So ABC finally premiered its eagerly awaited show The river this week. Did you watch it? What did you think? I think it showed a lot of promise. It’ll be interesting to see how they maintain this story over a season. It’ll be interesting, too, to see how many comparisons are made between this show and Lost.
I noticed that The River was trending on twitter, so I decided to follow to see what people were generally saying. While many were tweeting about how creepy the show was, I noticed that quite a few seemed to have trouble following what was happening on their screen. I saw tweets like “I don’t get it”, and “I’m confused”, and “can someone please tell me what’s going on?” Now, I’m not attacking these people at all, but it seemed a relatively straightforward story to me. <Spoiler alert> A television personality who likes adventure disappeared in the Amazon and his family have gone to look for him. They unleashed some sort of monster from a locked room and now they’re being hunted. Not that complicated, really.
I’ve noticed this phenomenon with other high concept shows and movies. Inception is a classic example. An admittedly convoluted movie. On review sites I visited, I noted that professional reviewers were generally giving Inception rave reviews. Members of the public who reviewed it were decidedly split. While some loved it, again, the reviews were littered with comments like “I didn’t get it.” “It confused the hell out of me.” “I have no idea what this movie was about.” And these people gave a great movie low ratings because they couldn’t follow it.
So what’s going on? The 70’s and 80’s were great decades for television. Reality shows hadn’t reared their ugly heads yet. There were a ton of creative and inventive shows out there. Sure, some of them might seem cheesy and dated by today’s standards. But in those days television was FUN!
Then came Reality. Okay, I’ll admit it. As you can probably infer from my writing, I don’t like Reality shows. In fact I HATE them. I love a good story. Something I can lose myself in. You can’t lose yourself in a Reality show. You can lose a few brain cells, though. Shows like Jersey Shore, The Batchelor and Wife Swap just don’t require any thought to follow them. They just wash over you. The biggest problem isn’t just the fact they exist. A few shows wouldn’t be a big deal. The big problem is there are so MANY of them. On every network. Even channels like VH1 and MTV, supposedly MUSIC channels are littered with mindless drivel. Everyone wants to get in on the act. Just about every single network shows these awful programs. Ok, I admit not ALL Reality shows are bad. Just MOST of them. I admit to liking Ghosthunters and Shark Tank. But at least with Shark Tank you can learn things. What can you learn from Jersey Shore? How to be a pain in the ass, maybe. How to be obnoxious. Not much else, really.
We all know why the networks love Reality shows. Because they’re cheap. They don’t have to pay professional actors. The production costs are far lower. And let’s face it, the sort of people who litter these shows would practically be willing to pay the networks for the privilege of being on television. The type of people who want to be on these shows are loud, brash, attention junkies. The kind of people you really wouldn’t want to know in real life. So why are Reality shows so popular? Maybe one reason is most Reality shows require absolutely no thought at all to follow. Maybe it’s just what some people need after a hard day at work. Just come home, put the television on and just switch your brain off. But with some programs you can practically feel your IQ points lowering as the show sort of washes over you. Is that really what people want? Then when you find a show that you actually have to follow, to think about in order to understand, you find yourself getting lost and struggling to keep up with it. Shows like The River, and Fox’s Touch, are high quality shows and they deserve to be a success and get more seasons. My biggest worry is if people are unable to follow these shows, they’ll stop watching and the networks will cancel them before the season is done. And they will put more mind-rotting Reality shows on instead. And the downward spiral will continue.