The 90s to early 00s saw a boom in television content. Sitcoms were especially popular as they followed characters over several episodes and seasons. Humour was a lot less dependent on intelligence and more dependent on ignorant stereotypes, sexism and heavy homophobia. Of course during that time, society at large found these things funny and not at all problematic. The age of the internet and growth of Gen Z’s into more opinionated people has brought a lot of the things that were let fly in popular culture under serious scrutiny. I would also like to think that we have better taste as a generation, which is why I believe these 5 shows wouldn’t make it in 2023.
An early 2000s classic which ran from 2007 to 2013, The Office is the greatest comedy of all time to some. I personally identify as part of that “some.” Michael Scott is the most irritating character on earth but he made for absolutely hilarious television. That said, The Office wouldn’t survive in 2023. The show is built around a lot of sexist, homophobic and racist jokes. This isn’t to say that they didn’t know it was problematic back then, but in that time it played off as a form of satire. However, in this current time we’ve outgrown that kind of comedy. I completed my 2nd re-watch recently and watching certain episodes rally made me re-think what is categorised as “funny.” The constant fat jokes, the gay jokes at Oscar’s expense, and the misogyny as well. There were also a lot of distasteful sexual harassment jokes that couldn’t even be masked by the humour I can’t lie. Also, Michael Scott also never fully took accountability for some of the weird stuff he did, they just made him a loveable character. The classic privileged white man treatment.
I would like to admit that I’m reluctantly adding Friends to this list. My personal feelings aside however, Friends was really not it. A show about 6 white people, that only featured 3 semi-significant black characters in its 10 year run, would definitely not fly in 2023. The lack of diversity aside (and that’s a very big aside), the things that made Friends funny were rooted in the most horrible things. For instance, a major storyline in the show was Monica’s obesity in her adolescent years. This required the actor to put on a fat suit which would make the audience laugh with little to no effort. The show stresses and emphasises how fat people are considered undesirable and are ridiculed for their size. It made light of inappropriate relationships (Ross losing his virginity in high school to an old librarian) and perpetuated racial stereotypes, even with their lack of diversity.
How I Met Your Mother
This was my favourite show of all time. It has 9 seasons which I’ve rewatched 9 times – I really wish I was joking. I had a problem with the ending at first because it was so sad and made the show feel unnecessarily long. After I stopped my repeated watching, I started to form a new opinion about the show. The lead character, Ted, was supposed to be this cool guy that had a hard time finding love in New York city with his fellow quirky friends. However, when you really deep things, he’s an entitled white man with the inability to accept ‘no’ and a terribly enabling circle of friends. One of his best friends, Barney Stinson, is probably the worst character ever. So much of the show revolved around his different ploys and tactics he used to trick women into sleeping with him (coercion and false pretences). Honestly, I haven’t been able watch the show back since 2018, it’s utterly disgusting.
Let me start this off by saying, Joan Clayton was one of the worst TV friends. My personal bias aside, Girlfriends was a show that tried to fill in the gap for black female-led shows, and at the time it felt very relatable. There were just a few things that would not have gone down well in our current climate. For a show that tried to break the stereotypes of gender roles, it still placed too much of a focus on women obsessing over marriage and centering their relationships. There were also moments with weirdly patriarchal-rooted standards for male characters. One of the most memorable episodes of Girlfriends is the one where Joan thinks her boyfriend is cheating because she found female underwear under his bed and then later realises it belongs to the man himself — because he had wide hips. The way they generally approached certain topics was just not ideal.
13 Reasons Why
This is a more recent but very relevant pick. This show premiered in 2017 and I’m surprised it even got the greenlight. At the time it dropped, it was a sensational and crazy watch, everybody was talking about it. Looking back, I’ve realised that this show should not have even passed the script approval stage. The imagery was deeply disturbing and the themes were so harshly dealt with. There was so much controversy surrounding the show at the time, especially because many people thought it glorified suicide. I used to argue strongly against that notion but now, I kind of agree. There was no real reason why a show about teenagers, targeted towards impressionable teenagers, had graphic self harming scenes and sexual assault scenes. There were many other ways the messages could’ve been passed. Even the novel it was based on, handled things a lot better. The show should’ve simply never aired.
Sex and the City
SATC was and still is one of my favourite shows ever. But even I, a die-hard fan of the show, recognizes just how tone deaf it was. Don’t get me wrong, it depicted a miscellany of female experiences from abortion to motherhood, to ageing to sexual discrimination and sexual liberation, which was all very important to see on the small screen, but as a black woman myself, I didn’t appreciate the lack of diversity. And whenever actors of color were showed on the screen, they were forced into either basic or reductive stereotypical roles. Remember when Samantha was interested in Chivon, the music exec, with a “big black cock” and his sister, Adeena “the angry black woman” refused to let her brother date a white woman. And there’s so many more problematic storylines/scenes. I’ll still binge it whenever I can but let’s be real, the show surrounds four white wealthy women who live and operate in a very white bubble.