By Dushyant Shekhawat Sep. 26, 2018
It’s the age of #PeakTV, and there’s a plethora of content out there that is intellectually stimulating, aesthetically pleasing, and artistically rewarding. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Acclaimed shows are like caviar – perfectly fine to treat yourself to, but sometimes you just want good old vada pav.
Seen any good shows lately?” This is 2018’s version of “What’s up?”
The struggle of keeping up with content is real, with Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, and a bunch of other streaming services dropping new shows faster than you can say The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Trying to see it all can be exhausting, when the pace of popular culture today is faster than Usain Bolt on steroids.
I work in a media office, which means being up-to-date with the latest shows is more important than turning up on time, no matter what the HR might say. Watercooler conversations and smoke breaks unfold like jousting contests, with the latest episode of Killing Eve or The Handmaid’s Tale serving as the combatants’ weapons. There’s always some subtle one-upmanship at play, as the person not completely up-to-date with the latest flavour of the season will feel find himself ostracised from conversations, like Baba Ramdev at a doctors’ convention.
Last week’s Emmy Awards triggered the bragging contest once again, reminding everyone at work that we haven’t made each other feel inadequate for a while. Suddenly, I had been slapped with a whole new list of recommendations and surrounded with colleagues throwing, “Woah Barry, it’s the darkest TV comedy of 2018,” and “Bro, The Americans is simply brill” at each other.
I had never heard of these shows until last week. And when I sheepishly confessed, I drew the same mixture of disgust and scorn as someone who refuses to stand up for the national anthem in a movie theatre.
It’s the age of #PeakTV, and there’s a plethora of content out there that is intellectually stimulating, aesthetically pleasing, and artistically rewarding. But I’ve realised it is possible to have too much of a good thing. If television is food for thought, then these acclaimed shows are like caviar – perfectly fine to treat yourself to, but sometimes you just want good old vada pav.
If the thought of replacing Sansa Stark with Sunny Leone or Snooki feels like a kamikaze attack on your brain cells, stop for a second and think about why cringe-pop goes viral.
That’s how I found myself going home after another day of TV-centric interrogation, promising to finish BoJack Horseman’s long-awaited fifth season… but turning to MTV’s Splitsvilla XI for sweet release. It’s been my guilty pleasure for years, along with other so-called “trashy” reality shows like Jersey Shore and Love Island. Even with the violent screaming and garish graphics, these shows are ironically soothing. Your brain can go on standby, and you transform into a passive bystander, allowing the action on the screen to wash over you in a tide of mindless entertainment.
This phenomenon is tackled in an article in The Guardian titled “TV Palate Cleansers: After Breaking Bad, Viewers Need Cake Boss”. The author writes that palate-cleansing shows serve as a useful tonal instrument, giving viewers’ minds a break, thereby increasing their appreciation for the weighty themes and layered writing on more “serious” shows. “ … Man cannot live on quality drama alone. You find yourself either shuffling around with your brow furrowed as you wrestle with the weighty thematic issues of whatever you’re binge-watching, or trapped in a desperate cycle of increasingly hyperbolic praise for a show that you only really like because a broadsheet newspaper said you should. When this happens, you need crap. You need a palate-cleanser.”
Whether it was “Bol Na Aunty”, “Man’s Not Hot”, or that infectious earworm that is the “Bobs & Vegana” track, no one would commit the sin of comparing it to Pink Floyd or Miles Davis. Still, at the height of their popularity, these songs were as well-known as any timeless classics. Like cringe-pop anthems or a timeline full of dank memes, palate-cleansing shows keep you entertained without forcing you to think too much, keeping those grey cells charged up to better unravel the existential riddle that is Westworld’s season two.
There’s a reason shows like Bigg Boss and whatever crap Chuck Lorre is following The Big Bang Theory up with, have such enduring popularity. They are the Yin to prestige TV’s Yang. The light of day can only be appreciated by those who’ve lived through the darkness of night.
On that note, I’ll be more than happy to share my theories about what really happened on The Staircase with you, but if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I have a whole season of Jersey Shore: Family Vacation to finish.