Must-see nonsense

Could it BE any more basic? Photo courtesy of Teen Vogue. 


If you’ve ever seen a commercial advertising a TV show, you’ve probably seen the phrase “must-see TV” once or twice. There’s a bunch of shows everyone has seen, or at least it seems like everyone has seen. Whether it’s “Friends”, “The Office”, “Parks and Recreation” or the like, some shows are cemented in the cultural zeitgeist as the basics — the bare minimum of participation. 

Depending on your age group it might vary, but many of us share in the unconscious reaction when we find out others are not watching these shows: “Wait, you haven’t seen that show? How have you not seen that show?” In a consumerist McCarthyism where we persecute perceived dissenters out of paranoia, it becomes unbelievable that someone we thought we could trust hasn’t seen certain TV shows. It’s gotten to the point where it seems the most shocking thing you can learn about someone is that they haven’t sat in front of a screen for the same reasons you did. 

Sophomore health sciences major Gabe Pancratz, for instance, has not seen “Friends”. When he admitted this transgression, it shocked his class, and the blow was only lessened upon learning he has watched “The Office”. 

“I have never seen [‘Friends’] before, and none of my buddies really talked about it,” Pancratz said. “I feel like I would have a similar reaction to what everyone else had [if someone said they had never seen ‘The Office’].” 

Though these shows may not be the direct focus of our daily lives, we all bear this connection to them. Arguably the last unifying factor of the American people in modern society is the fact we all love certain sitcoms and dramas. To hear that rule cannot be honored feels like a cut too deep. I won’t act like I am not guilty of this — I might be the guiltiest of all — but it seems odd that we get so defensive of something we are so disconnected from. 

While some shows can have a deeper impact on people and hit on a more personal level, a lot of what we consider essential media doesn’t do that for most people. Somehow we have gotten to a point of innate defensiveness of these shows made by people we don’t know who do not care about us. It is not sinister, but it all seems emptier than we treat it. 

Sophomore marketing major Alex Busscher echoes the sentiment that the defining factors for his media are not as emotionally charged. This is particularly true when discussing one of his favorite essentials and my career backup plan, “Breaking Bad”. 

“[The essentials] have a really good plot,” Busscher said. “There’s also side plots and side characters that play big roles that make the storyline more interesting overall.” 

I love a good story and what Busscher describes is something that would drive me to check out media and be passionate about it. It shouldn’t matter how prevalent it has been in media discourse. Over its five-year run, it told an interesting story with amazing characters that people either love or love to hate. 

And that’s where a contradiction exists for my condemnation. Shows should not be put down for their popularity. Just because “Monument Mythos” is more obscure than “Breaking Bad” doesn’t mean the story of “Breaking Bad” is instantly made inferior, and it isn’t made better. Both pieces of media have amazing stories regardless of who looks into them, but that still doesn’t explain why one is so much more dominant in the zeitgeist. 

If I were to treat people who haven’t seen “Monument Mythos” the same as we treat people who haven’t seen “The Office”, on top of seeming utterly insane, I would seem really pedantic. Whether or not a conversation continues should not be contingent on one lapse in consumption. We can form whole relationships with people without these pieces of media coming up at all, but maybe that’s the real key. 

When sophomore biochemistry major Taylor Donahue was discussing her favorite of the essential shows, she said something that struck me. 

“Some of my best friends also like ‘The Office’, and I watch it with my boyfriend a lot,” Donahue said. “I like quoting ‘The Office’, and it’s just so much better when people know what I’m talking about.” 

And Donahue is right. Everyone likes being a fan of something, be it a TV show, sports team or movie, and it feels good to share in that love. Oftentimes during this process, I have found that while people like essential media, it isn’t always their favorite media. However, unlike their favorite media, a lot of other people have seen the essentials, so that becomes something worth an attachment to because it fosters such connection. 

That’s what makes the essentials essential, the plurality. The last three seasons of “The Office” were terrible, but they have been seen by millions of people. No matter where we are, we can say “bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica,” and at least one person will know we are talking about more than just woodland creatures, vegetables and science fiction. That is a beautiful thing already, and a very big comfort in college. We have no way of knowing if we had a similar high school experience as our peers, or if our normal lives are even normal at all compared to the people around us, but we do know that we can adhere to the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness

I don’t think we should care at all about what media people have and haven’t seen. Of all the important things we can know about someone, their choice channels don’t play a huge role in whether or not they are a good person, much less one we want to hang out with. 

That being said, there is value to watching essential media. While there should not necessarily be “essential media” in a way that popularity equates to quality, we must recognize that by engaging in “essential media” we open ourselves up to people more which is in the end more valuable. You do not need to blindly binge every show and movie with a semi-positive rating, but if you can, I would encourage you to at least try to watch some of them. A lot of them are popular because they try so hard to have something for everyone, and even if one of them doesn’t, another will. 

It is ridiculous that people put so much stock in watching certain shows, but one must acknowledge that these shows serve as an in for connecting with people. Essential media isn’t essential because of itself, but because of what people have connected to it. Who knows? If you get into it you might like it — that’s what she said


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