I love television. It’s really my second favorite medium after books. While I don’t get to watch as much television as I used to — because, hello, I’m a mom — I still love it. That being said, a lot of my favorite shows are now super old and dated, mainly because they’ve been off the air for a number of years.
While some were considered progressive at the time, many of them have not aged well by 2021 standards. That being said, I often watch shows that I used to love through the lens of when they were released. Obviously, now that our thinking has evolved, shows from ten years ago, or even five years ago, are not going to fit into the 2021 mold of what is socially acceptable. That doesn’t mean you have to hate it now, but it’s important to note that sometimes things just don’t hold up the way they think they would.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all our problematic faves, but some of the ones that are most beloved:
Glee was a bit like the little engine that could. It would tell itself “I think I can” as it trudged up the hill of world domination, but never really took into consideration where it would go off the rails. For a show that was about a plucky group of “losers” in small town Ohio, man, it missed the mark A LOT, especially as the seasons progressed.
Let me explain…Glee at its heart, was supposed to be about the kids who were “othered” in high school: gay, differently abled, minorities. But at the same time, those characters often got the short end of the stick. By having some of the worst comments come from the show’s antagonist, cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, they were often written off as jokes. But they’re homophobic, transphobic, and hella racist.
For much of the show, she refers to Kurt (who had a beautiful coming out plot in season one) as “Porcelain,” because he’s super white and delicate. Mercedes, who is the only black character on the show for the first 3 seasons, is referred to as “Aretha,” because she’s a fat, black girl who can sing her face off. Don’t forget how tone deaf their handling is of trans student Unique (introduced as Wade) was, only to then turn the female football coach Shannon Bieste, who was always presented as straight, but skewing more masculine in presentation, into a trans man named Sheldon. There were plenty of good points, especially for gay teen representation, but sometimes, the bad outweighs the good.
2. 7th Heaven
I admit, I never understood why people watched 7th Heaven, but it turned out a bunch of my friends did, which blew my freaking mind. From the surface, the show was innocent and wholesome, nice, white, Christian family where dad is a reverend and mom is the dutiful wife. They have five kids initially, who all look like they stepped out of some sort of catalogue, and the adorable dog, who was, of course, named Happy.
As someone who is not white or Christian, I was definitely out of the target demographic of the show, which is likely why I never got into it. The moral dilemmas the kids faced (like teenage runaways, or heaven forbid, drugs) were always wrapped up neatly with some sort of story or an offering from the parents to take in the wayward youth. Problems were always wrapped up too neatly, and without much nuance. For instance, their way of dealing with Mary totally going “wild,” was to ship her off to Buffalo. When Eric’s sister is revealed as an alcoholic, instead of immediately getting her help, he locks her in his bedroom to detox. Excuse me? In what world is that okay? Still hard to believe that this show was on the air for 11 seasons.
3. Gilmore Girls
This is a hard one to write, but it must be said. The more time you spend watching the show, it becomes increasingly clear that Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are actually pretty terrible. It’s easy to get blinded by the colorful cast of characters and the quick banter, but when you dig a little deeper, you see that it’s not as simple on the surface. It’s transphobic, homophobic, and rampant with fat shaming. Not to mention classist.
This seems to be one of the most popular of the problematic favorites among my group of friends too. As my friend Daria said, “Rory starts out as a likable character with admirable qualities at the beginning of the show. By the end of the first series, she is a complete garbage person. I had hope that with time passed and a shift in public awareness the new series would be better, but somehow they made everything terrible about the original even worse.”
We can thank the show for giving the us Melissa McCarthy, but you really shut off your brain for this one.
4. Sex and the City
As much as I loved SATC in my late teens/early 20s, as I get older, I just can’t ignore all of the glaring issues it presents. Most of my issues are with Carrie Bradshaw, who as a main character is pretty terrible.
First of all, there’s no way she was able to afford that lifestyle on a freelancer’s salary, especially when she only writes one column a week for a small, indie paper. As a full-time freelancer, I call shenanigans. But Carrie is actually a terrible friend and lover; she is selfish, petty (she literally picks a fight with Charlotte because Charlotte wouldn’t give her the money for the down payment on her apartment) and is just generally awful.
For a show that was basically about relationships and sex, the characters often slut shame each other, with most of it pointed towards Samantha. They also treated gay men like objects for their amusement, and mocked Samantha’s brief same-sex relationship. And the lack of diversity and tokenism of people of color was just gross. And don’t even get me started about the movies…just, NO.
5. Will and Grace
Sure, Will and Grace was groundbreaking for what it did for gay representation on television, but that doesn’t negate everything that was wrong with the show — from Jack’s blatant and open mocking of lesbians to Karen’s cruel treatment of her maid to the severe lack of diversity. While yes, you saw gay characters in a more “centered” way, not a second went by by where we weren’t reminded of the fact that two of the characters were gay. And as much as I love Karen, her alcoholism and pill addiction were always the butt of the joke, and the fat shaming of her invisible husband Stan is just icky. While the revival allegedly tackles some more currently relevant topics, albeit in that wink-wink kind of way, it was one of those double-edged sword kind of shows.
Look, no one is saying that everything in today’s culture has to be “PC,” but it’s not wrong to acknowledge the things that may not have aged well. Nowadays, with so many shows being in syndication and on streaming, new generations are being introduced to these shows all the time. And many younger people have no problem calling our shows out for their problematic bullshit. So, we should too.
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