Netflix just released 10 episodes of a new American show called Pretty Smart. I really don’t like it. And yet I spent my Friday night watching the whole thing. Please note, I did have the flu, I’m not a complete loser.
I don’t know if it’s the complete unfunniness, the white-washing of any ethnic characters or the lack of any original plotline but it is uncategorically rubbish. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some brain dead TV trash after an intense week at work, to unwind and embrace my natural zombie state on the sofa. Especially if it stars familiar faces like Emily Osment and Greg Sulkin from Disney Channel that sneakily plays on my nostalgia. But c’mon Netflix, this is a new level of low… Especially after the culturally woke, groundbreaking series released over the past year. There was Never Have I Ever, produced my Mindy Kaling, all about a first generation Indian girl growing up in an American high school. There was Gente-fied, a story about Latinx millennials trying to make it in America. And of course, Sex education, a show filled with multi-dimensional characters that has stolen the nation’s “hearts and minds”. All these shows remind you that it actually is way cooler to be part of a rich culture other than British/American.
The characters are flat. They are written as satirical stereotypes and make the show regressive. Some scenes even triggering. The dialogue is boring. If the writers had solely used the predictive typing feature on your mobile keyboard, it would’ve been less predictable. To give one example, the two characters who secretly like each other go on a double date, not with each other, and suprise surprise, the date is awful and they bond over it. None of it actually makes any sense. Like why do four young adults who do mediocre jobs live in a super lux house in central LA? Or why does the main character fall in love with the academically-challenged ken doll when she repeatedly flaunts her Harvard degree and her exes all with PhDs. Has she just magically forgotten that she wants “stimulating discourse” with the person she dates? Why did a lawyer give up her job to focus on a career that involved dream catchers and spiritual crystals?
Then there’s the fact the set up is sooooo cliché. You’ve got the two pretty blonde girls as main characters with the Latino sidekick and gay best friend. Not forgetting the ridiculously hot caucasian love interest who of course is only interested in the two white girls. But we’ve got to add a little flavour by giving one of the main girls a black boyfriend. Don’t worry though, the producers have made sure to knock out any ‘urban’ vibe to his character in how he dresses, how he talks, even his personality and interests.
Oh I really miss the 90s/00s classics like Malcolm in the Middle, Friends and Fresh Prince of Belair. Not much to miss though given you can watch any episode, any time of the day with the multitude of steaming services available. What they may have been lacking in cultural awareness, they made for in humour and originality.
So what’s the actual science behind you binging TV? Dopamine is a neurochemical that rewards us for evolutionary beneficial behaviours like eating, sex, exercise and socialising, by making us feel good and happy. Sussman speculates that watching TV is reinforced by dopamine too as a form of social communication as it helps us to fit in to our tribe/society and conform from an early age. It also helps us to learn, integrate and participate in popular discourse. Since moving images fulfils a subconscious biological desire to make connections and seek information, dopamine is released. This enables the brain to create a memory that associated the experience with feeling good to encourage us to repeat the experience whenever possible resulting in binging.
Despite my critical tyrant about the show, there was one scene I got emotional about – in a good way. When the gay character explains about needing space, away from him hetero best friends, at LGBTQ+ hotspots because they understand him with nothing being said. It might just be because I’m PMSing or because someone at my very-vanilla-office called my rajma chaval (kidney bean curry) weirdly bland-looking. But maybe it’s because it did touch on a part of me that I’ve felt my whole life. I’ve grown up in a very white area of London, went to a very white school, joined a very white uni course and entered a very white industry. It’s no surprise that I’ve struggled to fit in and find my people. This scene just reminded me that I have few spaces where I feel completely accepted and I should treasure them more.
So even though there are a lot, and I mean a lot of negatives to trashy sit-coms, you can’t discount the blissful feeling of switching off and half-watching light-hearted television. Sometimes you even find a hidden gem that you connect with that lasts for a fleeting moment just like the short-lived pleasures of dopamine.