TV gets something of a bad rap for sometimes being shallow and self-absorbed. And it is, for the most part. But that doesn't mean that good TV isn't out there. Even some of those shallow shows are important and successful for a reason.
So, here are five TV shows that have made an impact and (for better or worse) changed the world, helping us to see that we're all people who deal with a lot of the same problems.
Running. Slow motion. Swimsuit. Pamela Anderson.
Admit it, you probably didn't see this one coming, right? During this TV series' 10-year run, Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff ran into the homes of billions of people in over 144 countries and reruns are still going. It wasn’t the first show to use sex and the beach successfully, but it was the first to globally mainstream such a perspective.
Baywatch was escapism on every level: Beautiful people doing exciting things on the beach. That was the simple, straightforward plot that was repeated every week, but you always wanted more — more daydreams of the California sunshine and a world that could be conquered with teamwork and a little sunscreen. And a great montage with an intense amount of cleavage.
I suppose the best question to ask at this point is, out of all the shows to make it to 144 countries, why this one?
This global heavyweight started in England in 2001 and created the talent/career-driven reality TV show. As of right now, there are over 50 different versions of this show in over 110 countries.
In China, Super Girl was even cancelled in 2012 because it became too big for the government to control. It even started to change standards of female beauty and sexuality when one of the winners was not considered a traditional beauty. However, only one year later, a slightly different version of the idol show is back, this time called Chinese Idol.
Suddenly, stardom didn’t seem so far away. Anyone could be a celebrity, even if they failed (hello, William Hung), and now, competition reality TV shows are everywhere. Normal, everyday people who are good at their jobs, become instant celebrities.Great at cooking? They’ve got a competition reality show for that. Are you an excellent tattoo artist? Can you dance? Can you catch a bigger fish? Survive longer? Be a better employee?
Within a few short years, the mundane and the average became the dramatic, the exciting, and best. In a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, here was one way to bypass all that and have our average lives elevated to hero status.
Since 1965 this TV show has been on the air in the United States. Since 1968, it’s been showing internationally in dozens of countries. Not just that, but it has spawned hundreds of soap operas all over the world and spawned an entire world of people who love drama. We do. We just have to admit it. We love drama.
Beyond that, as much as we want, TV shows today are mostly just soap operas but with higher budgets. Sons of Anarchy, Alias, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Gossip Girls, Pretty Little Liars, and the best parody and yet also sort of soap opera, Desperate Housewives — you name a TV show and it’s got crazy melodrama with a lot of mistaken identity, lying, cheating, “who’s your momma/daddy,” and an excessive amount of death. And then returning from the grave.
Why do people love them? Because it’s bigger than life.
Why did this pioneer of the mockumentary flourish and spawn almost a dozen remakes all over the world (Israel, Sweden, and Chile are just a few of the places that utilize this same storyline)?
Lots of people work in offices. Really, no one likes it. Offices are generally horrible places of bad lighting, jammed printers, and awkward Christmas parties.
But rather than just making fun of an office job with a standard sitcom, the Office put you back into your office with a more direct, realistic style. That way, once you went home, you could relive every terrible moment of your day with your family. It is, to be blunt, catharsis on crack.
The early Greek playwrights seemed to have it right when they created tragic comedy. Greek tragedy started it. The Office perfected it.
This staple of television has been around since 1989 and while obviously controversial, it became one of the United States' most astute lenses of middle-class American life. While later shows such as South Park and Family Guy would be far more irreverent and cover more topics, The Simpsons was the original over-the-top satire of politics and religion and showed how to accomplish that goal using the more farcical medium of animation.
The Simpsons has managed to be shown in over 200 countries and many of these international versions change political references, city names, and often adapt it to more effectively represent their own culture (references to sex and alcohol are often removed). And naturally, China banned it.
The Simpsons and the silly, often unjust world that they live in, is relatable: People hate their jobs all over the world, politicians are greedy, and newscasters all have the same voice inflection. But beyond all that is the appeal of its subversion. Bart is the greatest trickster out there and he manages to get away with every prank, cop out, and laziness that we so desperately wish we could. And when times get tough, there’s Lisa, building us up, fighting for human rights, getting good grades, and reining in her brother.
Together, the two of them embody the rebel and humanitarian and demonstrate all that is funny, hypocritical, and redeeming about the human condition.