Supersizedemic or Too Much of Not Enough

By DuncanRhys C. Liancourt

––Oh! That glowing scratchy-snowy screen and screechy-hummy static when the TV station I’d been allowed to stay up late to watch went to sleep. Truly, youngish reader, TV stations once ran programming for only some of the 24 hours in a day and night, and static is all they broadcast after closing time. That static was part lullaby, part annoyance. On those stay-up-late nights I remember thinking “come on! Can’t you people make the shows longer or make more of them?”

When first in London some years later and winding down with some late night TV in the hotel, I remember thinking much the same thing: “London is very cool, but why can’t they keep TV in material?” By then TV in the states ran “material” 24/7 and my thought-question had a definite nationalist, superiority complex tinge. The BBC does some great stuff, I remember thinking, but the UK must be behind the US a bit in imaginative power if their stations were forced to call it a night.

But back home I began to notice something happening now and then to my favorite shows. Most weeks I would join a group of quirky pals at their apartment/café/news station where their problems and slip-ups were wildly amusing while their occasional tender moments made me go “awwwh” with just the right balance of sentimentality and irony. Some weeks, however, there would be a “special hour” of one of these situational little gems. These “special” episodes were never as funny. Sometimes they were stretched to an hour to deal with a particularly serious theme. While this seems a good idea theoretically, the episode almost always played as if they’d still written a half hour’s worth of material and didn’t quite know what to do with the extra time. The extra time might be filled with singing or the extempore madcap machinations of a manic guest star. Either way, my diversion turned to distraction, my chuckle to a chore, and what had been winsome about the show waned to wince worthy.

Shows that normally took an hour didn’t fare better with more time either. Dramas accustomed to tackle serious subjects thought they had to be twice as serious with twice the time resulting in two hours that, after collapsing under its own weight before their usual hour was up, spent the second hour making Hallmark Hall of Fame movies seem Oscar worthy. If they were allowed, like films at the cinema, to go over two hours their gravity would have sucked in their remaining platitudes to create sofa swallowing black holes in every living room. Even awesome genre busting hour longs like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” exsanguinated its own charm seeking immortality episodically: its vamps could be staked or burned but its “specials” were nuke resistant.

Lest you imagine the supersizing disease died with these olden times shows know that the supersizedemic can be treated but never eradicated. Know also that it mutates and finds new hosts. Last season I happily sat through “Project Runway’s” less than riveting workroom moments and quixotically edited contestant video diaries because I felt the serotonin surge as Tim sprung surprise challenges and delivered ego busting criticism with his laconic “I’m worried.” This season the show developed a tumor a half hour thick. The runway show part of the show stayed the same––short, packed with adrenaline, and chock full of delicious oscillations between smug self satisfaction and terrified nausea on the designers’ faces––but getting there went from a ride on a classic merry-go-round with up and down jolting stallions and lions to a torpid twirl in toddler tea cups.

A cup of tea served as a pot of tea because you ran out of tea bags is really just beige water. Running out of tea bags can happen to anybody, but when it happens you’ve got to think creatively––drink the cup of tea yourself while prettying up a crystal clear pitcher of icy cold tap water with zigzag decorated slices of lemon. In the parlance of Tim Gunn, “make it work.” Don’t make the viewer work at staying awake, especially if he’s out of tea.

3 Responses to “Supersizedemic or Too Much of Not Enough”
  1. Meg says:

    I love this — it’s a major pet peeve of mine when shows go “extra special” and end up “extra boring”. The medical dramas and law dramas were always the worst for being overlong and overwrought when they tried to up the ante, and the sitcoms always tried my patience when they tried to make me cry after making me laugh (or vice versa.)

    You don’t hand Ansel Adams a video camera and say MORE! You accept that some things are perfect within their structure, and that belaboring it would dull the impact.

  2. “Jumping the shark” used to be something a series did right before the wane of its excellence… now I more often than not see the ghost of the Fonz at the 3/4 point of most of the episodes of the reality series I still watch. It’s the moment when the belabored and overwrought “judgment” segment starts. Just get to the decision, people – the tawdry melodramatic music and predictable editing flashing from nervous contestant to nervous contestant has begun to rankle me.

  3. Louisa says:

    Hmm. A late night cup of tea, so complicated suddenly.

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