TV comfort food. This is a term we first used years ago to discuss why we love shows like Hawaii Five-0, Psych, Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Blue Bloods, and so many other shows on network schedules. There is something inherently comforting about a show where you know what you are going to get week in and week out, whether it be familiar faces, relevant stories, or that right mixture of humor and emotion.
So, when it comes to awards shows, why are we invalidating that? Why do we look for the shows that disarm us, and ignore the ones that we turn on late at night with a pint of ice cream and a hot chocolate? What suddenly makes these shows any less worthy of commendation when they are the ones that are our go-to programs when the going gets tough in our real lives or when we just need a smile?
Earlier this month, we made a choice to nominate Hawaii Five-0 on our personal Emmy ballot (you can vote for it if you’d like here). Our CarterMatt staff pick Emmy Preview series is just for fun, but if it was an actual Emmy ballot we’d have done the same thing. One of the reasons why is that when looking back at the past year in entertainment, few other shows made us smile, laugh, or tear up more than it did. We said goodbye to Masi Oka as a regular, we had some really fun episodes such as the Valentine’s Day retreat, and the news about McGarrett’s radiation poisoning in the finale was emotionally gut-wrenching. These results are because we’ve invested so much time in these characters and care about them more than almost on any show on TV.
If Hawaii Five-0 is one of the most entertaining shows on TV, and it had its best season to date, why shouldn’t it be recognized for that? Because it’s a network show or because it has procedural elements? Jonathan Nolan once said to us early in the run of Person of Interest that he bemoaned how “procedural” was at times perceived as a dirty word, and it’s a shame when they put out fantastic, worthy content that often transcends the mere definition of the term.
Let’s also talk about some of the actors that take part in such shows. Jesse Williams and Jerrika Hinton put out fantastic work on Grey’s Anatomy this season, as did Grace Park on Hawaii Five-0. Tom Ellis oozes charm and magnetism on Fox’s Lucifer, and the attention given to Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order: SVU has diminished over time even though her performance has not. All of these actors are longshots at best for Emmy consideration, even though their performances are worthy of far greater designation. Some other TV comfort food performers to consider: Frequent scene-stealer Justin Hires on MacGyver, Charlotte Sullivan as a guest performer on Chicago Fire, Chyler Leigh’s beautiful story on Supergirl, and Josh Segarra’s evil turn on Arrow. They’re all on network shows that operate under a similar model, combining story-of-the-week components with season-long arcs. It’s a tried-and-true format, but that doesn’t make the stories that they tell any less fantastic. Arrow had its best season in three years, MacGyver showed tremendous growth over season 1, and Grey’s Anatomy proved that it can still tell isolated character-based stories with the best of them even in the midst of its various medical cases.
Finally, it’s a shame that we are devaluing the effort of many writers and showrunners when they are often putting just as much work and effort as their cable / streaming counterparts, if not more so. You have people in this space like Shonda Rhimes, Peter M. Lenkov, and Greg Berlanti effectively working on multiple great shows at the same time, with several of these shows running 18-25 episodes a season. The amount of control needed to thread together arcs that last this long is exceptional. With the One Chicago series over on NBC, the likes of Derek Haas and former Chicago PD showrunner Matt Olmstead had to go a step further, threading together full seasons plus multiple crossovers. It’s tiresome and often thankless work; instead of honoring them with awards, we instead subject them to criticism and outright viciousness when there’s a character we don’t like or someone leaves the show completely outside of their control. Overall, we live in a culture right now so defined by anger; can’t we turn the tables and express a little love every now and then? The real root of why we have these reactions is simple: Investment. We care so much about these shows that we’re willing to grasp hold of our social-media megaphones and bellow out our thoughts into the world.
Without many of the shows mentioned in this piece, we wouldn’t be inspired to love TV, talk about it or even write about it as our jobs. In fact, many of the so-called “premium” series that are out there now are spawned in some way from the TV comfort food shows of years past. These are the shows that spawn memories dating back to childhood, and they are already fighting a battle for notoriety with increased competition from other networks, let alone some combination of cynicism and elitism from those in the awards community. It’s time that we give appreciation back to the shows and the people who have given us so much in the first place.
Feel free to share more of your thoughts on the subject of this story below. (Photo: CBS.)