Counting On: Meet the Duggars 2.0

Jill and Jessa 2

You probably heard by now, TLC has ordered a full season of Jill and Jessa: Counting On. If you didn’t know, I’m sorry to ruin your day. (But are you really that surprised? I did tell you this could happen and be successful.) But do not dismiss TLC’s continued commitment to the Duggars 2.0; this family and every nuanced aspect of their brand matters more than ever before.

Perhaps you have caught on to the extreme conservatism (and extreme progressivism for that matter) holding the United States hostage right now. The Duggars, as public evangelicals whose sole purpose is to normalize fundamentalist Christianity, are contributors to and a byproduct of the public sphere currently reshaping American politics and ideologies. Beyond that, as I’ve written before, 19 Kids and Counting and now Jill and Jessa: Counting On are part of a larger, complex media system. As much as you might hate the Duggars’ presence, they’re sticking around for a reason. Continue reading “Counting On: Meet the Duggars 2.0”

Advertisements

Freeform: A Network for Becomers (And That Evangelical)

freeform

Have you heard about Freeform? If you haven’t, then you’re probably not invested in Pretty Little Liars’ five-year jump. (Seriously, can anyone explain how Alison is a high school English teacher?)

Announced in October, Freeform is the new and improved, edgy teenage version of ABC Family. It’s a less wholesome kind of family with more of exactly what ABC Family has been producing since 2010, when PLL became the network’s staple show. Unlike Secret Life of the American Teenager,  current shows like Switched at Birth, Chasing Life and The Fosters present complicated and poignant portrayals of young adulthood and families without preaching or pandering. Nevertheless, the rebrand is a necessary shift for ABC Family, a cable network whose key audience has changed and whose brand identity has always been… wait for it… freeform. According to Variety, Freeform “marks a continued effort to evolve the young-skewing network past traditional family viewing and toward its target audience of “Becomers,” a network-coined term defined as those in the life stage spanning ages 14 to 34”.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK7US0Hk4lU]

That’s right, “becomers” and no, it doesn’t make sense to me either. The ABC Family executives’ rationale behind the term is a head-scratcher but such is the nature of network rebranding, which typically occurs during times of crises. Yet, there are more prevailing concerns about ABC Family’s relaunch and it connects to one of favorite my topics: the relationship between American evangelicalism and media companies. Continue reading “Freeform: A Network for Becomers (And That Evangelical)”

Matriarchy Wins: Law and Order: SVU Takes on the Duggars

Law and Order: SVU - Meet the Bakers. Starring the dad from Two of a Kind.
Law and Order: SVU – Meet the Bakers. Starring the dad from Two of a Kind.

In October,  NBC announced  Law and Order: SVU would tackle the Duggar family scandal. In spite of almost never watching SVU, I immediately knew this episode would capture my attention. (Gee, I wonder why?)

No other reality TV family has broadcast as many lies, secrets and falsehoods as the Duggars. They are the perfect public figures to build a standard, ripped-from-the-headlines, whodunit narrative around. But this episode of SVU presents an elaborate fantasy. The path the fictional patriarch and matriarch take to healing and redemption is unlikely to ever unfold in the real world space the Duggars occupy. Continue reading “Matriarchy Wins: Law and Order: SVU Takes on the Duggars”

The End of Degrassi, The End of an Era

degrassi season 1
Degrassi: The Next Generation – Season 1

When I list my favorite TV series – E.R., Mad Men, Sports Night, Friday Night Lights, Freaks and Geeks, The Good Wife – I always mention Degrassi. I love including Degrassi partly because I enjoy watching someone process how a Canadian teen soap can possibly be on par with more high brow television. I also include Degrassi because it is a damn good television show that often gets passed over simply because it is about teenagers.

You can imagine my disappointment when news broke yesterday that Degrassi: The Next Generation would end its run on TeenNick and MTVCanada after 14 seasons. (Keep in mind, it seems likely that Degrassi will find a new home. Creator Stephen Stohn also tweeted something rather cryptic this morning.) Regardless of what happens next, I’m way more bummed about the mere possibility of Degrassi-less future than a 27-year-old woman should be.

Ironically, although I have an unabashed love for many teen shows (namely Skins), I didn’t start watching Degrassi:The Next Generation until I was in college. Netflix happened to be streaming some of the early seasons and I quickly got drawn into this television universe inhabited by totally normal looking teenagers. By the time Paige was dealing with trauma after being raped and Manny had an abortion at age 14, I was hooked.

Accidents Will Happen (Season 3)
“Accidents Will Happen” (Season 3)

Since my initial binge watch, I’ve caught up on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. I’ve fallen in love with so many characters and friendships. Ellie Nash is my long lost emo Canadian soul sister. I cried over J.T.’s death. I wanted better for Anya. I hated then loved Holly J. I shipped Eclare at first but I am totally over their relationship now. I could care less about some characters (sorry Chantal) and I will never understand Spemma (Does anyone??). And somehow after all this time, I’m never dissatisfied by an episode of Degrassi. Except maybe when Clare was hooking up with her almost stepbrother.

Everything imaginable has happened at Degrassi High. Abusive parents, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, cancer, murders, cyber bullying, mental illness, school shootings, gang violence, questionable sexy times in the Ravine. Hell, the school practically burned down in the Season 14A finale. What’s amazing is that it took 369 episodes for that to happen.

Unlike so many teen shows, Degrassi has never been out of touch. Thanks to its longevity, it has tackled issues well before they were cultural norms. Lately, the series has been eons ahead of most shows in its representations of teenage sexuality and mental illness.

Fiona and Imogen became a (short-lived) power couple.

fimogen

Cam, a hockey player, struggled to adapt to Degrassi and committed suicide.

Adam, a transgender student, fought for acceptance and then died while texting and driving.

Adam_1

These narratives, which are so prevalent in the high school experience, have been normalized and validated through the lens of Degrassi. Only The Fosters and sometimes Switched at Birth are consistently on par with Degrassi. Most other teen shows, with their weirdly too old and attractive casts, are too over-the-top and have too many vampires/werewolves/pretty little liars to really feel like authentic representations of being a teenager.

Degrassi has been around for so long now, many fans simply tune in for pure nostalgia. It’s been remarkable to read over the past day how many people actually care that Degrassi could end. I suppose there was always a sense that Degrassi, kind of like the real high school you went to, would be lingering in the background until you were ready to let go completely.

19 Kids and Counting: Why A Duggar Spinoff Could Work

I’ve never understood this marketing campaign.
I’ve never understood this marketing campaign.

The Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting are many things. They are an unorthodox family. They are Conservatives. They are public Evangelicals. They are hypocrites.

In the week since InTouch Weekly published the police report about Josh Duggar’s acts of child molestation, tabloids, advertisers and networks have been quick to respond. You can no longer stream episodes on either Hulu or TLC.com. The latest issue of People, typically the Duggars #1 fan, also covers the scandal.

Casually pretending to not have a symbiotic relationship with the Duggars.
People Magazine: Casually pretending to not have a symbiotic relationship with the Duggars.

There are also rumors that TLC is considering developing a 19 Kids and Counting spinoff, which would focus on daughters Jill and Jessa.

I know what you’re thinking. How can TLC possibly be considering a spinoff? Hasn’t this family already gotten away with enough hypocrisy?

First, as I have previously written, 19 Kids and Counting is TLC and Discovery’s most profitable show. The network and mass media company will go to great lengths to keep any Duggars on television. Second, a spinoff centered around the Duggar daughters could be intriguing reality television and a potentially genius move.

For those not up on the lives of every Duggar, Jill and Jessa are both married and starting families. (Jill gave birth in May; Jessa is due in November.) They are also presumed to be two of their brother’s victims.

Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard
Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard

After 200 episodes, 19 Kids and Counting has become boring reality television. Like really boring. When the Duggars 2.0 began courtships, engagements, and families of their own, the show’s plots became redundant. There are only so many wedding and birth episodes a viewer can take. Even before the scandal broke, the show needed a major shake up. Obviously a child molestation scandal is a terrible way to generate new story material and interest in a long running series, but that is exactly what is happening. (Or at least, what TLC is presumably hoping will happen.)

Now consider this. The Duggars have gone to great lengths to keep much of their public lives and agenda separate from the image purported by their reality show. Even as the Duggars 2.0 began using social media (something they can’t do until they begin a courtship) and revealed their strong conservative political/social beliefs, the show itself remained rooted in the idea that the Duggars are just an abnormally large family living the American Dream. But the truth has come out and the aftermath is potentially devastating for both the Duggars and TLC.

For a spinoff to be successful and worthy of any viewers time, Jim Bob, Michelle and Josh must be removed completely. Josh Duggars deserves no platform to redeem himself. Neither do Jim Bob or Michelle, who have little purpose on their own show. (Their oldest daughters do most of the actual child rearing.)

If the focus does shift to Jill and Jessa, then the sisters must be as open and honest about their past as possible. The spinoff cannot keep any secrets from audiences anymore. Abuse is an unspoken reality about life in as an Evangelical. Because Evangelical churches are patriarchal institutions, abusers are protected from ramifications. For any Duggar to publicly discuss their experiences as abuse victims would rock the house of Bill Gothard, so to speak.

19 Kids and Counting has spent nearly a decade masking extreme patriarchy behind a veil of Christian family values. So yes, a Duggar spinoff centered around the Duggar women would be revolutionary. And if handled properly, it is the kind of show that might actually earn the (some) Duggars actual respect.

(An alternative scenario for a spinoff, and there are many, is perhaps more likely. But I prefer to imagine a Duggar spinoff as close to Breaking Duggar as possible.)