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The Running Game: How TV Accurately Addresses Change Or The Lack Thereof

By Emily Cutler | TV | November 10, 2017 |

By Emily Cutler | TV | November 10, 2017 |

Spoilers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Shameless, and You’re The Worst

A little mood music for your read.

Dustin’s list of the top shows of last week was mostly correct, but also, somehow, completely off. I’m going to blame it on the fact that he didn’t include this week’s episode of You’re The Worst. Maybe it’s because his list came out two days before the show did. Maybe it was an oversight on his part. Maybe he’s just wrong about everything. Who knows? The point is, the best shows on right now are the ones that have characters continually fucking up while making very little progress in the way of real, concrete change.

Which isn’t as depressing as it sounds. There are a lot of messages from media and society that say change is always good. Makeovers! Cleanses! Cosmetic surgery! There’s an entire genre of films where middle-aged, white dudes give up their whole lives to strike out on a new adventure, and an entire sub-genre dedicated to Middle-Aged White Dudes Bailing; Damon, Matt. (In retrospect, perhaps he was running from all of the sexual assailants he was friends with. In which case, lucky he had that Bourne training.) But in real life, the people who are constantly changing their jobs, their interests, their friends, their spouses? They’re a little bit crazy, right?

That’s actually the entire plot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rebecca is miserable, and decides to abandon her life in New York because Josh Chan and West Covina will fix everything. She’s hit that sweet spot where, by changing literally everything, she has to change absolutely nothing. Sure, she might be stuck in some sort of old-timey well (figuratively, the show hasn’t gone that far. Yet), and the only real way out is to slowly and painfully climb to the top, but Becs doesn’t have to worry about that. Because she’s just going to keep flapping her arms as fast as she can until she can fly! Look how hard she’s flapping!

The other problem with Rebecca’s method is that it sort of, a little bit works. In a lot of ways, Rebecca felt better in West Covina. Because even when people are picking things that are terrible for them, they’re picking things that are terrible for them that they like. Case in point? Gretchen hooking up with Jimmy after bailing on Boone and Olivia on You’re The Worst. I knew it was coming, the show so much as told us it was coming, but I still got “oh, honey no!” on her. But of course she’s going to oh, honey no. Because, and bear with me while I try to explain the complexity here, Gretchen really likes Jimmy.

It sounds stupid to say out loud, but people tend to continue in destructive behavior because they really like it. Gretchen doesn’t feel like her problem is that she has such deep-seated issues that she can’t truly connect with people, and avoids honesty and intimacy at every chance. Her problem is that Jimmy left her. She wants him, and he wasn’t there. Now he’s back. So her problem is kind of solved. At least until Jimmy bails again, which will only solidify her belief that she’s inherently unlovable, and will desperately wish Jimmy back into her life (while vocally stating how little she cares about him lest those around her believe her to be weak).

And even if either Rebecca or Gretchen decided to address the deeper underlying issues that are actually making them miserable, that doesn’t mean there’s a lot of actual change to be done. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Followed by lots of steps that identify what the problem actually is, why that problem is preventing you from living the life you want to, what things you could feasibly do to change the problem/your behavior, and then just on a daily basis convincing yourself not to engage in the behavior that you really like to engage in, because at some point in the distant future it might get slightly easier to avoid said behavior. This is probably why Rebecca is still just flapping her arms in that well.

It’s also why the premiere of Shameless this week saw Lip literally running away from his problems. He felt like drinking, so he jogs the seven miles to work. His ex, with whom he’s still in love, is going back to her ex who is an abusive creep. So Lip runs to Professor Youens’ house to begin paying him back for Lip’s rehab. When he’s not running, he’s working. Or hanging out with other former addicts, who consistently talk about not using. And then he goes for a run again.

And he’s doing a great fucking job. Because sometimes change is just getting through the bullshit of one day without doing something stupid so you can wake up tomorrow, and try again to continue not doing stupid things. It’s slow and boring and very often painful. It also doesn’t really make for dynamic TV, but it’s still amazing to watch because it’s significantly truer to life. And remember, life is a gradual series of revelations that occur over a period of time. It’s not some carefully crafted story. It’s a mess, and we’re all gonna die.

Happy Friday.

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