Violence Debate Is Thing Of The Past As TV's Bloodlust Grows

How inured are we now to depictions of bloodletting in our TV shows and movies?

We are so used to seeing depictions of violent acts and their bloody aftermath that a bloody photo like the one above was actually made available by the USA Network p.r. department to publicize this new show.

The bloody figure in the picture is Jessica Biel, who stars as a woman who suddenly and inexplicably stabs someone to death, leaving her covered in this person’s blood. The mystery then becomes not who did it, but why she did it.

The show is called “The Sinner,” and it is a new “edgy” drama premiering Wednesday night on USA Network.

The word “edgy” is in quotation marks here because it is not an adjective I like to use. However, the TV industry uses it with abandon to describe shows such as this one. Its use usually means a show will be violent, sexual, and in many cases, intends to explore the dark side of the human psyche.



To the makers of these shows and their networks, “edginess” is seen as a trait well worth pursuing and promoting. To me, “edginess” signals a TV viewing experience that figures to be, in many cases, dreary, uncomfortable, unsettling and, basically, very low on my list of things I like to do.

The older I get the more I keep thinking that this is where I part company with so many other people who seem to revel in TV shows that come along regularly these days on basic cable, pay-cable and SVOD that all exhibit a high-octane mix of blood and sex.

Along with these graphic elements, they often have pretensions of delving deeply into the abyss of human emotions. “The Sinner” is one of these.

USA Network provided three episodes for preview, but the pilot was enough for me. I thought the show was horrible, but as with many other shows that make me wish I had never watched them, this one might appeal to the same people referenced above for whom no amount of bloodletting or anti-social behavior is enough.

The above photo notwithstanding, the entire premiere episode of “The Sinner” is not particularly bloody, although the murder scene more than makes up for that.

Along the way, you will also be introduced to a police detective played by Bill Pullman who has a secret, kinky, obsessive-compulsive sex life. Why is this important to the story? Well, maybe the answer becomes apparent in future episodes, which means it’s doubtful I will ever learn it.

The story in “The Sinner” takes place in smallish town where everybody seems to know each other. The time frame is summer, with some of the scenes taking place on a lakefront public beach that is evidently popular with families.

It’s the kind of summer fun many people here in the real world are having at this very moment, as a matter of fact.

I cannot speak for them, but if it was me enjoying some summer leisure activities on a beach somewhere, then the last thing I would want to do is spend part of a lovely summer evening in the first week of August plumbing the depths of this murderous woman’s depravity.

But hey, that’s just me -- a TV critic in his 50s who is old enough to remember when debates raged over the violence on television, and people actually cared.

“The Sinner” premieres Wednesday (August 2) at 10 p.m. Eastern on USA Network.

4 comments about "Violence Debate Is Thing Of The Past As TV's Bloodlust Grows".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, August 1, 2017 at 10:13 a.m.

    Adam, as I am sure you know, in the past whenever TV programmers went overboard on violence---as happened in the 1955-1960 period and again, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the public soon became satiated with these types of programming, just as people tired of too many "tell it like it is" sitcoms, too many silly sci-fi shows, etc. In all cases, too much of a good thing, with hordes of copy cat fare filling our TV screens, eventually resulted in a sharp drop in the ratings. I wonder whether the same thing will happen with TV's so-called "edgy" dramas---full of violence, gore and sex? ( For more on this, check out my book, "TV Now and Then" which chronicles the rise and fall of many TV programming genres. )

  2. Marc Goldstein from Media Solutions LLC, August 1, 2017 at 12:10 p.m.

    In the past virtually all the criticism about violence was directed solely toward the broadcast networks with organizations putting out lists of advertisers who sponsored violent shows. Broadcast networks did modify how some scenes were shot, showing a gun going off but not the results on the victim, placing "violent shows" either at 10p or occasionally 9p as well as other steps to ease advertiser concerns. However, original cable content did whatever they wanted and resulted in a double standard, which to some extent continues today although broadcast nets have expanded their visual depiction of violence but not to the extent that cable does. Marc

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 1, 2017 at 2:51 p.m.

    Marc, you make a good point about all of the criticism regarding too much violence, too much sex, etc. being directed against the broadcast TV networks. This is not surprising as in the 1950-1970s period, the three broadcast networks had a virtual monopoly on primetime viewership.You are also right about the seeming lack of concern about sleazy or "objectional" program content on cable, which must be, in part, a reflection on the relatively smaller size of the per telecast audience of most cable shows---as percieved by the critics, who must still think that the broadcast networks dominate commercial TV. In one sense, they are correct as the broadcast networks are still the biggies in TV, albeit shadows of their former selves in terms of "dominance". It may also be that we as a nation have changed---some might say "fragmented" into many small segments of self concerned "me first" groups, rather than being concerned about the general good---whatever that is. This may preclude a wave of cricitism about many of the really vulgar or, to be kind, over the top, content that we now see on cable, to say nothing of SVOD sources. So, maybe nothing will happen and we will drift into a situation where anything goes---or almost anything, as there may be limits to what even the most devoted "age of me" types can stomach.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 2, 2017 at 9:33 a.m.

    Ed, you rang the bells, albeit, the headphones are on.

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