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‘The Great Indoors,’ Or Why Great TV Is About Uniting, Not Dividing

TCA: A heated discussion over an upcoming CBS sitcom clarified one universal truth about the shows we love.

"The Great Indoors."

“The Great Indoors.”

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Given its perception as an older-skewing network, it’s hardly a shock that it would be CBS day at the Television Critics Association press tour which highlighted the disconnect between generations — and just how damaging that might be to the show’s odds, and television in general.

The upcoming Joel McHale sitcom “The Great Indoors” features the former “Community” star as a “Generation X” outdoorsman whose return to civilization puts him in close contact with a group of “Millennials.” Putting these generational labels in quotes is a deliberate choice because of how often the terms get thrown around — not just in the pilot, but in general discussion of the show. The show’s portrait of those born roughly between 1982 to 1995 features a lot of jokes about PC culture and social media, with the under-30 cast largely portrayed as “coddled.”

Perhaps as a result, reaction amongst critics to the TCA “The Great Indoors” panel highlighted a generational gap that hadn’t flared up once in the 14 relatively peaceful days prior.

“It’s very much about different generations teaching each other things, and there’s absolutely as much fun being made of each other, and that’s what makes it such a joyous show,” star Susannah Fielding said in the panel.

Chris Harris, Mike Gibbons, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Ko, Shaun Brown. Front Row: Chris Williams, Joel McHale, Susannah Fielding, Stephen Fry.

Chris Harris, Mike Gibbons, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Ko, Shaun Brown. Front Row: Chris Williams, Joel McHale, Susannah Fielding, Stephen Fry.

Monty Brinton/CBS

But the actual pilot doesn’t showcase much of that joy. So when younger critics, including Variety’s Sonia Saraiya, asked about the show’s anti-millennial attitude, the conversation got combative, with executive producer Mike Gibbons scolding Saraiya for interrupting him (even though, while there was a great deal of cross-talk at that moment, there’s no clear evidence that she actually did).

And in classic TCA tradition, the backchannel conversation on Twitter showed a clear disconnect between older critics and younger over whether millennials were being overly sensitive to the criticism that millennials are overly sensitive.

It’s a debate without easy answers, beyond acknowledging that by accentuating the differences between groups of people, the end result may be war. And beyond the broader sociopolitical issues that raises, it doesn’t make for particularly great television.

It’s why the discussion around “diversity” at TCAs has shifted in the last two weeks from being about “how do we make sure there’s minority representation on television?” to “how do we make television feel like an inclusive space where all stories are worthy of being told?” In fact, look to the word “inclusion” to be the new watchword when it comes to this issue.

And the kind of attitude that speaks to inclusion over diversity has wider-reaching focus. When the entire premise of your television show is predicated on the notion of “us versus them,” it creates the sort of division that isn’t particularly funny, and more than that isn’t particularly conducive to television that’s actually fun to watch for even just 22 minutes, let alone seven seasons.

The truly great TV shows, at the end of the day, have at their core the formation and maintenance of families, whether they be made, forged or found. From the mob family of “The Sopranos” to the Scooby gang of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to the friends of “Friends,” the shows which inspire us to tune in are the ones which offer that sort of heart to which we can bond.

You can make the argument that eventually “The Great Indoors” will ease away from its condescending attitude toward the millennial generation and instead focus on highlighting its talented cast, including Christopher Mintz-Plasse and the legendary Stephen Fry. But if there’s no story engine beyond the fact that different generations don’t get along, then the show won’t be around to entertain whatever generation will be next.

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