The truths and falsehoods of TV college life

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BRIDGET EARLY | OPINION COLUMNIST | bfearly@butler.edu

From schoolwide ragers to murder plots, television portrayals of college life range create a fantastical world of seven-day weekends and nonexistent workloads, leaving viewers with the idea that college is nothing but a huge, exciting adventure (unless, of course, you’re caught up in the murder ring).

If a plot is running low on scandal or a season is going downhill, the easiest way to pique a viewer’s interest is by adding a plot twist. The best shows are able to develop from both overarching plots and short term ones, building episode by episode to a climactic season finale.

Often, the finale will contain the largest plot twist of the season, setting the show up for a new season and leaving viewers with the desire to keep watching.

How much of Hollywood’s utopic college scene proves to ring true when compared to reality? Falsehoods can vary from episode to episode and especially from season to season, based mainly on the particular episode or season’s need for added drama.

I took a look at how some of the most popular shows on television use college as a way to create drama and develop the plot, even if real colleges are nothing like their television alter-representations.

The show: “How To Get Away With Murder”

The premise: Wes Gibbins, a first-year law student taken off the waitlist late in the summer, is selected by his Criminal Law 100 professor Annalise Keating to work for her high-end criminal law practice. In the process, Wes and his peers are drawn into a torturous cycle of murder, cleanup and paranoia, all while solving cases on top of their course load.

The truth: HTGAWM, while an action packed and gripping show, represents a completely fictitious idea of college. The biggest issue with this show is the concept that Wes, a first-year student who barely qualified for the school, was selected by one of the best lawyers in the country to work as an employee with near-full autonomy on cases with real consequences. On top of this, he and his colleagues seem to spend almost all of their time in Annalise’s office or in court, neglecting the massive amounts of work that are part of life as a law student. Finally, Wes and his friends outsmart the police time and time again in an ever-evolving plot to cover the murder of Annalise’s husband, a combination of events so irrational that they are plainly fictitious.

The show: Legally Blonde

The premise: Although Legally Blonde is technically a movie, it offers us one of the most fantastical and humorous portrayals of a college lifestyle. After being dumped by her overly ambitious boyfriend, socialite Elle Woods abandons her old life to follow her ex to Harvard Law.

The truth: Despite Elle’s intelligence, which makes itself apparent as the movie progresses, Elle’s college application process and miraculous acceptance to Harvard Law is laughable; she has nothing that would qualify her for law school of any kind, let alone Harvard, and her soundtracked, graceful ascent to the top of her class is equally bemusing. Lack of qualification aside, there is something to be said about a unique application to colleges, returning a shadow of credibility to Elle’s unexpected success story.

The show: “Vampire Diaries”

The premise: Beginning in high school, Elena Gilbert and her vampire boyfriend Stefan fight off various supernatural threats to their hometown. When Elena goes to college, the vampire problem follows her, and she spends an inordinate amount of time fighting off other vampires while attending constant, schoolwide ragers and attempting to become a doctor (without ever actually attending class).

The truth: This one’s pretty self-explanatory…. However, Elena has the nicest (and largest!) dorm room I have ever seen, something that is definitely never a freshman privilege.

The concept of college-based television is a premise that regularly draws millions of viewers, mainly because it is entirely fictitious. Many people find it highly relaxing and enjoyable to sit back and watch a program so ludicrous that you allow yourself to disconnect from the events in your own life. There is a huge entertainment value behind watching college freshman trying to hide bodies, or watching a blonde, flamboyant cheerleader conquer Harvard — but don’t ever expect that you’ll be the one killing vampires between classes.

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