That’s Too Much, Man

| March 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

Nothing like kicking back after a long day and watching a show that makes you want to kill yourself as you spiral into a depressive episode, am I right, millennials?

Our perception of comedy has changed rapidly over the past ten years. Back when I started getting into TV shows, the biggest hits were feel-good sitcoms, like Friends and Modern Family. We wanted our comedies to make us laugh, not think– if we thought too hard about the world, we would start getting sad. We buried our heads in the sand and laughed along with the laugh track as television transported us away from reality into a world where people are able to afford apartments and the couple gets together in the series finale.

We no longer have the luxury of escapism. In a world that seems to be rapidly falling apart, young people don’t want to disengage. We want to laugh, but not if it means blocking out the rest of the world to do it. We’ve arrived at a solution in our quest for better television: what I like to call “existential comedy”, the media’s answer for an audience that wanted reality.

photo credit:

photo credit: @ruff_bluffs on Twitter

What we consume now is a warped parody of 90s sitcoms, quite literally in the case of Bojack Horseman. A washed-up star of a Full House-esque TV show, the titular Bojack deals with alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental illness as he navigates a world that he no longer understands. And sure, it’s funny, especially since a majority of the cast is anthropomorphized animals and/or Hollywoo(d) stars making fun of themselves, and the writing is quick and clever with as many animal puns as you could ask for. But it also asks questions that many young people see reflected in themselves: How do I define myself? How did my parents’ experiences shape who I am? How do I find fulfillment? Will I ever be happy?

Rick and Morty is another great example of this existential genre: what appears on the surface to be a silly show about a genius taking his grandkids on adventures full of ridiculous alien slapstick has unexpectedly poignant moments about addiction and mental illness. Rick may be the smartest person in the universe, capable of traveling between dimensions, but he is deeply, profoundly unhappy. The series also poses questions that our generation is concerned with: How far are you willing to go to keep a relationship together? How do you deal with death and grief? Does intelligence inherently mean unhappiness? Will I ever be happy?

The central theme of this new genre is happiness, and the fact that no one knows how to achieve it. We are an unhappy generation. The world around us is crumbling and we are powerless to stop it. We struggle with mental illness, addiction, and trauma, united in our disillusionment. Existential comedy is the reaction to a generation that demanded not platitudes of “it gets better”, but the deep-seated fear of “what if it doesn’t?”

The main characters are not role models. We are not supposed to follow their examples. We are supposed to see ourselves in them and realize that imitating them is not the way to be happy. TV won’t tell you how to be happy, it just gives us the starting point so we can figure it out for ourselves.


featured photo credit: W10002 Wondercon 2016 – Rick and Morty Cosplay via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Philosophy and Religion, Reflections, TV and Movies

Charlie Scanlan

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Charlie is a journalism major in the College of Communication.

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