I’d never seen or read anything Flash-related. So why is it that after watching episode one (spoilers ahead) where we see Barry’s mum being murdered, I could instantly tell you that The Flash would get his powers and end up travelling through time to that night? It was pretty obvious, right? Yet it isn’t until episode 15 through some far-fetched (even by this shows standards) scientific bullshit that blood is found at the scene 15 years after the event that proves older Barry was there as well as young Barry. Bad example? How about how obvious it was that “Atom-smasher” from the start of season 2 was from another universe? I mean it was incredibly obvious. I have an even better example: There is an episode in season 2 where the Trickster (played by Mark Hamill) dressed up as Santa and gives out presents to children. Just in case anyone hadn’t been paying attention, the Trickster conveniently pulls down his fake beard to reveal who he is. Not to insult anyone but if it took up until that reveal for you to realise it was the Trickster then I’m afraid you are part of the problem that I’m referring to in this post.
Then of course we have issues that take place within the show itself. So just to carry on with my Flash critique, I shall use a few examples from it to show you what I mean. In The Flash, there are often lessons that Barry learns that are ultimately meant to guide him down his path towards being the best hero he can be. One of the biggest of these is messing with time. In season 1, Barry goes back in time and alters events, soon learning how dangerous the butterfly effect can be. I won’t get into the specifics but despite how risky time travel is, he goes back not once, not twice but three times (that I’m aware of). One of these times he goes back with the intention of saving his mother’s life but decides not to, then he goes back to learn how to run faster and despite the fact that he gets chased by these time-ghoul things that hunt those who mess with time, he goes back again at the end of the 2nd season and actually does save his mother. This final journey back in time is as a result of his father being killed by Zoom who is from another universe. So just to reiterate my point here: despite Barry knowing how risky time travel is and how much can be changed, and despite Barry knowing that crazy time-wraith creatures are likely to hunt him down for changing too much, he decides to go back 16 or so years to change several events that took place: he saves his mother which in turn stops his father going to jail while also stopping the reverse-flash…why is this an issue? Well ignoring how much can change, there are several more logical options that could have been explored. I mean Barry could have gone back and saved his father or gone back before the portal to Earth 2 was opened, both of which would result in less change. Oh, and just to top all this off, this all takes place after Barry reaches inner-peace about his mother’s death, like literally a few episodes before!! I probably haven’t explained this in the simplest of ways but hopefully you get my point. I mean not only is this show completely illogical but it also fails at keeping characters consistent. Barry (or any of the other characters) can have a completely new personality or outlook on life from one episode to the next. One minute Barry is willing to do anything to get his powers back because Zoom has taken one of his best friends…but as soon as he is presented with an option he has to decline it and bring his dad in to help which ultimately leads to his death (another moment where Barry could have gone back and altered things to save his father without completely messing up the timeline). The whole point in having these characters behave a certain way is to give them a personality. You should be able to watch a show and when a character acts a certain way think to yourself “Ahh, that’s exactly the sort of thing he/she would do” but with the Flash, we go from one sort of behaviour to the other with no real explanation.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent shows out there that ignore this ridiculously formulated structure (The Leftovers, Sherlock, Black Mirror, Mr Robot…to name a few) but are we losing a large portion of our entertainment to dumbed-down devolutions? I certainly think we are headed in the direction of just having superheroes appear, save the day and then return to their lair with no real storyline or character development whatsoever. As for The Flash? Well, I guess when season 3 airs I’ll have to decide if it’s worth me angrily watching it just in the hopes of finding a more interesting storyline. My only hope is that shows such as Game of Thrones pull themselves back from the edge of the abyss before we lose them to generic television forever. How long before we have an entire episode dedicated to Jon Snow’s morning hair routine? Probably a bad example because that could potentially be entertaining to see…but you get my point. Given that the Flash can time travel (among other crazy abilities) you would imagine that the story writing could be a tad less predictable or even just a wee bit more interesting. Perhaps we simply expect the unexpected and nothing comes as a shock anymore.
If you disagree and believe that I’m being unfair to the shows I’ve mentioned then by all means leave your opinion below. I’d love to hear whether it’s just me that thinks this.