We love TV. No, we really luuuuuuv it.
But like most things we love—our significant others, our children, our best friends, our parents—TV does things that drive us crazy. Myles McNutt (@Memles) has started a movement with his Empty Cup Awards, where he rails against TV characters who pretend to be drinking hot coffee out of a cup when there is obviously nothing in there and they’re doing a lousy job of faking it. I still get mad when I think about Glee completely forgetting about all the characters they introduced in the fourth season during the show’s sixth and final season. (Forgetting the TV characters you created dates back to at least poor Chuck Cunningham, who was never heard from again after the first season of Happy Days.)
We polled our intrepid group of TV contributors to find out what really, really, really bugs them when they’re watching their favorite shows. Here you go!
Women Must Go Into Labor at Dramatically Fraught Moments
From the lightest of sitcoms to the most high-tension dramas, showrunners have insisted from time immemorial that it is of the essence that a pregnant woman only go into labor in a high-stakes, dramatically freighted and/or physically dangerous situation. Labor can’t simply wake a gal up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, because a pregnant woman is always, always a Chekhovian mantelpiece-gun and it has to go off in the third act. Pregnant woman in broken elevator? Expect fluids (and in the case of How to Get Away with Murder, blood) immediately. Pregnant woman in traffic jam? Hope someone knows how to cut an umbilical cord with something in the glovebox. Pregnant woman in abandoned mansion in the woods in an emotional tailspin in a dystopian totalitarian landscape? Offred, honestly, you should have known better than to leave the house: You were pregnant. Even Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a freaking OB/GYN, couldn’t resist the urge to give birth the minute a crowded subway car stalled and trapped her. Needless to say, if there is any form of physical trauma: baby. (Sorry, Daenerys, but you were Pregnant While Dothraki. What’d you expect?) Upshot: If you’re pregnant and a TV character, do not, under any circumstances, get into an argument, run into your ex, live in a seismically active region, drive, or board an airplane. And for the love of Almighty God, however swollen your ankles are, take the damn stairs. —Amy Glynn (Photo: ABC)
Not Understanding How Babies and Kids Work
Once the little bundle of joy arrives (usually in a dramatic fashion, as noted above), TV writers seem not to get how babies and kids work. The Americans will go down as one of my all-time favorite shows, but it drove me batty during the early seasons that Philip and Elizabeth would routinely depart in the middle of the night without even a thought of who would watch their children. (I know it was the 1980s, but still.) The show became infinitely more enjoyable to me once Henry and Paige were old enough to care for themselves. On Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith Grey regularly stays late at work for a surgery or to keep an eye on her patients without even mentioning that perhaps she should let her sitter know. (Or maybe the hospital’s always-open daycare does a night shift, too?) Not to pick on The Mindy Project, but when Mindy bought little Leo home, the parents—both doctors—were intent on child proofing the house. A newborn is not mobile and is incapable of crawling over to an open electrical outlet, something TV shows always forget. An entire episode of black-ish was devoted to Dre and Bow worrying about their one-year-old not walking. When it is drilled into parents that babies accomplish milestones at different rates, Bow—again, a doctor—should have at least known she didn’t have to worry until Devante was 15 to 18 months old. Splitting Up Together really grew on me, but in the season finale, Lena, a mom who they’d spent the whole season letting us know was a tad overprotective, sent all three of her children (including her seven-year-old) to overnight summer camp for the whole summer. And the bus picked them up right in front of their house. Babies facing the wrong way in their car seat. The infant who sleeps through the night except for the one episode where he doesn’t. I could go on and on. My advice? If your show is going to feature children, make sure at least one person in your writers’ room is actually a parent. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: ABC)
There’s Never Traffic and Always a Parking Space
It became something of 24’s charm that our fearless hero Jack Bauer was able to get all over Los Angeles and barely even hit a red light, let alone a traffic jam—because as we all know, the 405 is always free and clear. The gang on 9-1-1 seems to have the same L.A. luck. Unless there’s a pregnant woman in the car or it’s an episode about getting stuck in traffic (as The Middle did last Thanksgiving), characters never seem to be stuck in run-of-the mill traffic. And they can always find parking. Always. Usually in a spot right in front of where they need to be. Going to a restaurant? Park right in front of the door. Even in the famous last shot of The Sopranos, Meadow only had to park across the street. Interviewing a suspect? Pull your car right up like they do everywhere from Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Law & Order: SVU. Driving is always delightful on TV. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: FOX)
Showing Up at Someone’s House Unannounced When a Phone Call Would Suffice
Look, we live in the modern era. You don’t even have to talk to someone if you don’t want to—we email, we text, we send messages via Facebook and Twitter. You know what we don’t do? Arrive at someone’s house or office unannounced to talk to them. But on TV it happens all the time. Characters drive across town (there’s never any traffic, so why not?), knock on someone’s door, and say what could have occurred in a two-minute phone call. This happens often on shows about friends and family. The gang on New Girl did this all the time. So do The Goldbergs. Parenthood was also guilty of this. This consistently happens on The Good Fight, a show I adore. We get it. It’s much more fun to see characters interact than send an email, but once in a while just DM someone. Please. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: CBS All Access)
Presents Are Never Unwrapped
I know it must have something to do with the sound the crinkling of wrapping paper must make, but no character on any TV show has ever unwrapped a fully wrapped present. He or she always takes a wrapped box top off a wrapped box bottom. NO ONE WRAPS PRESENTS LIKE THIS. NO ONE. —Amy Amatangelo
Over My Dead Body
Consider the famous principle of Chekov’s gun: The great Russian playwright and author famously argued that a weapon has no place in a scene unless it’s going to cause some damage. It’s there for subtlety, after a fashion—a way of showing without telling that something ominous will happen. Some shows have adapted this technique well. AMC’s Breaking Bad once did it with a box cutter, and the Season Two finale of FX’s Atlanta toyed with us by letting a gun languish in a backpack throughout the episode before it serves a considerably less nefarious purpose.
Other programs are not as skilled. They insult their audiences’ intelligence with lines like “over my dead body” before the unfortunate character dumb enough to utter those four words inevitably makes good on said threat. And while some series, like say USA’s short-lived Damnation, might feel this term is justified because it foreshadows a death that’s a catalyst to a major conflict, we promise it’s not. You can do better. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Chris Large/USA Network)
The Math Doesn’t Work
It’s obvious now that the Roseanne reboot had lots of problems, but one thing that stuck with me in its first episode back was that Darlene’s daughter, Harris, who was born in the original’s series finale in 1997, was a teenager in the reboot. (Yes, I know the show also brought Dan back from the dead and I’m focusing on the trees, not the forest, but I was accounting major and math being wrong stays with me.) Recently, on Younger, Charles accused Liza of lying to him for months and months, but hasn’t it been years and years? The show is now in its fifth season. Has everything that has happen thus far actually occurred in less than a year? —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: TV Land)
In English, Please!
A trope well-worn enough to be the butt of a Simpsons joke, the assumption that no scientist has ever heard of the phrase “layman’s terms” is as infuriating as hearing otherwise competent protagonists (OK, men—it’s always men) growl “In ENGLISH please?” Computer-proficient characters deserve better and non-experts deserve more intellectual credit! The only good thing that’s ever come from this—which appears in tech-adjacent shows like Alias, Criminal Minds, and NCIS while forming the comedy premise of the dreaded geeksploitation series The Big Bang Theory—is when Dr. Spaceman in 30 Rock says “Now, in layman’s terms… What do you think that means?” —Jacob Oller (Photo: CBS)
Killing Off a Main Character in a Season’s Penultimate Episode
I hate the contrivance that a main character must be eliminated in a season’s second-to-last episode. I’m not saying Game of Thrones bears the brunt of responsibility for this offense, but following up on poor Sean Bean with a whole wedding of pre-finale deaths helped make “penultimate” a scary word for any actors receiving the latest script of their prestige drama. Jerking this narrative rug out from under us an episode earlier than expected—to circumvent claims of a hackneyed cliffhanger—has become a trope of its own (hi, Westworld), just one episode earlier. If anything, this damns the season finale with the complex duty of cleaning up its predecessor’s mess while leaving an end tantalizing enough for viewers to come back next year. —Jacob Oller (Photo: HBO)
When No Text History Appears on the Phones of Characters Who are Friends
On June 10, I sent my lifelong best friend a link to a tweet outlining Fred Rogers’ “Freddish” mode of speaking with children. On my phone’s screen, immediately above that tweet, was the end of a conversation about the biodegradability of snail slime hydrogels from the day before. Infinitely above that were all the texts that we have exchanged in the history of my ownership of this device. Because this is how friendship in the age of instant communication works. Friends who text, text. And—unless you are a monster who thinks “inbox zero” means a completely empty message folder and not just the temporary eradication of little red alerts—those text threads last forever.
BUT NOT ON TELEVISION. On television, it seems, every pair of friends, every set of family members, every possible combination of people who know each other well enough to have each other’s contact information saved—all of them are exactly the kind of monsters who delete every text thread the moment a conversation is finished. That, or they go out and buy new phones like it’s their job. When a show’s plot depends on convincing the audience that its central characters have genuinely deep friendships—especially when those characters are Gen Z teens, like on habitual offenders Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf—then empty text threads are a real distraction. TV! TEXT BETTER. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Screenshot via Freeform)
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .