When Your Kid’s Term Paper Validates Your Perspectives

Number One is writing a paper for her AP English Language and Composition class using the book Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson. It can be boiled down into “TV doesn’t rot your brain,” though it’s more complex than that. She has to find points she agrees with and use her own examples, and points she disagrees with. So she’s been discussing this a lot with us over the last few weeks.

I have to admit, I’ve never been a member of the “TV rots your brain” camp. Number One tells me I used to say that to them, but I don’t think so. I DID limit how much they watched because of the sedentary issues, and because I wanted them to pursue a variety of activities for maximum stimulation. But I’ve always found value in TV, so it’s nice that my kid’s term paper is validating that perspective.

First, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment. It lifts our moods, helps us manage stress, and gives us all commonalities with which to connect with one another. Second, if you’re someone who will actually veg in front of the TV—as in, total disengagement, completely shutdown—you’d be vegging whether there was a TV there or not. You’d just drool at the wall instead.

But a lot of TV makes you think, too. When I started watching TV again after many years of spending all my evening time writing, I chose shows like John Doe, LOST, and Alias. Those are still the kinds of shows I like best. Fringe changes things up every season. Revenge has cleverness and you never know what’s going to happen next. Remember Prison Break? Sure, it had extreme hotness in Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell (who was also the protagonist on John Doe), but the pieces that Michael put together on his journey to save his brother were fascinating.

The latest addition to my list is Touch. Did anyone see the preview they did a couple of weeks ago? We just watched it Sunday night, and I’m totally hooked. A show has to have great characters to really suck me in, but add them to a twisty plot with connections that lead you to an amazing, unexpected finale, and you’ve got a fan for as long as your show is on the air.

Touch has Keifer Sutherland as the desperate father of an 11-year-old boy who has never spoken. The boy has a numbers obsession, which is common among autistic kids, but he doesn’t fit the diagnosis. There’s a tragic backstory and a well-meaning but patronizing social worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from Undercovers) threatening to take Jake away from his father. In this preview episode, there’s never-ending tension as we’re introduced to people across the world whose connections are so tenuous, but that come together in a way that almost made me cry.

The core plot focuses on a specific date and time, and Jake trying to convey something he knows is going to happen. There’s some “woo-woo” philosophy brought in to kind of explain it, but to me, the why isn’t really necessary. Only the results are. I’m being cagy because I don’t want to spoil it (go watch the episode on Fox!), but Touch combined the best of both worlds in presenting a mind-twisty plot that gives us complete answers by the end of the hour.

How many of you enjoy TV shows that make you think? I’m not talking about just crime dramas where you try to figure out whodunit, but more complex stories that give you clues to follow down the path of the show’s reality. What shows are your favorites? Did you see Touch? If so, what did you think?

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16 Responses

  1. While I think some shows are total drivel, I agree that there is value in down-time and entertainment. And I love some of the conversations that come from the family watching a show or movie together.

    I also love shows that make me think, but I’m sort of out of the TV loop right now. I tend to get most of my entertainment from reading and movies, and catching snippets of whatever my kids are watching.

    Great topic, Nat. WileE is taking AP Lang next year. He’s nervous about all the writing, but I told him, “Better to get the practice now than try to figure it out in college!” 😉

    • Sure, TV, like any entertainment, runs the gamut. Johnson actually said Monday Night Football isn’t going to make anyone think, and Number One vociferously disagrees. We analyze plays pretty heavily. 🙂 Even shows that are crap to one person could provide excellent fodder for discussions on the human condition. It all depends on the watcher. 🙂

      You’re absolutely right about getting the practice now! 🙂 But also, tell him it’s unlikely to be as bad as he’s expecting. 🙂

  2. Sounds like a great show. I may have to check that out.

    As for TV, I do appreciate a good show that stretches me so I have to chew on subject matter and examine my beliefs, but moreso than thinking, I like to be swept away by sheer entertainment. I like campy (Castle) and funny (Parks and Recreation, Office) and inspiring (American Idol). I also love Modern Family. Those are my main shows – throwing in the seasonal ones like Dexter, The Closer and even Rizzoli and Isles (which I’m only half-way enjoying – but it’s set on the DVR).

    This morning when my mom told me she shouldn’t watch the news because it depressed her, I told her to start recording America’s Funniest Home Videos. Nothing makes you feel better than laughter. And nothing makes you laugh like a plastic baseball bat to the groin or an idiot riding in a wheelbarrow crashing into a fence.

    • OMG, LOVE AFV! 🙂 I think even a show like Castle or Modern Family is stimulating, because if you’re engaged in the show, you’re following the threads, which does require thinking even if you don’t realize it. (Those are two of our favorites, too! 🙂 ) But like I said, there’s a definite case for pure entertainment!

  3. Natalie, I don’t watch tv much – didn’t even own one, until the husband and kids showed up. But I don’t avoid it because I think it’s bad — just that I’m not usually engaged by most, ‘drivel’ as Gwen calls it.

    I think we got our story-telling education, watching as kids. Through osmosis, I learned timing, tension, and black moments. I love watching a movie, now that I’m a writer, and picking it apart.

    Great subject! Hope your daughter gets an ‘A!’

    • Thanks, I hope she does, too! LOL

      Movies are definitely good for analyzing with a writer’s brain. They have the same beats as a book, moreso than TV that has to be broken up for commercials.

  4. Didn’t see touch so I can’t comment on that.

    TV rots your brain…Naw. Never thought that. I’ve been a tv addict all my life and my brain is just fine, thankyouverymuch!

    But a “thinking show” with a complex plot like Lost? No. I don’t pay a lot of attention to the TV when it’s on. I’m usually doing other things at the same time…on the computer, needlepointing, crossword puzzle, etc so I usually pick shows I don’t have to think too hard or follow too close. 🙂

    • Man, you sound like my mother. She used to drive us nuts because she couldn’t just watch TV. She *had* to be doing something productive. She’d be up and down and then come back and ask questions because she missed stuff. VERY annoying before the days of DVRs. LOL

      I only ever have the TV on when I’m deliberately watching something, so then I’m not doing something else at the same time. The only exception is folding my laundry with the NFL Network in the background. 🙂

  5. Dang, I wanted to see that show! Marking my calendar now! LOL My favs right now are Castle and Revenge.

    Sounds like a great topic for a research paper. Very interesting!

  6. Saw Touch and loved it! I’m really into tv shows that give you a bit more information each week. Right now, my favorite is Once Upon a Time. It’s the one show I set the laptop aside for. Everything else only gets part of my attention. The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, and How I met Your Mother make me laugh. And I get hooked by American Idol and Dancing With the Stars each season. Castle–yum! And I’m a Gleek:-)

    • We watch Once Upon a Time, too. I think we’re a couple of episodes behind and I’ve felt a little frustrated with its slowness. I really want Emma to start winning! 🙂

      Those are my three favorite sitcoms, too. Glee is my bonding show with my daughters. 🙂 It’s a GREAT show for discussing issues and dissing on ridiculous clothes. LOL

  7. We watched Touch and I REALLY enjoyed it. I have some klout perk where they’re supposed to email me ‘clues’ to pay attention to during the show. dunno for sure how it works.

    Anyway, can see myself getting sucked in, BUT I think the time slot (note, NOT the day/time it aired on) conflicts with other things we watch!

    • We did that with Leverage, Keri. The iPad synced up with the show to give us tidbits and let us do puzzles and trivia during commercials. It was fun, though we had to pause the show sometimes to read the stuff. LOL

      I hope it doesn’t conflict! I hate that. I usually have an overload on one day and nothing on three others. LOL

  8. oh! and I’m all about TV. when son was an infant, it was so quiet at my house that when we’d go to the inlaws…or anywhere it was sound overload. He would pull back from too much noice and cry almost the whole time. *miserable* I started leaving the TV on all day long and he slowly adapted to where noise and visual movement didn’t just completely upset him.

    Now when we’re home, the TV is on as background noise. he never just sits and stares at it. he has to be sick or really sleepy to ever do that. Surprising how much he still picks up from it tho!

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