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Smart And Not-So-Smart On TV

Noah Camarena |
April 2, 2015 | 1:59 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

John Stamos in "Full House" (Twitter/ @HillKrissy82)
John Stamos in "Full House" (Twitter/ @HillKrissy82)
Remember "Boy Meets World"? How about "Full House"? 

These shows always had a moral in each episode. TV crews today are most concerned with how laughs bring in money. A lot of popular programs on television deal with characters who aren't the smartest.

Is this because dumb antics make people laugh and thus draw an audience to a particular show? Some could argue that television shows are abandoning morals in order to sell a product. Indeed, there are plenty of shows on air that feature characters who lack smarts, but in most cases, these shows are all similar in genre and appeasing to a particular audience.

Shows like “The Mindy Project,” “Modern Family,” and even a modern classic like “Friends” feature a main character who is the butt of many jokes because of their elementary level behavior.

“The Mindy Project” centers around a cast of doctors who work in a small medical practice in New York City. A cast of doctors would figure to all be very educated as they deal with tough situations like delivering babies; but, it's concerning if a doctor struggled knowing the difference between right and left.

One of the main characters on the series is Morgan Tookers (Ike Barinholtz) who is a registered nurse at the practice. Tookers is a former felon who is given a chance at the practice despite his sketchy past. Tookers is very emotional and sometimes lets his personal life interfere with his career. While he is a very caring person, he has many odd traits, such as the fact that he owns 40 dogs, and he does not have the best people skills. Obviously this show is a comedy and is not supposed to be an accurate representation of a real medical practice, which is why a character like Tookers can be portrayed as a key cog in this fictional hospital.

“Modern Family” also features a main character who is personified by her lack of intelligence. Haley Dunphy (Sarah Hyland) is the eldest daughter in the Dunphy household who is more focused on her appearance and social life than making a life for herself. It is not realistic to expect the Dunphy household to be full of brilliant people, and Haley does represent the person who does not make it in college and does not really care about school. The area where the show abandons morals is when the younger sister Alex (Ariel Winter) is mocked because she is extremely smart. Alex is portrayed as the smartest member of her family, parents included, and she is often left out. Her older sister Haley constantly gives Alex grief for caring about her grades and being so involved in school. There even comes a point where Alex breaks down in tears because she feels no one in her family understands her struggle to reach perfection. Many jokes in the show center around the dumber members of the Dunphy clan, and Alex’s persona of being a genius is often forgotten in order to get a laugh.

READ MORE: "Joey Tribbiani's Top 10 Moments on 'Friends'"

In a show like “Friends,” Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) is without a doubt the one with the least amount of smarts (except when it comes to making a sandwich and getting girls) in his group. Joey is an actor who makes many appearances on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” Joey is portrayed as the lovable goofball who can’t ever put two and two together. Even though Joey has little intelligence, he is also a womanizer and can basically get with any woman he wants. Joey represents the guy that can just get by in life purely because of his good looks. His best friend Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) on the other hand is an extremely smart doctor who has had three failed marriages and can never keep a consistent relationship despite all of his accomplishments. The juxtaposition of these two characters often creates comedic situations as their different approaches to life put them at odds. Ross is constantly mocked while Joey is praised even though Ross is the one with a doctorate and many other accomplishments, whereas Joey just looks good in front of the camera.

Shows like these work for an audience that is searching for a laugh. Everyone knows someone who just doesn’t quite get it, and seeing someone on the small screen that is similar to that goofy friend is an easy way to draw a chuckle. This technique is present in comedy sitcoms, but it is not the only way that shows are made in today’s entertainment world.

Shows like “Empire” and “Orange is the New Black” focus more on the drive and ambition of their main characters who use their smarts to succeed in the world. 

Terrence Howard in Empire (Twitter/ @Variety)
Terrence Howard in Empire (Twitter/ @Variety)

“Empire” centers around the success of music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) who built his musical company through hard work and determination. Lyon is not the most respectable person in all of television, he did kill people to get where he is and he is rather homophobic, he is smart in his own regard and the show is not driven by his antics that put him in sticky situations.

READ MORE: "'Orange is the New Black' Review"

In a similar way, “Orange is the New Black,” focuses more on the backgrounds of the inmates in the female prison where the show takes place. Some characters are more smart than others, but the show gets its power through raw emotions and real life situations such as domestic abuse and deceiving relationships. The main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is in prison because of a relationship that got her involved with all the wrong people. She is not made out for the prison lifestyle and she has to survive on her wit and ability to make friends, not because her lack of intelligence makes people laugh.

There is nothing wrong with putting morals in the backseat and focusing on the humorous actions of those who are not as smart as anyone else, that strategy is extremely effective, but for a certain audience. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) from “The Office” is funny as the boss of a paper company because he is not very bright. And the Kardashians are entertaining to watch because, well what do they really do? These shows work because they can play off their lack of morals, and some people love to watch shows like this to laugh and be entertained. But of course, some people would rather watch a show like “Breaking Bad” or “House of Cards” that focuses on personal successes and struggles. Both types of shows are entertaining, but their respective strengths don’t always speak to the same audience.

Reach Staff Reporter Noah Camarena here and follow him on Twitter here.



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