America’s Got Nothing to Watch

The sad reality of summer TV seems to be getting worse every year

Although I have startlingly low standards for television, the summer lineup always manages to get me down. The final weeks of May seem rife with endless possibilities—who knows what long-awaited sexual encounters, weddings, births or even grisly demises will finally unfold during the bevy of jam-packed, super-size season finales, which stack up in my Hulu queue like glittering precious gems, their clarity flawed only by extended Geico commercials. But then, after the climax, a crushing lull. Overnight, the go-to entertainment sources my husband graciously refers to as “my stories” are gone, replaced by a slate of shows that seem specifically designed for sun-addled, margarita-dulled senses. Which would be fine if all I had to do this summer was sit by the pool, or jet off on extended vacations around the globe. But no. I am still, as ever, trapped in my cubicle for at least eight hours a day, turning my face up to the fluorescent lights above my desk and hoping for a tan. I still need a distraction at the end of the day … preferably one that doesn’t involve people juggling brooms in front of Knight Rider.

I’m speaking, of course, of America’s Got Talent, which premiered Tuesday night on NBC. Given the glut of reality programming clogging the airwaves, I think we can safely assume that any talent America has is off trying to get a spot on American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance. So as far as singers and dancers go, AGT is already sub-par. And then, of course, there are the other “talents” on display, such as playing the banjo or dressing up as Catwoman and painting a canvas. Ordinarily I would preface this next statement with the words “no offense,” but we’re talking about people who have willfully put themselves up for judgment by Sharon Osbourne and David Hasselhoff, two celebrities in the loosest sense of the word whose sole thread of commonality seems to be that they have been very drunk on camera, so I’m going to be blunt: If people wanted to watch your obscure talent on TV, there would be an America’s Next Top Classical Flautist or So You Think You Can Eat An Alarming Number of Hot Dogs While Humming Television Theme Songs. If the noun or verb that describes your life’s ambition is not already part of a reality show, you don’t have an audience. You should probably just give up the ghost and try your luck at bouncing off of giant balls on Wipeout. And if I sound bitter, yes, it’s because Bravo has not returned my calls pitching The Real Freelance Writers of Nevada.

Even the “quality” reality shows (please note my use of self-aware quotations) have gotten stale. The seventh season of The Bachelorette is in full swing on ABC, starring dental student Ashley Hebert (pronounced “A-bear,” because this show is nothing if not classy), but I no longer believe these people are looking for love, even when I’m well into a box of wine. In 22 seasons, The Bachelor franchise still boasts fewer long-term romantic pairings than Survivor, The Biggest Loser and The Amazing Race; the fact that Chris Harrison can still do his monologues with a straight face is a testament to his giant paycheck. So You Think You Can Dance is kind of a rhetorical question at this point (the only real suspense is how wide Mary Murphy’s mouth will open on any given episode), and at this point Hell’s Kitchen seems only to appeal to sadomasochists who enjoy being screamed at for their failed clafoutis. Meanwhile, the non-network reality crop includes an Oxygen network show about Paris Hilton and Freaky Eaters, the season premiere of which revolves around a woman who is addicted to consuming plain corn starch.

Sure, there are some bright spots—HBO will start airing True Blood’s fourth season in late June, and Breaking Bad returns to AMC in July (nothing beats the heat like a Southwestern lung cancer/meth lab drama!)—but the rest of the season stretches out endlessly toward September, a dusty trail of reruns interspersed with ill-advised harmonica solos and slapstick-happy water sports, the sad leftovers we’re stuck with when television goes on vacation and leaves us behind.

Perhaps a better woman would take this as a sign to go outside, or read a book. I, on the other hand, against my better judgment, will be watching Ashley “silent H” Hebert stare wistfully out at ocean vistas and hand out roses to men she will never marry, counting down the days until my TV, once again, has stories to tell.

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