Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Quality vs. reputation / over-rated TV shows


I have repeatedly made the experience that various works that are considered first-rate, even winning prizes, are not even remotely as great as claimed–sometimes even failing to reach the mark of “good”.

Two recent, somewhat similar examples in my book, are the TV-series “Californication” and “Six feet under”, of which I recently (late 2012) bought the respective first season, partly as a gamble, partly going by the strong award performances. Both are discussed below.


In the days before widespread Internet streaming and whatnot, I often had little other choice than such gambles, as German TV is unwatchable through the stubborn dubbing of everything foreign, which leads to a disastrous lowering of quality. This phase of my life lasted a few years more, but is now (2024) long ended. (I am uncertain exactly where to draw the line.)


This series was absolutely and utterly pointless, mostly consisting of various characters in California fornicating. The characters were uninteresting and unengaging, there was no psychological or philosophical insight, nothing though-provoking, ... From an intellectual point of view, a complete dud—-and with no saving graces entertainment-wise. And no, not even the fornication provided anything positive. I watched about three-quarters of the first season before giving it up entirely.


An interesting counter-point is formed by “Sex and the city”, as “Californication”, on a superficial level, could be seen as “Sex and the city”-for-men. They do have in common that the sex/fornication part was mostly uninteresting, but differ in that the adventures of Carrie et co. were both entertaining and helped me gain a better perspective on women.

The one positive thing I took away was a greater understanding for how a parent, older relative, whatnot, might react to the “adult” activities of their children (notably, I have no children of my own):

I used to be a great fan of “The Nanny” (which might have been no more intellectually stimulating that “Californication”, but did have a great amount of humor—there is more than one way to skin a cat and I have no qualms about watching something “lowbrow”). This series featured a very young Madeline Zima, whom I associate very closely with her role of the sweet and innocent, if slightly weird, youngest daughter of the family—a daughter who had not even hit puberty by the end of the series. Half-way through the first episode of “Californication”, I was greatly surprised to see her naked, riding the considerably older David Duchovny, with breasts hanging down almost to his face. I was also greatly surprised by the feeling of disgust that filled me at the sight—and from this I gained some new understanding. However, this was not through a strength of the series, but through a coincidence specific to me (and possible a very small group of others in a similar situation).

Six feet under

“Six feet under” was considerably better, but failed to reach its potential. The entertainment value was not merely close to zero, but the series was so drab and depressing that I would actually be tempted to speak of a negative entertainment value. With the funeral-home setting, this might be forgiven as a deliberate part of the concept of the show, provided that sufficient benefit in other areas was delivered. This, however, was not the case. Yes, there was value to be found; no, there was not enough to consistently justify my watching 50-minute-something episodes. The obvious opportunities to explore the lives and the situations of the deceased and/or their survivors were seldom used to the degree I would have wished for—if at all. Storylines were likewise not explored sufficiently or just weird (say when a stiff funeral director ends up as a drug-using, sex-crazed visitor of gay bars within just a few episodes—and then suddenly is back to being a stiff funeral director). Deeper insight into the technical work of funeral homes were not given, while the psychological side was not explored anywhere near as well as it could have been. The moral/ethical side was only implied—and often ended with the brothers condemning the greed of the corporations while themselves exploiting the grieving... The acting ability of the involved was very varied (only Michael C. Hall, later the eponymous star of “Dexter”, was truly excellent among the major characters), and many characters were weak. The few female characters, in particular, were largely liabilities:

  1. The sister was boring and unengaging, played by a just semi-good actress who was bordering on being physically repulsive.


    While I agree that acting ability should be prioritized over good looks when casting, I cannot deny that good looks can make a female character more enjoyable to me; nor that one that is repulsive repulses me. If, then, an actress is cast despite not really having either of acting ability and looks, well, that leaves me unimpressed.

  2. The mother was both charming and well-acted, but left me wondering whether she was prematurely demented or just dim-witted. Further, her romances and romantic almost-triangles seemed artificial and poorly though-through. She was not necessarily a weakness, but she failed to be a strength. Certainly, it would not have hurt to make her just a little brighter.

  3. The quarter-crazy girl-friend of the older brother absolutely did not work—and was a disaster when combined with her own semi-crazy brother. Add in the frequent, pointless, and annoying bed-room/making-out scenes with the older brother, and she was a definite liability. Indeed, I spent the first season hoping for her to be written out of the show. When she proposed someway through the second season (which I did proceed to), I decided that I had now had enough—and after hesitating for some ten seconds just turned off my player and wrote the series off.

The problem of sex, etc.

Of the several things these series have in common as award-winning disappointments, there is one thing in particular that springs to my mind—and which is shared by a great number of other TV-series of recent years:

Pointless sex and make-out scenes.

No, if they were just pointless or gratuitous, I would not necessarily complain. The problem goes deeper, in that these scenes do not just do nothing for the plot or the character development, but that they tend to be:

  1. Thoroughly unromantic—unlike many more platonic scenes.

  2. Thoroughly unsexy and unexciting—unlike many (but not all) scenes of Internet porn and many scenes in what is considered lowbrow comedy (e.g. the “Scary Movie” franchise). (Indeed, interestingly, even the scenes from real, or allegedly real, pornos that can occasionally be seen on TV-series tend to have no sexual appeal whatsoever.)

  3. They are usually boring: Not merely lacking in entertainment and excitement, but being positively boring.

  4. Many are down-right disgusting. Mostly this is because of the artificial and repulsive smacking sound that is, for no good reason, added to many on-screen kisses. Other reasons occur, however, e.g. that the people involved are simply physically unattractive or engage in something distasteful—but also that the contrast to what could have been (be it romantic or sexual) is off-putting.

When push comes to shove, I am seldom left with the feeling of two people in love or two people enjoying each other sexually, but just of two animals following their basest instincts. Indeed, while watching a truly romantic movie can occasionally make me wish for a girl-friend (I spend more time “between girl-friends” than with them) these scenes strongly diminish my wish for romance (sex, women, whatnot).

2024 update

While this text was written in 2012, it went unpublished until 2024. Re-reading it, I find that I “prepeat” a few things written since. (TODO import from Wordpress and link.) The issue of gratuitous and off-turning sex, not to mention that absurd smacking sound, has certainly occurred repeatedly.

I can also verify the general observation that the connection between quality claims by others and my own impressions is weak for modern works. (But I am far from certain that I have written about this elsewhere. The connection for older works, e.g. a 1950s movie, tends to be stronger.) Consider “Frasier”: I had oddly not actually seen this series until some point of 2023, when I watched roughly half the first season—but I had heard great things said for years, especially that it would be a somewhat intellectual series (by the standards of comedy). The encounter was disappointing. The characters are interesting and well cast, but the jokes are weak, repetitive, and often a little “cringey”, and the entire series seems a little off, like an archer consistently hitting a few inches to the side of the bullseye. I suspect that many others have mistaken the intellectual (or, possibly, snobby-while-aspiring-to-be-intellectual) nature of Frazier and his brother for a sign that the series is intellectual (and what is intellectual must deserve two thumbs up, right?). In reality, the series is intellectually unremarkable, sometimes even juvenile, and the intellectual aspect consists of poking fun at the brothers for being intellectuals or drawing humor from the contrast between them and various other characters. It is, simply, a series that revolves around two intellectuals—not an intellectual series. (This with reservations for what might be different in the remainder of the series.)


Which is not to say that poking fun at intellectuals is wrong—just that it does not an intellectual series make. Likewise, being a snob about culture or fine dining does not an intellectual make...

The exact meaning of “intellectual” will depend very much on speaker and context, as will whether being intellectual is a positive or a negative thing, so I will not dwell deeper on that issue. (I might even have foregone the word, had it not been for the image of something intellectual that I had received in advance.) However, it is interesting to note the great difference between the brothers and someone like Sheldon Cooper, who is intellectual in a very different manner (and with a different humor resulting).

An issue in more recent years is that awards and positive reviews often are strongly motivated by various PC/woke/Leftist/whatnot concerns, e.g. in that having explicitly homosexual characters or, better, explicit homosexual sex can do more for critical success than strong writing. Ditto, having a “strong female protagonist”. Ditto, having yet another (female!) protagonist, who has just “escaped an abusive relationship”. Ditto showing someone Black being mistreated by Whites. Etc. Indeed, the Academy Awards have pushed explicit rules on minimum minority or whatnot representation for a film to even be considered (in at least some categories; I have not refreshed my memory on the exact rules). In the case of British TV series, artificially casting non-Whites in historically impossible roles seem to be a near prerequisite to even get airtime.

An interesting observation in a different area is that my memories of both “Californication” and “Six feet under” are so vague that I can hardly understand the details of my own 2012 explanations. (The big picture holds, but who was who and did what is a mystery.) I suspect that the typical reader will have similar problems—if so, my apologies.