Why bad TV is so good for you
Sure, we can all appreciate the thematic heft of Mad Men, recognise the familiar human folly in Louie, get warm and fuzzy about the camaraderie in Orange Is The New Black, but what about the shit shows?
Who's unexpectedly felt their eyeballs watering after absent-mindedly flicking across to The Big Bang Theory and catching some goofy scene of unrequited love between Penny and Leonard? Or felt the urge to phone their dad after seeing Alf Stewart have a stroke and open heart surgery on Home And Away?
In a recent piece titled 'Why Bad Movies Can Be Good For Your Emotions' - ostensibly a review for Adam Sandler's latest stinker Blended, featuring potential promo poster lines like "the most moving movie experience of my life" and "I've never connected to a movie character more than I did to a 6-year-old blonde girl in a shitty Adam Sandler movie", Vulture's Jesse David Fox touched on this unlikely phenomenon.
"Blended is a bad movie. It's a very bad, stupid, bad movie," wrote Fox. "In spite of its awfulness, I found myself more emotionally invested in it than I had been with any movie in recent memory. Or, maybe not in spite of - maybe it was because of Blended's badness. Its unbridled stupidity shut my brain down, allowing direct access to my heart."
It's an interesting idea, and no doubt familiar. I'm sure we've all been touched by dumb crap when we least expected it, gotten the feels from unlikely sources. For Fox, it was specifics in Blended's Brady Bunch-esque set-up that touched a personal nerve (like Sandler's children in the film, Fox lost his mother to cancer at age 7), but oftentimes the reasons behind our blubber-y reactions are instinctive and harder to place.
Fox's suggestion that we're more susceptible to experiencing something emotionally when we're not processing it on an intellectual level is supported by science, too. According to a recent study by researchers at New York University, mysteries or movies with complex plots were shown to increase cognitive thinking, while brain activity flatlined in subjects watching TV sitcoms (which might explain why Married With Children is pretty much my all-time favourite genre).
It's often only during shallow crapfests that our minds tune out enough, allowing us to respond emotionally to what we'd otherwise recognise as sappy, sentimental nonsense.
So, forget everything your parents and teachers told you about terrible TV rotting your brains. It might be accurate, but sometimes it's equally important to crash on the couch, shut off your mind, and just feeeeeeel, man. Here are some recommendations ...
By now we all understand the manipulations of reality television - the sob stories, the glamorised struggles, the "All I wanted to do when I was young was sing, but then a bee stung my hand and I couldn't hold a microphone anymore, so now I drive forklifts"-type tales of attempted redemption - but they can still get to us.
Believe me, watching some stranger achieve their lifelong goal of singing Radiohead in front of Ricky Martin is enough to make you cry happy tears and reflect on your own dreams. "When will a Will.i.am turn around for me?" you'll hysterically yell at the TV.
Some channel surfers may have caught the latest shit-com by Chuck Lorre, the lame-brains behind such notable bad TV as Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
It's a show about a waitress/single mother/recovering alcoholic (Anna Faris) looking to make a fresh start to her life, despite the poor decisions of her pregnant teen daughter and her mother, a not-so-recovering alcoholic/drug dealer/sometime sex worker (Allison Janney).
It's the set-up of a weepy Lifetime movie in the form of a sitcom, so all your emotional cues are covered (yes, this show is insane).
I've never properly watched Offspring, but I've heard the way mums talk about it (not to mention that whole internet meltdown last year when 'Patrick' kicked the bucket), and it seems ripe for feels.
A whole series about an awkward doctor, now a widowed mother, surrounded by a nutty but endlessly supportive family? There's something in my eye right now.
Somehow, it's actually possible to ignore the crass business promo basis of this series and get touched to the core by hard-won stories of working class perseverance, pride in one's work, and the benevolence of strangers.
I fight back tears at least once an episode, usually when the boss gives some hard-working kitchenhand $20,000 to put her autistic son through cooking college (or something similar).
Hey, not every emotional reaction to shitty TV has to include heartwarming tears of joy or empathy; sometimes blind rage is a useful expression, too.
"Shut up, annoying politician!", "Shut up, Tony Jones!", "Ooh, cool tweet, loser - you're soooo intellectual!" are valuable things you'll vent during pretty much every episode of #QandA, which explains why you'll still watch it every week, even though you hate its guts.
This show is probably responsible for preventing so many road rage incidents.