Without a doubt, we are living in a golden age of television. Within the last eight years, there has been an astonishing proliferation of scripted televised programming.
The advent of “peak tv” was sparked by the transformation of Netflix from a disruptor of the home video entertainment industry (R.I.P. Blockbuster) to a media behemoth with a streaming service both coveted and feared by traditional television broadcasters.
The streaming gold rush has seen prestige television projects attracting princely budgets along with A-list actors and directors that were once under the sole purview of theatrical films.
Julia Roberts is starring in the award-winning series Homecoming for Amazon Prime. Lord Of The Rings heartthrob Orlando Bloom is headlining another fantasy - Amazon’s pricey and ambitious fairy drama Carnival Row.
Over on Netflix, its ’80s-set hit Stranger Things has ushered in the second coming of actress Wynona Ryder.
So yes, it is a great time to be a television viewer. With a mind-boggling 320 scripted shows having already aired during the first half of 2019, you are bound to find more than a few series of personal interest no matter your taste.
Now with television, rather than film, being the dominant form of mass media, there still remain certain over-used, exploitative, and insensitive tropes in scripted shows that need to die fiery deaths.
Patients sleeping with their therapists
You see this one coming a mile away.
The troubled-yet-possessing-a-heart-of-gold (typically) male protagonist begins seeing a very attractive therapist to resolve his bad-boy, man-child behavior.
In the popular USA Networks legal drama Suits, lead character Harvey Specter engages in a romantic relationship with his former therapist. In the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Robin also dates a former therapist for a time.
The titular character in the Netflix series Lucifer seeks the counsel of Los Angeles-based psychiatrist Dr. Linda Martin in the show’s first season. His form of payment in those early episodes?
Dr. Martin doesn’t blink an eye as she gleefully engages in a sexual relationship with a patient. She doesn’t consider the implications of her unethical and unprofessional behavior until she ends her trysts with Lucifer several episodes later; however, she still continues to treat him.
In these instances, the excuse offered as validation for the relationships is the patients are no longer professionally seeing their therapists — except for the case of Lucifer. In that scenario, the physical relationship is terminated due to the therapist’s change of heart.
This trope is not only very unrealistic, but also sends extremely harmful messages.
Therapists engaging in sexual or romantic relationships with current or former patients are involved in a significant violation of ethics. Then, there is the issue of the inherent power imbalance present in such involvements.
Adding even more harm to these egregious misrepresentations are entrenched, real-world stigmas associated with both mental illness and therapeutic treatments.
Television shows depicting inappropriate — as well as unethical — relationships between therapists and patients are being extremely irresponsible and are also doing a gross disservice to dedicated mental health professionals everywhere.
Depictions of sexual violence toward women
I personally do not ever want to see another graphic scene of rape or act of sexual violence committed against a woman on television ever again. My feeling is I am not in a small minority on this issue.
Depictions of sexual violence against women often has very little to do with the devastating trauma suffered by the victim and more to do with serving as the narrative vehicle for outrage and motivation for male characters.
And for those who will attempt to justify these depictions as something that “happens in real life,’’ my response is defecation occurs in real life too, but we do not see explicit depictions of it onscreen. We know it is a reality.
Scenes of sexual violence toward women in scripted television is exploitative, triggering, and it needs to stop.
Tokenism in place of genuine inclusion
With the conversation happening concerning inclusive representation onscreen for marginalized groups, many television series attempt to use tokenism in order to get their diversity cookie.
However, mere tokenism is an unacceptable substitute for true inclusive representation — and no one is fooled by it.
Token characters are easy to spot.
They are usually walking, talking stereotypes: the “sassy” Black girlfriend, the street-smart comic relief, the mentor who offers sage advice to help white characters on their journey toward self-actualization.
The problem is token characters are little more than living props.
They possess no inner emotional life. They have no character arcs of their own. Their personal lives are rarely explored onscreen.
They are just relegated to the background. They float through the television landscapes they inhabit like ghosts — only in contact with the living briefly and sporadically.
Token characters, the actors, and the stories they are a part of deserve more.
And so do we.
Television tropes that rely on exploitation, distortion, and misrepresentation are moribund and need to be put out of their misery STAT.
While we may be living in the era of “peak tv,” this does not mean the kind of stories being told are evolving at the same rate.
If we do not hold the media to higher standards, this golden era of television will quickly lose its potential and luster.