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Dear TV Writers: Enough with the Jazz Episodes, Already

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | February 26, 2015 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | February 26, 2015 |

So in my gradual watching of White Collar while I cook dinner or otherwise avoid being productive, I finally reached the inevitable episode that every single hour drama, whether light-hearted or not, has to have. All sitcoms are required to eventually have an episode where the kids throw a party while the parents are out of town. All medical procedurals have the very special episode where they operate on one of their own. All cop shows have the episode where one of their own is kidnapped/stalked/shot/puts the lotion on.

And all hour dramas in general have to eventually have the jazz episode. I hate the jazz episode.

You know the one. There’s going to be a jazz club. All the characters are going to talk about jazz. Twenty names I’ve never heard of will be dropped in a riff of information dumping about as meaningful as the technobabble in a bad Star Trek episode. There will be at least one soliloquy of nostalgia about listening to old records with one’s dad. At least one speech will be given with the gist of how they don’t make music like this anymore. And of course it will be explained as pretentiously as possible that whatever the show’s thematic structure, it is just like jazz and that to really be a good surgeon/thief/cop/lawyer/bartender/spy/writer/scientist/tossed salad man you just have to understand jazz.

And any of the characters the show wants you to think are the bee’s knees will have some out of left field story about how they secretly love jazz. And anyone who doesn’t is just clearly falling short in their capacity as surgeon/thief/cop/lawyer/bartender/spy/writer/scientist/tossed salad man. You just have to feel the music, you know? And you’ve got fifty-fifty odds that the charlatan who doesn’t secretly listen to trumpet solos will in the closing scene put a jazz record on an actual record player and thoughtfully start to listen to it.

All throughout the episode will be a recurrent message of “oh my god you don’t have a secret passion for jazz? Pathetic.”

Fuck you and the pretentious horse you fucked in on.

I don’t care about jazz. I’ve tried listening to it. It sounds a lot like music I don’t care about. I’m sure jazz is a perfectly fine form of music. But it’s not some magic signifier of a person’s intelligence. I’ve been a fulltime student for almost 2/3 of my life. I’ve met some smart people. Exactly two of them have expressed giving the slightest shit about jazz.

It’s like the musical equivalent of Hollywood’s insistence that smart people wear glasses. If you don’t wear glasses, you’re not smart. If you don’t have a fascist dedication to jazz as the one true music and secret to mastering all other intellectual pursuits, you’re not smart either.

Do you like jazz? That’s fantastic, I’m all in favor of people finding joy in this world. Does it resonate with you in a special way that helps your life’s work and passion? Even better. But sweet zombie Satchmo Hollywood, quit acting like it’s the goddamned Da Vinci Code of intellect.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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