My TV Pet Peeves

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I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post. Please forgive me, readers, and blame my pet humans instead. Both of these humans will be in some form of regular day care starting in August and yes, the thought of  putting #2 in daycare does give me the weepies and intermittent panic attacks. However, daycare  means that I will be able to return to blogging with some regularity. “Phew!” you must all be thinking, “Thank God she’s coming back!” Well, you’re welcome.

Now on to my post, before #2 wakes up. He has a sixth sense about my productivity. That is, he frowns upon it and likes to disrupt it with all the tricks of his trade:  too-short naps, poop bombs, and my personal favorite, big, gummy smiles.


There are several blog-worthy shows currently on the air — True Blood, Top Chef, and soon, July-25th-soon, Mad Men! But I wanted to use this post to write about something that has been percolating in my brain for a few months now: my television pet peeves. As an avid TV watcher, I am pretty adept at suspending my disbelief. I accept that vampires, werewolves, and demons exist when watching shows like True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I accept that there is a magic island filled with polar bears and electromagnetic energy when I watch Lost. I even accept that the idea that the teenagers in shows like Gossip Girl drink martinis at hotel bars without getting carded. And I always accept most of those overused TV tropes documented at the great site TV Tropes. But there are a few tropes that I cannot stomach and which force me to yell at the television set every time they occur (which is a lot). I don’t have a good explanation for why these particular violations drive me up the wall, but here they are in no particular order:

1. My Water Just Broke!

"My water just broke!"

Despite the fact that approximately 490,000 babies are born every day, television shows rarely get the details of childbirth right. Most labor scenes begin with a character saying — usually at some inopportune time, like in the middle of a kidnapping (Desperate Housewives), in a stalled elevator (Saved by the Bell) or, in a car during a traffic jam (Blossom) — “My water just broke!” Despite its prevalence on television, most women  will go into labor long before their water breaks. This trope sticks in my craw because I believe it does a real disservice to first-time parents, who, despite reading all the books, still don’t recognize that labor has started without the iconic (but relatively rare) rupturing of the membranes. Case in point: when I went into labor with my first child, it took me several hours to convince my husband that I was truly in labor. I kept telling him, rather undramatically, “I think I’m in labor.” And he kept saying things like “Did your water break?” and  “The doctor said you wouldn’t have the baby until next week.” and “Let’s watch the end of  So You Think You Can Dance.” I did watch So You Think You Can Dance, but I was totally in labor. Had we been trapped in an elevator and had I yelled “My water just broke!” I’ll bet my husband would have believed me. Stupid TV.

2. Where’s the Umbilical Cord?

Don't worry, I'm a doctor. And a monster.

Giving birth to a baby is an exciting plot event and therefore TV scribes like to stage childbirth in all sorts of wacky places: see # 1. The  brave laboring woman will often yell to a scared bystander “Whether you like it or not, this baby is coming NOW!” Or conversely, a brave bystander will yell at the scared laboring woman, “Whether you like it or not, this baby is coming NOW!” Much chaos and sweating and fetching of hot water will then ensue, followed by the birth of the baby, who is  immediately placed in her quivering mother’s arms. It is at this point that I yell at the TV “Where’s the umbilical cord? You people need to cut the umbilical cord! That baby’s still attached to the placenta!” I get so agitated by this omission that I can’t fully enjoy the melodrama of the moment. Please writers, next time have someone cut the umbilical cord. That’s all I’m asking.

3. Going to Bed/Waking Up with Lipstick On

That's a lot of bronzer, lady

On the Glee episode “Home” (2010), April Rhodes (Kristin Chenoweth) must spend the night at Will Schuester’s (Matthew Morrison) apartment. As she slips into bed, singing some song I can’t remember, all I can focus on is her lips. Her shiny, lipsticked lips. I keep thinking about how, the moment she rolls over in bed, that nice white pillow case will be covered in sticky lipstick. Then she’ll roll back and get sticky lipstick in her pretty blonde hair. Gross. No woman goes to bed with lipstick on unless she’s drunk and passes out before getting the opportunity to wipe it off. I hate this TV trope. It drives me up the wall. “Take off your lipstick!” I scream as characters slip beneath their crisp, clean sheets. I understand that TV shows like Glee, Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl (all prime offenders in this regard) do not aim for realism. But it is possible to make a character look like she isn’t wearing make up and still make her look pretty good. At least take off the shiny lipstick, people. No one goes to bed wearing shiny lipstick. No one.

Even perpetually poised Betty Draper appears make up free when going to bed

4. Children who Don’t Resemble their Parents

Darby and Damon with their mother Jessica, on HUNG

When two very good-looking humans have sex with each other and make a baby, that baby usually ends up good-looking too (see Shiloh Jolie-Pitt). When a very good-looking human makes a baby with a funny-looking human, the results are less predictable (see Alexa Joel). Thomas Jane and Anne Heche are both very good-looking humans so it stands to reason that their offspring would be hot, or at least, not too shabby. But on the HBO show Hung, the offspring of Ray (Thomas Jane) and Jessica  (Anne Heche), played by Sianoa Smit-McPhee and Charlie Saxton, are pretty darn unattractive (sorry, I’m not trying to be bitchy here). My guess is that this is the point of this miscasting — to be funny. Ray lives in a dying city, has a job at a underfunded school, a catty ex-wife, and two sullen Goth teens who failed to inherit his dashing good looks. Hilarious! But I find this visual joke distracting since these children look NOTHING like their parents. It’s just too hard to accept that they’re related. I was also frustrated by the casting on a much better show, Six Feet Under. I love Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, and Lauren Ambrose, and I can’t imagine any other actors in their roles, but those three look nothing like each other.

5. Teenagers with Too Much Power

Brandon Walsh, big man on campus

This pet peeve dates back to my 90210 days (the original, not the reboot). I was always amazed that Brandon Walsh (Jason Preistly), the student body president of fictional California University, was so important to the university’s daily workings. He was always meeting with the Dean and being asked to join task forces and to advise big university muckety-mucks on major decisions. In the Season 5 episode  “Homecoming” (1994), Brandon is pressed to challenge the presence of a visiting dignitary, Quintero, who has been accused of torture. Brandon launches his own investigation into the accusations (conveniently meeting a gardener who was a victim of Quintero’s regime), and serves Quintero a subpoena. Because administering international justice is the responsibility of the student body president. On a related note, I also hate it when teenagers achieve things that it takes adults years of hard work and dilligence to achieve. For example, I scoff everytime a character on Gossip Girl mentions that Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley) was published in The New Yorker. The odds of getting a story published in The New Yorker is so slim, and yet broody old Dan Humphrey gets his banal work published there.

6. Newborn Babies Who Are Actually 6 Month Olds

One of the few believable newborns on TV

I understand why a television show cannot use a newborn baby when portraying the birth of a newborn baby. First, newborns are ugly. They are wrinkly, swollen, and many of them have coneheads (due to being pushed through the birth canal). Newborns are also highly susceptible to colds and infections and so it’s not a great idea to have them on a crowded television set. I get it. Nevertheless, it drives me bonkers when we are shown a fresh-from-the-womb baby and he is fat and bright-eyed and not at all smushy-faced. Once again, this trope does a disservice to novice parents, who, when handed their fresh-from-the-womb baby, are probably wondering “Why is my kid so ugly?” Friday Night Lights is one of the few TV shows that used a baby resembling a newborn. Gracie Bell Taylor, when she first appeared on screen, was bug-eyed, scrawny, and splotchy. Of course, as she got older, Gracie Bell continued to be bug-eyed, scrawny, and splotchy, so um, at least that kid’s getting some sweet royalty checks!

These were all of the pet peeves I could come up with before # 2 decided to take his signature too-short nap. He is currently offering me big gummy smiles and attempting to poke a slobbery finger in my laptop’s USB port. He is a productivity-disrupting super genius. But, I’d like to know what TV pet peeves you have — particularly the ones that don’t seem to bother anyone but you.

22 thoughts on “My TV Pet Peeves

    Kelli Marshall said:
    July 2, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I so thought you were going to whip out “6-Month Old Babies as Newborns” (like Quinn’s in GLEE). =) Enjoyed, as usual…

    princesscowboy responded:
    July 2, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Gah! You’re right, Kelli! That was the pet peeve that made me want to write this post in the first place! #2 is asleep for nap #2, so I will try to add that now.

    Timothy Yenter (inessentials) said:
    July 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Re: #4 – I haven’t seen Hung, so I’m wondering: Do they state explicitly that these are their biological children? I wonder because I sometimes appreciate shows where the children do not resemble the parents because this opens up a space to appreciate that there are multiple ways to grow a family, including adoption. Even your Jolie-Pitt example points to that. In some (not all cases) having contemporary families where the children don’t look like their parents can reflect the diversity of families.

    A personal pet peeve: My wife is a school counselor, so when FNL made Tammy Taylor a school counselor with NO degree and NO license, I thought, “not even in Texas would they allow that.” (I won’t spoil anything here, but there are similar problems in later seasons.) Too often shows demonstrate a real lack of understanding of how jobs that require accreditation actually work.

      princesscowboy responded:
      July 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm

      You are absolutely right–not all kids look like the people who raise them. I like seeing diverse families–such as the adopted child, Lily, on MODERN FAMILY. But no, HUNG has not intimated that these kids were adopted. But who knows, maybe it will be revealed that Ray really isn’t the twins’ father?

      Also, I totally agree with you about the FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS thing. We were also shocked that Tami became the principal. Really? A high school principal?!?

        Timothy Yenter (inessentials) said:
        July 2, 2010 at 2:09 pm

        Good. So you know she becomes a principal without a degree or a license after being a school counselor without a degree or a license. Similar to how HIMYM’s Ted gets a job as an architecture professor with no more (one presumes) than a masters in architecture and the smile on his face. (In this economy?!)

        One minor quibble: I don’t always want the adoption to be explicit (as on Modern Family), since not all families handle adoption in the same way. Particularly in adoptions that are not trans-racial, parents do not always reveal that their children are adopted until these children are ready to tell others. So there are some families where the children don’t look like the parents because they are adopted, but there is not the (often) obviousness of a trans-racial adoption.

    Joanna said:
    July 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Yes, I have annoyed my teenage daughter by interrupting shows like Glee to point out that childbirth is not as easy as it looks on TV.
    And certainly most women do not push a baby out from a seated position even if their knees are up.
    Another pet peeve of mine is when people come home, enter the house or apartment, and then leave the door open. this causes me to hyperventilate, and I have to scream “lock the damn door!”

    Timothy Yenter (inessentials) said:
    July 2, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Another pet peeve (which my dad first mentioned to me): Diners where the staff set glass pot of hot coffee down on the table or counter where anyone could knock it over. Waiters and waitresses are not that stupid. They don’t set them around like that because it’s too dangerous and the heat from the glass pots will melt the laminate that proliferate in these diners. I notice every time. Worst Offender: Luke on Gilmore Girls.

      princesscowboy responded:
      July 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm

      Now I am always going to be looking for this in films and TV shows.

    Nick said:
    July 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I don’t know if this can rightly be called a trope, but it certainly sets my teeth to grinding: I can’t stand it when a show purports to be set in in a particular location and then either badly mispronounces the name or features all sorts of incongruities that would never be present in the setting. I’m from Ohio, so I see this happening a lot, since, you know, Ohio is the most absolute humdrum bastion of whitebread normality imaginable.

    This doesn’t happen *every* time, but pretty often. While GLEE has at least been good about pronouncing Lima correctly, there is no way in hell any Lima city school has that much money to drop on their glee club. Or that few black people. While much of Ohio is rural, all of the major metro areas, including Lima, have a LOT of racial diversity.

    Another example: the movie TOMMY BOY. I love this film, I really do, but there’s a scene where Chris Farley’s love interest is in an airport in Sandusky, Ohio, getting ready to fly home to Cuyahoga Falls, a suburb of Akron, OH. First, there’s no way an airport that size exists in Sandusky, and second, Cuyahoga Falls is a 90-minute drive from Sandusky. No one would ever take that flight.

    As for mispronunciations, I recently watched an episode of SUPERNATURAL that supposedly took place in Maumee, OH, a suburb of Toledo. This is where I grew up, so I was pretty annoyed when the characters on the show referred to the town as MAO-mee (like Chairman Mao), instead of MAW-mee, the way it’s actually pronounced by locals.

    Maybe it’s petty, but to me it just seems like lazy research. Whenever I notice these things, it draws me out of the story-world and back into reality, and that just pisses me off.

    princesscowboy responded:
    July 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    No Nick it’s not petty. That is very lazy research. I research how to pronounce unfamiliar wprds before I give a conference talk (at which there are usually only 15-20 attendees if I’m lucky). How can a show’s producer’s not double check these things!

    Alexis said:
    July 2, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    I agree with Nick that it is really irritating when shows pretend to be set in a certain location but then feature events that would never be present in that geographical area. For instance, Dawson’s Creek was supposedly in Cape Cod, Massachusetts but Joey would always be out rowing in that row boat in perfect sunny weather in November. And HIMYM is supposedly set in NYC but every time they have an outdoor scene, it just looks too bright and clean to be New York. There was an episode where NPH and co. were all singing on the street and it looked like a sunny California set with a few token street venders.
    AK, I want to add that in addition to wearing lipstick to bed and waking with perfect lipstick, TV women also seem to wake up wearing a bra.

    Nick said:
    July 3, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Glad to see it’s not just me 🙂

    I think the worst example that I’ve seen of this kind of thing (with another Ohio snafu) is in a Christopher-Walken-and-Michael-Rapaport-need-a-paycheck film called KISS TOLEDO GOODBYE ( I guess it probably wasn’t that bad of a movie, but the flimsiness of the setting just ruined it for me.

    The big detail in the film that was supposed to clinch the setting was a copy of The Toledo Blade, the city’s newspaper, that served to relay some exposition via the front page headline. I give the producers credit for actually performing due diligence in that regard, but during a chase scene in downtown “Toledo,” it was pretty obvious that the massive hills in the background were more suited to northern California than to northern Ohio (which is flat, flat, flat).

    The establishing shot of the scene just ripped me right out of the story and totally ruined the rest of the film for me. I spent the second half of the film just poring over the screen, actively looking for things that didn’t fit, which is precisely why these sorts of gaffes are so infuriating.

      Kelli Marshall said:
      July 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

      As someone who currently lives in Toledo (and right around the corner from “MAW-mee”), I find your reactions to Amanda’s post both informative and hilarious. =)

        Nick said:
        July 4, 2010 at 12:08 am

        Why, thank you. I’m very protective of Ohio’s virtue 🙂

    claik said:
    July 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Love hearing about your pet TV peeves! I have to disagree with Six Feet Under though, I thought they were a very well cast family who resemble each other.

    My pet TV peeve is when a character enters a pub or bar, orders a drink, has one sip and then leaves, I know that writers have to have a reason to make them go into the pub, but it’s still really annoying!

    World Wide News Flash said:
    July 5, 2010 at 7:45 am

    My TV Pet Peeves…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Nick said:
    July 7, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Similar to your #4, Amanda, I just thought about another one of mine, which is when shows do flashbacks (or flash-forwards) with their characters and then cast actors who look nothing like the character. I notice this the most on shows like COLD CASE, which do it constantly just due to the nature of the program. In all fairness, sometimes the younger versions of the characters uncannily resemble their older versions, but at other times the resemblance is…less than striking.

    As a corollary, it also annoys me when shows have the original actor play the younger version of his or her character in a flashback, especially if the actor can’t pull it off. DEXTER did this a lot in the first two seasons, but Michael C. Hall just cannot play a college kid anymore. Awkward.

      princesscowboy responded:
      July 14, 2010 at 8:49 am

      yes Nick but the kid they cast to play the young Dexter REALLY resembles him, which I’ve always appreciated.

        Nick said:
        July 14, 2010 at 9:02 am

        Agreed, absolutely. That kid is a dead ringer.

        As an aside, I also hate it when my outside knowledge of actors influences my feelings about a show or film. I’m thinking specifically of DEXTER, because it was really weird for me to watch Dexter and Deb interact together on screen as siblings once I found out that Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter are married.

        I have less of a hangup about it with Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer on TRUE BLOOD because they are actual engaged in real life and play a romantic couple together on the show. In the back of my mind, though, that knowledge keeps me from entirely rooting for a Sookie/Eric hookup, even the Eric is WAY cooler than Bill.

    BigLittleWolf said:
    July 14, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Princess! How delightful to read you again (it’s been awhile – mea culpa). I love your TV pet peeves (particularly the water breaking, etc.) and look forward to July 25 and the new season of Mad Men.

    (Meanwhile, I’ve been entertaining myself with Reality TV while waiting for new episodes of MM and United States of Tara.)

    joem18b said:
    September 9, 2010 at 2:04 am

    my spouse’s pet peeve: parents are always taller than their teen kids on tv. somebody did not get the memo that kids are bigger today than they used to be. ours are definitely not shorter than we are… and their feet are bigger than our feet…

    themovieblog8 said:
    October 1, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Hilarious! I agree with all of these, but understand why shows use them.

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