WWith the summer holiday fast approaching, it’s time to announce the winners and losers of the 2021-22 season for American television, and the most telling success story is Abbott’s primary. Comedy star Quinta Bronson, set in an underfunded Philadelphia public school, has a huge favorite in Janelle James as Ava’s eager-to-mouth, closed-doors for season two and a real fan base that translates into respected ratings for the network. They appear in this day and age. On top of that, the Freshman series emerged as the new record holder for its genre at a time when the classic sitcom was left a half-hour long on life support, and its samples waned as eyeballs drifted into the disorganized absorption of broadcast content.
It’s this prominent placement in the ever-present conversation about “where is TV comedy right now” that makes Abbott Elementary’s characteristic structural absences all the more clear and enlightening. Often impossible to ignore, the writing of the series leaves the viewer waiting for a comedic beat that never comes, or never gets scanned. In Episode VII, Bronson’s upbeat teacher Janine faces a difficult choice between doing her job and impressing her adorable friend who’s come to teach art at Abbott. Wise teacher Melissa praises Janine for her responsibility to make the decision by telling her, “Being a real person is more important than being kind, and you are a real person who owes me seventy-five Peter Rabbit before next year.” They cuddle, and even with that last phrase. Set to give some edge to the moment, Ava’s trans is not wrong when she rolls her eyes in a “very special episode” playing in front of her. There are plenty of examples along these lines, where the omnipotent necessity to get a laugh is revived in favor of earnest or moral earnestness – this is the key to its popularity.
Abbott’s Fridge Magnet Letters aligns it with the recent surge in good cheer that has bypassed mainstream segments. While the squeamish Koda competed with the somewhat stoic power of the dog for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in March, industry experts wound up the selection down to a matter of sweet versus steel. Likewise, Apple’s golden child, Ted Lasso, cleaned up the Emmys Awards amid a wave of underwhelmed optimism that pleases fans. Indie Action Bonanza “Everything Everywhere Everywhere” is currently slowly working toward sleeper mode as the box office continues week after week, backed by waves of viewers tweeting relentlessly about his pleas to reject nihilism and embrace love. As much as these various titles relate to the warm character of the texts themselves, their most important commonalities lie in how they are received and discussed.
As a reasonably pleasant way to spend anywhere from thirty minutes to two and a half hours, this law is no great danger in itself, yet its reception is still symptomatic of a nuanced and unsettling tendency to celebrate beautiful things simply for being nice. It doesn’t take much gazing to see why cute stocks have soared in the recent past, with Americans demoralized by pressures from Trump, the pandemic, watching the singer’s disguised broadcast, et al. While the impulse to unwind at the end of a long, grueling work day with something comfortable and convenient is largely understandable, it is rarely the rationale offered by those within this viewing block. If social media is any indication, being pure from the heart puts acts of kindness beyond blaming other criticisms for fans’ appreciation. (The obnoxious corollary of this idea is that some of these viewers are giving themselves the same privilege, as if they are putting themselves on the moral side of a vaguely defined culture war being fought to determine who has bad policies.)
The movement’s main entries collected under the new term “nicecore” have legions of supporters ready to dive into any bad word directed at their favorites, and do so in oppressed and aggressive terms that don’t fit the good vibes they loudly advocate (a now-deleted semi-viral tweet claimed Anyone who didn’t like Coda was a “blank empty person”. This kindness is eventually used as a cudgel, and proof that anyone who resists it is a ruthless hater who prefers to stick with Come and See. (Or, uh, Tarantino.) In the episode Society To Take Pee from Glee, one of the TV medium’s greatest feats of automatic criticism, a hardened non-believer asks, “How can you hate glee? Literally means ‘glee’!” Those who don’t respond For positiv imports they are arrogant with a cold heart; Those who are not interested in watching at all are bad sports. There is a painful irony in watching dozens of strangers championing the virtues of goodwill chew you up in language generally reserved for baseball stands.
Again, it’s hard to stand up against something so fervently when so many people give it so much, but proponents have made it so much easier by turning art-related preferences into a referendum on character. If I’m inclined to meet them on these invalid grounds, the response would probably be something like this: attachment to and overprotective kindness is a sign of weakness and the need to be pampered as literally and direct as possible. This means that compulsive kindness forces an equal and opposite reaction to humiliation, which is not the way I would prefer to live. Cute stuff is really nice, if we quote from a big-hearted show that has been studied enough in its attitude to exclude itself from that trend. It’s a matter of huge market share talking about pop culture without the weight to maintain its reputation – what we need – now. The online adage about the importance of letting people like things cut both ways, and the right to hate things in every bit is sacred.