The Disappointment of Television

Ah television you are a fickle mistress. You dominate our culture, sitting smugly in the corner of every living room across the country, pulling furniture into your orbit until everything faces you and you alone. You bathe us in the flickering of diodes and fill our minds with whatever the executives ask you to.

There are times I want to hate you. When I flick you on in the evening and my choice is between yet another reality dancing show, cookery or endless reruns on Dave. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to cater purely to my tastes, just occasionally. I’ve lost count of the number of times I look down the schedule for the night and there’s not a single program on that I fancy watching.

And even when there is something halfway palatable on, more often than not it only takes few minutes of watching before I become disproportionally furious. Total Wipeout – one joke spread over hour long episodes and countless series – is particularly abhorrent to me. I wonder what’ll happen this week Richard? Oh, he fell in the water. Shocker.

Then there the shows that – I feel – misrepresent how the world works. Take for example both The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den. The lessons that I take from these shows are that, to be successful in business you have to be rude, blunt, and as downright obnoxious as possible, that your failings as a person make you eminently suitable for employment is the upper echelons of the business world. The defence put forwards for these programs by both the Beeb and their fans is that they’re not meant to be taken seriously, that they’re for entertainment purposes only. But that’s not how they put themselves across, and most people don’t even think to make the distinction.

And yet…. sometimes you, television can be so wonderful. The Wire, Generation Kill, Being Human and Sherlock are some recent highlights. Sometimes you capture me spellbound for hours and fill my head with pitch perfect stories, amazing acting, set design, music and other tiny components too numerous to mention. I sit there gazing dumbstruck at you as this perfect majesty plays out before me. Often I only return to my body when credits kick in, using them as a mental breathing space to take in what I’ve just seen and digest.

And then you squeeze them into a tiny box in the bottom corner and jabber all over the theme tune to tell me what’s coming up next. Great work telly. You’ve ruined it again.


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