Culture Clips: The Peak TV Edition

Yes, 2017 still has its New Year smell. Nothing’s gone critically amiss yet, and we still have a little breathing room to ponder what happened in the year just gone by. And while perhaps we might differ on whether 2016 was good or bad, there’s one thing we can all agree on. We sure had an awful lot to watch on television.

Television (using that term broadly, of course, given today’s multitude of platforms and streaming options) served up 455 scripted shows in 2016, according to a study by FX. That’s an all-time record, and an 8% increase over just one year, says Entertainment Weekly. And consider this: In 2009, just seven years ago, there were only 210 scripted shows for us to choose from. (Frankly, as Plugged In’s resident television critic, I think I deserve a raise.)

What were people watching? According to Nielsen ratings parsed by Slate, we sure loved our fantastical dramas like AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld. Moms tended to tune to dramas on the cable network OWN, rich folks dig FX’s The Americans, and people who consume a lot of caffeine watch more Scream Queens than the rest of us, for some reason. Oh, and while the streaming service Netflix doesn’t dole out ratings, exactly, lots of folks watched Stranger Things—so much so that some of the kids on the show have gotten, um, marriage proposals. But even as Netflix has arguably been 2016’s buzziest “television” outlet, some wonder whether its identity is getting a little muddy in the process.

Some also wonder whether all these scripted shows are such a good thing, though. Kelly Lawler at USA Today asked several television experts about whether television violence as “finally gone too far.” Some experts suggest that, in an increasingly cluttered television landscape, violence can be a way for a TV show to stand out in the crowd. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to be scaring away advertisers like it once did. Oh, and then there’s this: One of television’s most violent shows, Game of Thrones, was once again named the most pirated television show of the year. Violence sells, apparently.

But there’s always the chance that someone could take their TV a little too seriously, as was the case with one man who pulled a gun on his family because they were, apparently, watching a show he didn’t like.

While many say that 2016 was, on balance, a pretty awful year, it wasn’t awful for everybody. Scarlett Johansson was named by Forbes magazine as the top-grossing actor of the year, thanks to her turns in Captain America: Civil War and Hail, Caesar! All told, movies that had Johansson in them raked in $1.2 billion in 2016. And if you count films where her voice made an appearance, such as Sing and The Jungle Book, you can pump those earnings up to $2.3 billion.

Meanwhile, some other stars were making headlines in more spiritual ways. Passengers star Chris Pratt cut a $500,000 check to a Boys & Girls Club center in his hometown of Lake Stevens, Wash., encouraging people on Facebook, “Be the instrument God uses to bless your community.” Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington talked about his faith in a clip shared by musician Jermaine Dupri. “It doesn’t matter what you have, what matters is what you do with what you have … with what God has given you,” he said.

Oh, and turns out, Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg isn’t an atheist anymore. “I was raised jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important,” he wrote in response to a Facebook user. (Alas, too much social media still isn’t particularly positive for its young users. According to a new study, kids between the ages of 10 to 15 who spend even as little as an hour a day on social media can apparently bum them out.)

Let’s close out this blog with one of the strangest news stories I’ve seen in a while. Remember that 1990s movie Shazaam? You know, the one that starred comedian Sinbad as a genie? Well, forget about it. Even though a staggering number of people have incredibly vivid recollections of the film, the movie never existed. Go figure.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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