Be Kind, Rewind: The Unstoppable Rise of “Nicecore” Movies and TV | Culture
OWith the summer break fast approaching, it’s time to declare the winners and losers of the 2021-22 US TV season, and the easiest success story is Abbott Elementary. Creator-star Quinta Brunson’s comedy set in an underfunded Philadelphia public school has an escape favorite in Janelle James as Principal Ava, a locked order for a second season, and a true grassroots fandom that translates to respectable ratings for a network show at this time. Plus, the freshman series has become the new standard-bearer of its genre at a time when the classic half-hour sitcom has been left on life support, its specimens dwindling as eyeballs drift downward. unstructured time of streaming content.
It’s this prominent placement in the perennial conversation on Where TV Comedy Is at Right Now that makes Abbott Elementary’s particular structuring absences all the more noticeable and uplifting. Often enough to be impossible to ignore, the show’s writing leaves its viewer waiting for a comedic beat that either never comes, or just doesn’t scan. In episode seven, Brunson’s upbeat teacher Janine faces a difficult choice between doing her job and impressing her hipster friend who has come to teach art at Abbott. Wise senior teacher Melissa praises Janine for her responsible decision-making, saying, “Being a real person is more important than being cool, and you’re a real person, who owes me 75 copies of Peter Rabbit before next year.” They hug, and even with that last sentence added to give a bit of a head start on the moment, a passing Ava isn’t wrong when she rolls her eyes at the “very special episode” unfolding before her. . There are many cases along these lines, in which the almighty imperative to make people laugh is pushed into the background in favor of the serious or the morally instructive – and that’s the key to its popularity.
Abbott’s magnetic messaging aligns him with a recent spike in good mood that has overtaken major parts of the mainstream. As the delicate Coda battled with the somewhat stoic Power of the Dog for Best Picture at the Oscars in March, industry pundits narrowed the choice down to a matter of soft versus steel (soft won, sure). Likewise, Apple’s darling Ted Lasso cleaned up the Emmys on a crowd-pleasing wave of downtrodden optimism. Indie action bonanza Everything Everywhere All at Once is currently hitting sleeper status as its box office hovers week after week, buoyed by waves of viewers. breathless tweeter on his calls to reject nihilism and embrace love. As much as these varied titles are linked by the warm temperament of the texts themselves, their most important commonality lies in the way they are received and discussed.
As a reasonably enjoyable way to go from 30 minutes to two and a half hours, this canon poses little threat to itself, and yet its reception is still symptomatic of a proliferating and disturbing tendency to celebrate the beautiful things simply. to be nice. It doesn’t take much squinting to see why stocks of kindness have risen in the recent past, with Americans demoralized by the stressors of Trumpism, the pandemic, the spread of the Masked Singer, et al. While the urge to wind down at the end of a long, exhausting day at work with something undemanding and comforting is entirely understandable, it’s rarely the rationale given by those in this bloc. of viewing. If social media is any indication, being Pure of Heart puts the Works of Kindness beyond fellow reviewers’ reproach in fan estimation. (And the unsavory corollary to that idea sees some of those viewers extending that same privilege to themselves, as if positioning themselves on the ethical right side of a loosely defined culture war being waged over who has bad politics.)
The movement’s major entries gathered under the neologism “nicecore” have legions of supporters ready to dive into any bad word directed at their favorite, and to do so in aggrieved and aggressive terms that don’t suit the good vibes that they defend so vocally (a now-deleted semi-viral tweet claims anyone who disliked Coda was “an empty, empty person”. This kindness is ultimately used as a cudgel, proof that anyone who resists it is a joyless misanthrope who prefers to cower with Come and See. (Or, uh, Tarantino.) In the Community Taking the Piss episode of Glee, one of the TV medium’s great feats of self-criticism, a diehard asks a non-believer, “How can you hate Glee?” It literally means ‘joy’!” Those who don’t respond to salvos of positivism are cold-hearted snobs; those who aren’t interested in watching at all are bad sports. There’s a bitter irony in watching dozens of ‘strangers champion the virtues of goodwill chew you up in language usually reserved for the bleachers of baseball games.
Again, it’s hard to object too strongly to something when it gives so many people, but the supporters have made it much easier by turning preferences on art into a referendum on character. If I were inclined to encounter them in such uncharitable grounds, the answer would probably go something like this: the fierce attachment and protectiveness of kindness is a sign of weakness, of needing to be pampered as literally and directly as possible. That is, obligatory kindness compels an equal and opposite reaction of meanness, which is not the way I prefer to live. Beautiful things are indeed beautiful, to quote a big-hearted show that’s studied enough in its attitude to exclude itself from this trend. This is an oversized market share in the pop culture conversation without the clout to maintain its reputation as what we need right now. The saying online about the importance of letting people like things goes both ways, the right to dislike things is equally sacred.