Great TV is Like Punk Rock, But Our Screens Are Filled With Adult Contemporary
Great TV is everywhere nowadays, at least that what everyone is telling me. Creators are pushing boundaries, genres are being stretched, and cultural barriers are falling. If only it were all true! Great TV is like Punk Rock in more ways than one, and what is on our screens nowadays isn’t inspiring me to get a leather jacket, or a mohawk.
Punk Rock was a marvelous thing. It burst onto the music scene and promptly set out to cause a reign of terror throughout. It pulled no punches, and its [very] vocal proponents took great delight in giving established society the middle finger. To say it shook things up is an understatement, but while the longevity of the scene itself was short, its influences continue to be felt 35 years later.
The best TV shows don’t immediately appear to be any way similar, and yet they are. They generally come out of nowhere, often have inexperienced crews who don’t know the established rules, and generally tend to have a feckless attitude to the status quo. They can also burn very brightly, if only for a short period of time, and their influence emanates far beyond the life of the show itself.
Yet for all that, the biggest similarity is that both punk rock, and great TV, never become stale. They always appear fresh, as if they are brand new. There’s a terrific energy to them that imbues them with immortality. Don’t believe me, go listen to a Ramones song and tell me that doesn’t sound newer than Niki Minaj.
What prompted this post was when I watched an episode of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and realised afterwards that it’s already 10 years old. It doesn’t look it, and could certainly be released today to the same success it was in 2005.
Animation is kind of punk rock in a way; it resides outside the mainstream. This distanced location has permitted more than a few series to push limits that live-action either cannot or will not. The Simpsons took on family sitcoms and ran rings around them. The Looney Tunes shorts were created by artists who took one look at what Disney was doing, and went in a completely different, and altogether more entertaining direction. Those shorts are still as good today as they ever were. Disney’s shorts, while technically brilliant, have acquired a cultural patina that contains them to a certain era.
When I think of TV today though, there’s nothing that really stands out. There’s plenty of good TV, yes, but hardly any show has that punk rock vibe that it ought to have. House of Cards is the perfect example; it should be the perfect punk style of show, thumbing its nose at the broadcast and cable establishment. At least that’s what Netflix wants us to believe. Yet the show’s third season was particularly stale, the first is fading into history, and still the show soldiers merilly onwards to a 4th season that’ll bring it past its sell by date.
What TV is currently lacking is a show that breaks all the rules, burns very bright for a short period of time, and whose luminance casts a glow on everything that comes after it.
The web should be the perfect vehicle for such a show, but as Bob Lefsetz would point out, that environment is too focused on instant gratification and disposable celebrity to care. It would appear that a lack of restrictions hasn’t enabled the content revolution we all thought would occur. The actual content on YouTube is adapted to suit the platform, sure, but in a narrative sense, it’s business as usual.
Web TV is barely ten years old, but already needs the kind of revolution that music didn’t know it needed when punk came around.
Will a group of snotty teenagers deliver us from televised malaise? That remains to be seen; the barriers on YouTube are high enough to prevent that. Thankfully punk saw barriers as a challenge, and promptly found ways around them. Here’s hoping somebody does that with TV; shaking things up is just what’s needed right now.