tv commentary: up all night…are we really that lame?

Paul and I have been trying to watch some of this season’s new sitcoms. We actually quite like “New Girl”, even though I already lived that plotline, and it wasn’t THAT funny. We have also been watching “Up All Night”, because LOOK IT’S ABOUT PEOPLE LIKE US. Specifically, it’s a show about people in their 30s who got used to living their lives, and going out a lot, and then had a baby. OOPS HILARITY.

Last week, on the episode where Regan (Christina Applegate) has her age “outed” by her mother, we were surprised to hear it was only 36. This led to an extensive discussion about, well, WTF? Paul is turning 36 this year, and I’m 33, and as I put it, “are we seriously that lame?”

Let me clarify. “Up All Night” is rife with pop culture references – but they’re references to pop music from almost twenty years ago. During the “Birth” episode, Chris (Will Arnett) accidentally plays his workout mix instead of the birth mix, and the lead track is Cypress Hill. Two minutes before then, Regan belts our a couple tracks of that 1995 classic, “Lightning Crashes”. When rock-star neighbors move in, Regan jumps for a Radiohead reference as the coolest band she can think of. In an episode where they drunkenly buy an A-Team type van, Chris is horrified when the tape deck eats his Spin Doctors tape. It’s like these people are mired in the 90s…and not even the GOOD part of the 90s.

This led me to explain to Paul my theory on the difference between listening to the 90s alternative station on Sirius, and listening to the 90s hits station. I listen to “Lithium” because they are more likely to be playing music I like. Yes, there’s an element of nostalgia there, but most of the 90s alt-rock is genuinely awesome. But if I was listening to 90s pop music, I’d be doing so for the emotional association with the music, because there’s zero justification for listening to a lot of Top 40 otherwise.

My theory is that, if someone is listening to music for memory’s sake, and not for the quality of the music in question, then it’s because they’re trying to recapture their past. And that, to me, also indicates a sense of “giving up”, because the individual is no longer trying to find new quality music, but is retreating only to that which is a known quantity. It’s even sadder when the band of memory and nostalgia is limited to that youth period that ends with college graduation.

So. Since these are not real people in question, but amalgams of a demographic that NBC is targeting, is our generation really so lame that we need a show riddled with references to music that is not only outdated, but wasn’t that good at the time? Last week’s episode had references to the Smiths’ “Meat is Murder”, and featured a classic Depeche Mode track (“Blasphemous Rumours”), so it’s not all terrible. But does NBC assume that our generation is so mired in nostalgia that Radiohead is the hottest band we can come up with? Isn’t that like an issue of Real Simple mentioning Kings of Leon: grasping at straws?

“Seriously,” I asked Paul, “are we that lame?”

“Well, what do we listen to?” Paul asked me.

I stopped and thought about that. “You know, it isn’t that we’re on top of new bands exactly. It’s that we didn’t stop trying to find new music after we hit our mid-20s.” This is true. Both of us not only stayed reasonably on top of new bands, but also went back and re-discovered a lot of stuff from before our times. I can slap together a Rhapsody random playlist and have it cover everything from Sisters of Mercy to Scissor Sisters. Paul can throw together everything from the Buzzcocks to Cut Copy. Both of us consider finding new music a life-long priority.

So. Is our generation so exhausted by the masses of media out there that we have retreated into listening to what was popular in the 90s? Is our generation so lame that Radiohead is the best reference we can come up with? Or are the NBC writers so lazy that they can’t be bothered to find out what actual late 30 somethings listen to, and are making assumptions on what won’t scare their audience?

On the bright side, I now feel extraordinarily hip and, well, young. That’s now why I watch “Up All Night” – it makes me feel like the hipster I’m actually too old and out of it to be.

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