Top 10 Awful Truths About TV Shows We Love

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Top 10 Awful Truths About TV Shows We Love

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
These are the awful truths about TV shows we love. For this list, we'll be looking at hugely popular and influential shows from throughout the history of television that, while classics of the small screen, have major issues. Our countdown includes “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “13 Reasons Why,” and more!
Transcript
Hey, pointing this stuff out hurts just as much as hearing it! Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Awful Truths About TV Shows We Love.

For this list, we’ll be looking at hugely popular and influential shows from throughout the history of television that, while classics of the small screen, have major issues.

#10: Sexism, Predation & the Garbage "Good Guy"
“How I Met Your Mother” (2005-14)


This hit series has more running jokes and memorable moments than we could fit into a single list. Unfortunately, it’s also aged quite badly, especially considering it’s not actually that old. You could write volumes about the character of Barney Stinson and his predatory approach to women. His manipulations verge into sociopathic territory, and frequently cross the boundaries of consent. And yet every effort is made to also showcase him as lovable! And Barney isn’t the only issue with the show. The other characters (including the women) also support sexist attitudes, albeit less overtly. Ted is supposed to be our relatable protagonist, but his quest for love makes him aggressive, entitled, and self-pitying all at once.

#9: Making Light of Trauma
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (2015-20)


Kimmy Schmidt is an incredibly fun show with a lot of heartfelt and positive messages. But for all its comedic potential, the wildly unique premise also has its pitfalls. The show begins with Kimmy’s rescue from an underground bunker, where she and other women were being kept by a cult leader. This makes Kimmy your classic fish out of water, sure, but also a character who’s been subjected to deep trauma. And while the show does make a concerted effort to acknowledge her PTSD in thoughtful ways, it also finds humor in her experience. The series has also been accused of casual slut-shaming. And while Kimmy’s romantic interest being Vietnamese might seem like a win for diversity, Dong often feels defined by stereotypes.

#8: Racism, Sexism & Homophobia
“Seinfeld” (1989-98)


This series redefined what a sitcom can and should be. Going against conventions of the time, the central characters are flawed by design, and their shortcomings make them the butt of the joke. Each episode, the gang makes selfish choices, pass judgement, and typically fail to learn anything. Unfortunately, when it came to issues of sex, race and sexual orientation, those problematic values often bled beyond the characters into the show as a whole. Jerry and George being mistaken as gay is played for cheap laughs, while homosexual characters like Bob and Cedric are clearly caricatures. The same could be said of Babu, a Pakistani immigrant. As for women, they’re usually reduced to their most superficial traits or quirks, and not just by George and Jerry.

#7: Sexist & Riddled with Stereotypes
“The Big Bang Theory” (2007-19)


If you’re looking for a TV sitcom that sticks to the formula and is easy to digest, you can’t ask for better than“The Big Bang Theory”. Though the concept of a sitcom about nerds may sound niche, during its 12 season run it became one of the most wildly successful of its time. It has its fair of detractors, but it's hard not to develop a soft-spot for Leonard, Sheldon, and their oddball group of friends. Unfortunately, this show about geeks does more than its fair share of bullying; its humor has repeatedly been criticized for leaning into cheap shots and stereotypes. Female characters, in particular, are often dismissed as unintelligent (unless explicitly brilliant) and are treated as sexual objects.

#6: Fulfilling Fantasies of Male Dominance
“I Dream of Jeannie” (1965-70)


There’s nothing quite like sitting down to binge watch a classic series from a bygone era of television. Back in the 60s and 70s, it seemed like any kooky premise could work. A romantic fantasy sitcom about an astronaut and a sexy genie? Why not! “I Dream of Jeannie” is harmless fun, and we’re not interested in retroactively criticizing the show for outdated politics. But even by the standards of the 1960s, the narrative is troubling. And it can be summarized with two words: “yes master”. Jeannie lives to fulfill Tony’s every wish, and (in the beginning at least), he keeps her locked up unless he needs her. Eventually they get married, but their power dynamic remains troubling.

#5: Damaging Stereotypes
“The Sopranos” (1999-2005)


In this landmark HBO series, there are no good guys and bad guys. Our protagonist is an Italian-American mobster living in New Jersey, who must try to balance his illegal businesses, family, and anxiety issues. Racism, sexism and homophobia abound, but these various prejudices reflect the individual flaws of the characters expressing them. The representation of Italian-Americans, however? Not so much. The writers tried to populate the show with a few morally-upstanding characters of Italian descent to give balanced representation, but the show does wind up feeling like a sweeping statement about Italian-Americans being crass, food-obsessed criminals. In fact, in 2001, the American Italian Defense Association actually sued Time Warner for the show’s depiction of Italian-Americans

#4: Narrow Views of Masculinity
“Home Improvement” (1991-99)


One of the classic sitcoms of the 90s, “Home Improvement” took home numerous awards and made Tim Allen into a household name. For the most part, it supported strong family values and its politics were in step with the time. Sure, the dynamic between Tim and Jill Taylor was pretty stereotypical, but what sitcom couple wasn’t in the 90s? The awful truth about “Home Improvement” is that Tim’s hyper-masculine values, while sometimes played for laughs, were its defining characteristic - from Tim’s ‘man bathroom’ to his scantily clad assistant (played by Pamela Anderson). Tim’s continuous failings could be seen as an indictment, sure, but as the show’s protagonist, he arguably inspired more imitators than reflections on the dangers of toxic masculinity.

#3: Romanticizing Suicide
“13 Reasons Why” (2017-)


Public discussion and greater awareness are crucial in the fight against teen suicide. The thing is… suicide is also a topic that needs to be handled with the utmost care, especially in terms of how its depicted on TV. Many argued that “13 Reasons Why” helped encourage young viewers to reach out, but there was equal if not more concern expressed that Hannah’s actions in the series could inspire imitators, in keeping with the theory of “suicide contagion”. After the show’s release, there was, in fact, a 26% increase in people Googling "how to commit suicide” - and that’s in the U.S. alone. Hannah’s carefully orchestrated suicide and its subsequent fallout does play like a suicidal fantasy and/or wish fulfilment.

#2: Playing Sexual Assault for Shock Value
“Game of Thrones (2011-19)


When a series addresses subjects like assault, it can help destigmatize the issue and generate conversation. But that’s not the approach that Game of Thrones took. It was one of the most bingeable series ever made, taking small screen fantasy to unprecedented heights, but the shock factor was a key ingredient to its success. Gratuitous violence and explicit sex scenes are all well and good, but the show’s handling of rape felt exploitative and borderline voyeuristic. Many have argued that the frequent occurence of sexual violence fits the world of the show, but that doesn’t make it essential to the plot. More often than not, the gratuitous assault scenes seemed more designed just to provoke.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few dishonorable mentions.

It Plays Stereotypes for Laughs
“Modern Family” (2009-20)

Bi-erasure & the Death of Black Characters
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003)

Misogyny & the Problematic Gay Marriage Plot
“Two and a Half Men” (2003-15)

#1: Homophobia, Transphobia. Misogyny, Lack of Diversity & Fat Shaming
“Friends” (1994-2004)


This sitcom is consistently ranked among the most popular and influential in the history of television. Unfortunately, for all the ways in which “Friends” was revolutionary, it was also surprisingly backwards. The show consistently punches down and plays various forms of prejudice for laughs. The treatment of Charles Bing is painful to watch, while homophobia is rampant. The men in the show also display misogynistic attitudes, which are internalized by the show to the point that sexual harassment and assault are dismissed as flirting and/or “making a move”. The show is also overwhelmingly white, especially considering it’s set in somewhere as ethnically diverse as NYC. But its cheapest and laziest recurring joke is arguably Fat Monica.
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