The new TV season is one of the least inspired in recent memory. While I’m always glad to see Tom Selleck and I adore watching the new hot boy haole Five-0’s bicker like a married couple in their Hawaiian honeymoon paradise, I can honestly say the new shows could all disappear and I wouldn’t miss them.
One recent offering that I’m still hoping will turn around is about a family who suddenly discovers they have super powers. I know, judge me if you want, but I’m a fiction guy. That means I believe in the power of fantasy to reveal truth through heightened reality.
But none of that is my point.
I think the idea of suddenly discovering you can fly or read minds or whatever is the sort of conceit that is so well realized on the small screen. But not for the people on this show. For these folks having super powers is a problem. That’s right, once again we’re asked to believe people don’t want to be special. American’s who are so desperate for attention and to set ourselves apart from the pack we post humiliating videos of ourselves on YouTube so millions of strangers will make fun of us. But time and again, we are told we really only want to be “normal” and “fit in.”
Dear TV People: We do not want that. We don’t even think that’s a good idea. And it doesn’t have to be super powers. People watch American Idol by the zillion and buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of lottery tickets for the same reason. Both promise that we might be lifted out of our “normal” lives and transported into the realms of our fantasy. Just the fact that other people win gives us hope that it could happen.
We all want to be special.
There was a show on a couple of years back called Heroes. In it, ordinary people suddenly discovered that they have special powers. The characters, we were told at excruciating length, all just wanted things to go back to way they were before even though they didn’t really like their lives before. The show was not about them being special, it was about how being special was a problem. The show is no longer on the air. And it didn’t go out in a blaze of glory.
We not only want to be special, we believe we already are.
The reality shows seem to me to be about confirming that the audience is as special as we believe we are. When we tune in to the manufactured reality of these dubious and fictionalized dramas we are told that because we are overweight or pregnant or broke or housewives or just jerks that live at the Jersey shore, we are special. Or, better still; we in the audience get to feel superior to the tubby shore dwelling housewives of someplace not as nice as where we live.
If we really feel bad about ourselves, there is even a show about people who live in their own filth. That’ll up your special quotient on the worst day.
Love stories tell us that we will find someone who thinks we and we alone are so special that we can’t be lived without. Horror movies tell us that there is something special in us that will allow us to overcome and defeat evil itself even though the high school cheerleader and that hot quarterback guy that everyone thought was so special got eaten. Harry Potter and the whole fantasy genre tell us that when the prophecy is revealed, we will be the chosen one. And the coarse comedies from Laurel and Hardy to Judd Apatow to Jack Ass all give us the opportunity to feel superior and, by extension, special.
The truth is, we are all special. We’re right. There are something approaching 8 billion people on our little blue bubble and each one of us is having a unique experience. Twins who live their entire lives from birth to death in each other’s company doing exactly the same things at the same time will have two different experiences.
That is divine, as are we all.
We long to celebrate our specialness, our unique, individual, peerlessness.
So, if you’re looking to make a movie or a TV show that tanks, make one that tells us that we’re not special and we don’t want to be. Oh wait, you already have. I guess my question is, why make another one?