By Ron Scopelliti
I’m starting to believe that mediocrity is seriously underrated. Try not to analyze the logic of that statement too deeply – when I’ve done so it’s led to serious headaches, followed by days of irritable behavior.
The thought came to me when I was watching TV. I’d just finished watching the series “Kiss Me First” on Netflix, and was looking for something similarly binge-worthy, when I stumbled onto “The Forest,” a French crime drama set in the Ardennes.
It only took me a few minutes of viewing to realize it wasn’t going to be as binge-worthy as “Broadchurch,” or “Shetland,” or any of the other crime dramas that lend themselves to comparison. It wasn’t utterly unwatchable, but it was far below the top tier of television shows.
The vast majority of characters were shallow, unlikable, and inscrutable in their actions. The procedures the police followed made Barney Fife look like a genius. The few likable and interesting characters weren’t nearly as well developed as they could be, though one of them made up for it by riding a motorcycle that I’d snap up in an instant if it came up on craigslist at a decent price.
Almost as quickly as I recognized the show’s mediocrity, I realized something surprising: I was still enjoying it. In fact, its mediocrity made me want to watch it even more than if it had actually been good.
It took some thinking to realize why. I’ve been watching some really well-done series that have well-constructed plots that require a viewer to pay close attention. Moreover, they have characters with depth and substance. Even though they’re not real, they force you to care about them by reminding you of people you know, or by sharing aspects of yourself that you keep buried, but that they put on plain view in 1080p HD.
A lot of critics point to television being in a new “golden age,” citing shows like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Mad Men.” There’s clearly more high quality television available than there’s ever been, and, with the advent of streaming services, it’s more accessible than it’s ever been. And sometimes, I just need a break from the quality.
The thing is, if I’m watching a high quality TV show or movie I like to really focus on it – to lose myself in the story, and get behind the characters. It requires an intellectual and emotional commitment.
When “Breaking Bad” was airing, some of the episodes made me so tense that it would take me more than week to recover before I could move on to the next episode. I started watching the episodes “on demand,” and it reached the point where I actually fell an entire season behind, and ended up finishing the series on Netflix
But there are times when I just want relatively mindless diversion. Not mindless to the point of stupidity like most network sitcoms and cable reality shows. Just something that doesn’t require me to think or feel too deeply.
In fact, it’s one of the main things I rely on television to provide. I spend more than my share of time reading, and analyzing, and writing, and educating. I sometimes need to just sit in front of a TV and vegetate while I’m eating my microwaved burrito, or my morning bowl of Special K. Mediocre TV like “The Forest” fills that role perfectly. It’s not a bad show – it’s just not good enough to upstage my frozen burrito Sometimes when I’m having trouble getting to sleep, the best thing for me isn’t reading or meditation – it’s mediocre TV. I remember one late night in an emergency room many years ago. After being hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor for hours, and being told I had to stay until the morning to get my results. I wondered how I’d get any sleep with all the uncomfortable gear hooked to me. Then I switched on the TV, and heard the familiar, predictable sounds of “Law and Order.” I think it only took one lame quip from Jerry Orbach after discovering a body, and I had a couple of the most peaceful hours of sleep ever.
So while I await the final season of “Game of Thrones,” I’ll console myself by stocking up on frozen burritos and Special K and a mediocre show to go with them. And when it’s time for bed, I’ll seek out the familiar voices of Sam Waterston and S. Epatha Merkerson as a sedative. Or maybe I’ll find myself a new sleep aid; after all, there are almost five full seasons of “Haven,” that I haven’t seen. Nothing says “sweet dreams” like a Steven King series.