Television gets a bad rap for being the poor man’s medium. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of weak and culturally regressive programming out there, from The Bachelor to Huckabee. But because of its accessibility and popularity, fads on television often represent greater cultural trends. Here are a few I’ve noticed.
Jersey: Out; Georgia: In
If one TV trend stood out this year, it’s that hillbillies are the new guidos. The shining example is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, the love it-or-hate it hit following former Toddlers and Tiaras star Alanna and her family of self-proclaimed rednecks in McIntyre, Ga. But Moonshiners, Duck Dynasty, Bamazon and several other niche redneck reality shows are gaining popularity comparable to that of Jerseylicious, Jersey Shore, Jersey Couture and The Real Housewives of New Jersey a few years ago.
In a telling move, MTV recently cancelled the Shore and, on Jan. 3, will introduce Buckwild, another unscripted series following a group of twentysomething shitheads with dumb nicknames, only this time from West Virginia instead of the Garden State.
So what’s with the obsession with these unglamorous American subcultures? Do the masses enjoy seeing “people like them,” flaws and all, or is this just another example of an exploitative modern day freak show? Either way, prepare to swap in your spray-on glow for a farmer’s tan.
We Like to Feel “Awkward”
No, I’m not referring to MTV’s scripted show named after everyone’s favorite overused adjective (I never watched Awkward., but it was popular enough to get renewed for a third season in 2013). Audiences are embracing shows that make us feel a little uneasy — from the outrageously gritty situations in Shameless to the wince-worthy tension in Homeland. But TV’s class of 2012 Most Awkward superlative has to go to Girls.
I had high expectations for the show and was unsure of my feelings at first, but I soon realized any negative reaction I had to Girls wasn’t due to poor writing or acting, but because the subject matter occasionally made me extremely uncomfortable. It also proved to be a show that just gets better with every watch. While not every single fellow twentysomething can relate to every single scene in which creator Lena Dunham stars, writes and directs (God forbid!), the show captures a realness about coming of age as a woman today — and all the crappy jobs, bad sex and misguided entitlement that comes with transitioning into independent adulthood. It’s a shame that the Girls buzz (both positive and negative) seems to overshadow everything groundbreaking and genuinely cool about the series itself but, hey, haters gon’ hate. With a second season premiering on HBO Jan. 13 — just nine months after Season One wrapped up — Girls is sure to rack up a growing following.
Nerds Rule the World
Of course, this has been a greater trend for a while now, but this year the power of geekdom really took over the small screen. Audiences are all about nerdy shows right now: comic book adaptations; elaborate fantasy series a la Game of Thrones; TBS will even introduce King of the Nerds, a competition show hosted by Revenge of the Nerds’ Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, on Jan. 17.
Beyond obvious examples like Doctor Who and The Big Bang Theory, it’s becoming more common to indulge geek-like obsession with certain shows — just look up photos of elaborate True Blood watch parties or peep the multiple Walking Dead spoiler/fan fiction sites. Reality/talk show programs like AMC’s Comic Book Men and BBC’s The Nerdist also celebrate geek culture and cult sensations. The king to rule them all, though, has to be Breaking Bad, which turned Bryan Cranston’s meek high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, into kingpin meth mogul Heisenberg. That nerd is one of the scariest characters on TV right now — check out the final Bad season on AMC next summer.
See? Who said television isn’t educational? Like it or not, the trends we see on the tube relate back to real life in one way or another. And, full disclosure, I genuinely learned a lot about politics, journalism and once-current events while watching The Newsroom. Don’t judge.
CONTACT JAC KERN : [email protected] or @jackern