Wednesday, January 27, 2016

TV Tap Out - How Far is Too Far?

On this blog we coined the phrase "TV Threshold" as a counter-point to "Jump the Shark."

A show "Jumps the Shark" when it reaches an point after which the quality gradually degrades.

A "TV Threshold" looks more to the ascent of a series rather than its decline, asking how many episodes into a show do you need to be before you understand the show's goodness.

But now I want to focus on something else, not the rise of a good show or its gradual decline.

I'd like to talk about the "TV Tap Out."

Sometimes I will be watching a series, maybe even for several seasons, but then something will occur on that show which will make me completely stop watching.

This principle could be applied to any other form of serialized storytelling, like comic books or a book series.

For the most part, this does not apply to how I watch movies.  I will often finish a movie, even if it has something repulsive happen in it.  I figure that since the film is so short (compared to watching a series), that either that horrible thing will be resolved by the plot or if not at least the bad movie experience will be over soon.  In fact, I've only ever walked out of one movie in the theater (John Carpenter's Vampires, in case you were wondering).

But with a TV show, it is a much larger investment of a person's life.  Time is life and the amount of life many of us, including myself, give to television is not insignificant.  The wastefulness of this is a topic for another day.  For now, let us focus on the significance of the Tap Out.

A few observations

-Tap Out events are completely subjective.  They are less about a particular artistic objection, but instead deal with a person's own internal taste.  You determine a "Jump the Shark" moment by analyzing overall quality.  Tap Out events are visceral, emotional responses.  They have nothing to do with a show's quality in acting, writing, directing or the like.

-If the Tap Out event happens late in a series, it has to be very strong.  If I have only started a series and it does something to turn me off, I can quickly turn away.  But if I have made a significant temporal and emotional investment in the show, I am more likely to forgive something as an uncommon misstep in an otherwise good show.

So what are my Tap Out triggers?

After reflecting on the times I threw up my hands and gave up on a show, below are my Tap Outs.


1.  Heroic or Comedic Blasphemy.

If a character acts out against God or the Christian faith, it is not necessarily a deal-breaker.  In the context of the story it could be part of this character's arc towards redemption.  On The Walking Dead, Maggie comes to a crisis of faith and turns away.  But by the end of the season, she finds solace in praying with others again.  The blasphemy could also be done to highlight a person's badness.  On The Office, Gabe says "I sure as hell don't believe in God."  This statement is met with shock and revulsion and only underscores Gabe's emptiness.  On Dawson's Creek, atheist Jen gives a blasphemous eulogy in a church for her dead friend.  But she is called on this by her grandmother who points out that Jen was not being honest and helpful but selfish and hurtful.

But there are times when blasphemy is used for comedic effect, not to make fun of the blasphemy but to make fun of the faith.  My wife tapped out of Arrested Development when Gob made a mockery of the crucifixion by being bound to a cross in a church for a publicity stunt.

2.  Loss of Innocence.

I am more tolerant of immoral behavior in adults than I am with children.  That isn't to say that the bad behavior of grown-ups is excusable.  But there is something especially sad when I see children engage in morally destructive behavior because of the loss involved.  Adults have already made their choices that have formed a good portion of their character.  But when I child does it, my heart breaks because they cripple their spiritual lives, perhaps irrevocably.

At the end of season 2 of Lie to Me, the main character's 16-year-old daughter told him that she was sleeping with her boyfriends.  I never watched another episode.  On Modern Family, Phil found out that his teenage daughter lost her virginity to her idiot boyfriend.  Phil's response was to tell her that he respected her choices.  She smiled and told the camera, "I have a cool dad."  I soon stopped watching.  I enjoyed the first episode of Blackish.  But in the second, the mother talked about her son engaging in personal sexual self-gratification and she called it "adorable."  And with that, I was out.

3.  Abortion.

If a main character has an abortion, it becomes almost impossible for me to enjoy the series any more.  I've found this is more often the case in a comic book series than a TV series.  TV writers tend to understand that most audiences also react strongly to a main character engaging in an abortion.  If the dilemma comes up, both sides are presented but the main character usually chooses life, like on The Walking Dead.  There are exceptions like Maude and Scandal, but those shows already trafficked in controversy.

I can think of two comic book series that I stopped buying when a main character had an abortion: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Invincible.  No matter how much I wanted to get past it and continue with characters I had spent so much time with, I could not.

4.  Sexual Assault.

This isn't always a deal breaker.  It depends on the context.  Veronica Mars has a pilot episode where she wakes up from an aftermath of being ruffied and raped.  But since this happened very early on was part of the character's past, it came off as more of a tragic backstory than a story development.  But when it happens later in a series, it is much more problematic for me.

On Downton Abbey, when Anna was raped, it broke the spell of the show.  The series was based on the idea that the lives of the servants and the nobility are as dramatic as each other in different ways.  But once she was attacked, I was unable to care about any of the noble family's soap opera problems.  Game of Thrones also had this effect.  While there had been a number of sexual assaults already, the rape of Sansa was too much.  As a viewer, I had spent 5 seasons developing a strong sense of protectiveness for Sansa.  She was constantly in danger and had nothing to protect her but her wits.  But her violation felt like a betrayal to the audience.  Even the words of her attacker to Reek are addressed to us when he says, "You knew her as a girl, now watch her become a woman."  There was a sickness to that whole story development that gnawed at me so that I could not get past it.


So those are my TV Tap Outs.  You may agree with them or disagree, but they are what they are.

What are yours?

Share in the comments below.


  1. SPOILER: Didn't the Buffy comic turn out that it wasn't Buffy, but the BuffyBot and therefore there wasn't an abortion?

    I started watching Mr. Robot last year, but by the 3rd episode it got too sexually explicit for me. I had been on the fence since the story and characters were not appealing to me, the it became too graphic. The same happened with The Bridge. It became about the sex lives of the characters instead of the mystery.

    1. You are correct about that regarding Buffy, but the last issue I bought was the one where she made the decision and I didn't buy any after that. It wasn't until years later that I found out about the Buffybot

  2. I've gone passed the three benchmarks of a series. I still use them but they are penciled. I usually heavily self edit what Few show I watch. With series, like politicians, it's not a matter of 'if' they disappoint you; only 'when' and by 'how much'. My Willing Suspension of Disbelief is run on a generous sliding scale.

    1. I agree that most of the time that a series will disappoint you. But as Abed said in the finale to Community "It's okay for TV to have a bad day." But I hold out hope for a series that generally gets stronger and ends at its best. And I think there are a few shows out there that have done that (but more on this later)

  3. Been giving this some thought.

    BTW, The History Channel is running Season three on the 11th. If sexual assault is a tap out for you, this show is out from the first show. Not to mention the horrific violence.

    I now remember Spike tried to have his wicked way with Buffy, right before went to get his soul back.

    "So those are my TV Tap Outs. You may agree with them or disagree, but they are what they are.

    What are yours?"

    Maybe bad writing. Or I should say 'more bad writing than good writing'. I love the early seasons of Supernatural, they were not afraid to 'pull the trigger' on a bad situation. But now the series has done more bad writing than good by simply staying in the game too long.

    With respects to Abed, even Hill Street Blues was coasting the last couple of seasons.

    If I have one pet peeve above all it is Pull Back. When a story sets up a heinous choice, then finds an easy way out for the character.

    It's a variant of Deus Ex Machina, which is French for 'are you #%$&@! kidding me!'.

    The only exception is Dr. Who because his universe is set up that way.

  4. Side Note.

    OTA networks are dredging up the refuse of the history of TV to fill content.

    TV has been bad from the beginning.

    The analog Dr. Who is a lot of fun. And Kung Fu holds up well.

    1. Generally I agree about the bad writing, but since that usually something that slowly degrades over time, it doesn't really qualify for me as a tap out, where it is a moment where I say "I'm done."

      I understand about the Deus Ex Machina, but I am very open to a miraculous outcome since my whole faith is based on single miraculous outcome. Rather, I would prefer what Tolkien called the "euchatastrophy," which is where everything appears to go wrong but then is suddenly made completely right. But Tolkien understood that this had to be something organic in the story. The evil of the ring and the pity of Bilbo and Frodo led Gollum to Mt. Doom so that when Frodo failed, Gollum could change the fate of Middle Earth.

      I agree, though, that a difficult choice with no easy way out is very interesting. I think Arrow Season 2 explored this incredibly well and the consequences of that choice. I also think The Dark Knight did it extremely well too.