Friendship and Breakfast are Magic: 3 Common Television Absurdities
By Amanda Rossenrode
Look, I get it. Television is not real. If you walk into your warlord husband’s funeral pyre with a couple of fossilized eggs, you probably will not emerge the next morning with dragon babies. You will most likely die. Starting your workday with a glass of gin and a Lucky Strike will not make you partner in the firm. It will get you escorted from the building by security.
For the most part, television at least attempts to parallel real life, albeit it with better looking clothes, apartments and friends than most regular people have. That’s fine. If you feel like seeing tacky clothes and people, you can go to Wal-Mart around 3 a.m. on a Tuesday. TV tries to keep the situations real though, because that’s what connects us as viewers. Whether it’s light and wacky hijinks or real life drama, you can sort of relate… Except in these situations.
I’m about to pull back the curtain on the following completely fictional situations displayed as all too common on television. Your life may never be the same. You have been warned.
Raise your hand if you have a complete breakfast every morning. I see… Okay, I see no hands. How about, I don’t know, maybe you fry an egg on a good day, or pour a bowl of cereal? Maybe coffee and a piece of toast?
Bad office coffee and birthday cake leftover in the break room fridge? There we go.
How many of you assemble all of your friends and family and serve a variety of dishes to suit the dietary needs of everyone and yet nobody ever seems to actually eat it? This is a common trope on television that confuses me. According to the shows I watched on Nick at Night, housewives in the fifties and sixties rose at dawn to make lavish breakfasts fit to serve a crew of teamsters. In what households do these breakfasts still exist?
I understand the idea behind it. It’s a set piece to have a character enter, sit down at the table, maybe open the paper and speak to another character about their plans for the day. Six Feet Under and Breaking Bad used this device in nearly every episode (the opening credits of Dexter makes me wonder how he even has energy to murder people after preparing his morning banquet). Enough food is served to make even Denny’s astonished, while the character speaking pours themselves a beverage and ignores a feast someone spent hours preparing.
The biggest perpetrator of this strange farce is the beloved 90's sitcom Friends. While Six Feet Under and Breaking Bad can fall back on the old “fictional families eat enormous breakfasts in a leisurely manner on a weekday” defense, on Friends, it makes less sense than the entire Twilight franchise and their views on the reproductive systems of the living and the dead.
There is frequently a scene in Friends when said friends are gathered together for breakfast in order to setup a plotline or two. Let’s look at the facts: All of these people are in their twenties, most have nine to five jobs and they are rarely shown disheveled or in pjs. I recently hit thirty and in the years proceeding that, I have never managed to wake up and meet buddies while Egg McMuffins were still available, I can’t even civilly reply to a text before eleven, never mind host or attend a Wednesday breakfast. How early are these people getting up for these breakfast rituals? Ross and Phoebe don’t live nearby, so they either have to walk or take public transit over to Monica’s and then commute to their jobs. Figure everyone must allow at least a half an hour on average to get to their job at 9 a.m. Monica is a clean-freak, so she needs to wash multiple dishes and pans to accommodate the plethora of foods she serves (not to mention that the beverages are always served in carafes.) By my calculations, breakfast is served at 7 a.m. or before, meaning that the friends need to wake up somewhere around 5 a.m. just to talk crap around the breakfast table. Everyday. Maybe that’s why they spent ten years without any other people in their lives.
You can barely even call yourself a show without a hang-out. The Peach Pitt. The Max. The juice bar the Power Rangers had before juice bars were a thing. The Bronze from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a fictional under eighteen club we all wished existed. Again, I get the idea, you can have characters randomly enter and exit to further a plot without showing boring things that happen in real life like phone calls and emails to exchange information. Buuut…
Think about that one restaurant right by your house or job. God, you’re so sick of everything they have, aren’t you? You’ve had everything on the menu and its just –so bad isn’t it? Yeah, there’s that other place, which is good, but you hardly ever go there because it's so friggin expensive. Especially if that place is a bar.
I’m going to lay off Friends for a moment (which is super guilty of this), and attack its aughts doppelgänger, How I Met Your Mother. Rather than a coffee house, they more realistically set their post college twenty-somethings in a bar as the neighborhood hangout. As anyone who’s ever been to a bar knows, paying for drinks at a bar is expensive. I don’t care what kind of dive you’re going to, it’s significantly more to buy a beer at a bar than at the grocery store and drink it at your apartment. Which, for the characters of HIMYM, is right upstairs! The characters of this show are shown almost daily (sometimes several times a day) purchasing multiple rounds at the old watering hole. How much of their paychecks are going to drinking downstairs with people they already live with? Other gross offenders are the residents of Star’s Hollow on Gilmore Girls and Storybrook on Once Upon a Time. Apparently no one in these quaint villages owns a cookbook and most meals are purchased at the adorable only diner in town. Making your own hamburger is literally the easiest dish on earth. Cook ground beef until no longer a danger to your health. Top with ketchup. Perhaps cheese if you’re feeling fancy. I just saved you nine bucks and some expositional dialogue with the town grump!
Life Doesn’t Ever Really Change. Friendship is Forever.
You have a premise for a show about high school. Your characters include the rebel, the studious nerd, the perky cheerleader, and maybe a jock. They're all inexplicably friends. Your show is successful and runs the course of high school. You don’t want to break up the gang, so you send them all to the same fictional community college.
How depressing is that?
Let’s talk about our over-achievers. Carlton's life goal on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was to go to Princeton. But suddenly, he’s perfectly content to go to the same college as slacker Will. Same with the gangs on 90210 and Buffy. No matter how well any of them succeeded independently in school they were forced into the same colleges as their friends who were too busy fighting vampires or growing sideburns to write a report on The Great Gatsby. It’s not just shows centering on teenagers; shows about adults keep their characters in a stunted land of arrested development, because any real success in a character’s life would ruin the show. Jim from The Office never really wanted to be a paper salesman. Tragically, he spends ten years working in a job he doesn’t seem to like very much. We first see him as a prank happy twenty-something with aspirations and leave him as--well, his worst nightmare: a lifelong Dunder-Mifflin employee.
On television, people don’t really grow and change. To do so would mean they have to leave. They rarely make new friends or even date outside the small group of people they associate with daily. Even milestones like childbirth and marriage (again, usually within the group of people we are familiar with) are shrugged off as minor inconveniences, rather than the life-changing situations that they are. Newborns are left with “babysitters” so their parents can gossip at the above mentioned hangouts, rather than depict the prison new moms and dads are interned into for several months. Break-ups are tended to in a few episodes so everyone can remain lifelong friends, despite the fact most people would rather be eaten alive by ants than spend every evening hanging out with their ex.
Arcs about a character changing or drifting away from the core group is usually presented as a dilemma that must be solved rather than a natural part of life. We end with the same group we started with. In real life, people grow up and move out and make new friends, which is considered high heresy by TV’s doctrine. Although Full House is not exactly a gritty real-life drama, no one ever questioned how odd it was that Jesse and Joey were satisfied with the idea of growing old in the attic and basement of Danny Tanner’s house. It never occurred to them to want more than a pretty decent room for a high school senior. Uncle Jessie went so far as to force his wife and children to live in the attic like a box of dusty old puppets. Carlton and Will tried moving out once and they were attacked by a biker gang, teaching them a valuable lesson: Sets are expensive, so you should never try to move on or better your life in anyway.
I’m not saying that fictional shows need to document every facet of a human being’s existence. I’m not here to call “No Way!” on a set design because it lacks the dirty dishes and end table by the door littered with the useless garbage one empties out of their pockets at the end of the day common to most homes. But I’m more likely to walk out of a bonfire with some dragon babies than meet a person with any of the crippling dependencies TV swears is common place. You’ll have to excuse me, as I make my own damn cup of coffee and grilled cheese and eat alone, staring at my computer, like a normal person.