For decades, half-hour TV comedies fell mostly into just two categories: “family” or “workplace.” Meanwhile, most one-hour dramas could easily be summed as “procedural” or “soap.” That’s it. The vast, overwhelming bulk of all scripted TV content fit squarely in just those four groups.
As technology expanded the ways people consume programming, though, it also expanded the varieties of it. The old labels just don’t fit anymore. Genre-bending shows are so commonplace now, they’ve spawned all-new genres all their own. Genres like …
“Offbeat moments in the life of people with too much free time”
What have you wrought, Larry David? Curb Your Enthusiasm is the Godfather of this category, which now includes Louie, Maron, The League, Master of None, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Louie (yeah I said Louie twice, it’s that important), and Baskets.
These shows are defined by actors playing veiled versions of themselves, in very loose structures, with a magnifying glass on awkward situations. In a weird way, these shows reinvented the “sitcom” by emphasizing the “sit” more than the “com.” The best of this genre will be studied by future sociologists looking to examine the unspoken societal norms that secretly dictate western culture today.
What I find most interesting about many of these series is how they purport to show what people like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari do in their free time, but if you know anything about these people, you know they don’t actually have any free time. They’re too busy making a TV show about having too much free time.
“Good cop, non-cop”
For years, the bread-and-butter of cop shows was pairing up mismatched partners. One cop was clean, the other was gruff. One was a family man, the other a womanizer. One was Rizzoli, the other was Isles.
The new paradigm? One is a cop, the other is not a cop at all. Sleepy Hollow, Castle, Mentalist, White Collar, Limitless, Lucifer, Elementary – it’s getting harder and harder to find a network crime show that doesn’t feature an eccentric “outsider” helping the police/FBI/postal inspectors. Look for this trend to continue next season as networks are already developing shows where billionaires, time travelers, and even the Pope get into the crime fighting game. (Note: One of those three things is made up, but which one?! Tune in next fall to find out!)
In 1996, Fox aired a groundbreaking show called Profit that starred Adrian Pasdar (Heroes) as an amoral business executive willing to do anything to get ahead. It lasted four airings before cancellation. Audiences just weren’t sure what to make of a protagonist so willing to lie, cheat, steal, bribe, and worse to get ahead.
Now? Being amoral isn’t just a requirement for today’s main characters, it’s a requirement for all characters on many serialized dramas. See: House of Cards, Homeland, Scandal, The Shield, Sopranos, How to Get Away With Murder, Tyrant, Sons of Anarchy, Damages – on all those series, just when you think you’ve identified the “moral center” of the show, that character does something unforgiveable – and you love them for it anyway.
“It’s not TV, it’s HBO. Oh, wait. It’s not HBO either. What-the-hell channel am I watching?”
Every day, a new channel, website, or streaming service pops up with compelling material. Take WGN, for example. For most of its existence, WGN was mostly known as the spot on the cable dial where anyone in the country could see Chicago local news. Then it entered the scripted game running with Manhattan, and has a legit hit on its hands with Underground. Yahoo briefly entered the scripted game with Other Space and the last season of Community. (Or was it?!?) Crackle has original shows like Art of More and Supermansion. Epix, America’s youngest premium channel (birthdate: August 28, 2009), is about to premiere it’s first scripted shows – political satire Graves and spy drama Berlin Station.
“It sucks to be single in Los Angeles”
Just ask the characters of Hulu’s Casual, FX’s You’re the Worth, and Netflix’s Love.
“It sucks to be married in Los Angeles”
At least, if HBO’s Togetherness is to be believed. FX’s Married has a better outlook on marriage, but still lives largely in the “uncomfortably real” aspect of things.
“It sucks to be divorced in Los Angeles”
Bravo’s Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. The above-mentioned Casual. Though they aren’t specifically about divorce, you can even throw Transparent and Flaked onto this list, too.
OK, so Hollywood productions about the difficulty of forming and maintaining relationships in L.A. isn’t that new of a thing. What is new, though, is just how determined these new shows are to be as “L.A.-centric” as possible. In the past, comedies set in L.A. largely sought to universalize the experience of living in the city, to make the comedy more relatable.
This new batch of L.A.-set productions aim to nail the nitty-gritty details of Angeleno-life as much as they aim to nail the nitty-gritty realism of post-millennial relationships. They feature lead characters in jobs that only exist in L.A. They take great pains to shoot parts of L.A. that typically get ignored by Hollywood film crews (with the exception of the one show above that actually shoots in Vancouver). They make L.A. a character until itself.
They may risk alienating people who might find L.A.-centric shows to be too self-involved. But to Angelenos (myself included), the mirror-like qualities of these shows can be as unsettling as they are engrossing.
“Shows that exist to be hate-watched”
Consider this the new category that shouldn’t exist. I hate the term “hate watch” so much, I’m not even going to list the shows that would go here. It’s such a disingenuous term. The whole idea of a “guilty pleasure” is dumb. We’re talking about TV, people, not murder. If you watch a show and get any enjoyment out of it, whatever the reason, just admit you like the darn thing.
And if watching a show really does fill you with anger? Stop watching it! There’s no shortage of good programs on!