In June, you might remember having read about a new CBS show called The Briefcase. Far from, say, a punchy legal drama as the title might suggest, the plot involved CBS producers pitting pairs of struggling families against each other in a contest over who could be more "generous."
Specifically, each family received $101,000 in a briefcase and then had to decide how much — if any — to give to another family presented with the same choice. Over the course of an hour, viewers got to watch as the network forced each family to painstakingly examine the lives of the other to then evaluate who was more worthy.
Fun, right? Or maybe not.
With the series' conclusion in June, the most entertaining part of the show may have been the critics, both professional and armchair, who tore into the series with abandon.
Ken Tucker, a Yahoo TV critic-at-large was openly hateful, writing that he felt the show was "one of the more cynical and repulsive," that he had seen. "The Briefcase is all the more reprehensible for passing off its exploitation of people in beleaguered financial straits as uplifting, inspirational TV." Tucker concluded his review by adding that after finishing, he was left "appalled and disgusted."
The Wrap reporter Itay Hod told Mic the issue was primal. "We watched gladiators fight in the arenas and they killed each other for entertainment," he said. "This is not quite as severe, but this works on the same sort of premise. We like to see other people suffer because it makes people feel better about their own lives."
This is not the way we are taught to give charity. In Judaism, we learn from the scholar Maimonides that it's best to teach a man to fish so he can learn to become self sufficient. 'The Briefcase' finds it entertaining to give a starving man an entire stock of fish, but then make him feel horribly guilty for keeping it. What does this say about our society?
The professional critics, however, paled in comparison to the vitriol the show faced online. As ratings slid from around 6.87 million views for the series premiere to roughly 4 million for the finale, ordinary viewers called for its cancellation, with a Change.org petition generating more than 65,000 signatures.
On Aug. 10, TV Guide Magazine reported CBS executive Nina Tassler said there were no plans to revive the show for a second season.
R.I.P. The Briefcase: May 2015 – June 2015.