jessica June 21, 2018

Nihilism has got a real bad rep on the mean streets of pop culture. It’s usually boiled down to “Nothing really matters, so why bother doing good things?” which usually manifests in the “villainous nihilist” stereotype. Anton from No Country For Old Men is a violently efficient nihilist, giving speeches about how life and death are as meaningless as a coin flip.

One of the best things I’ve ever seen on TV was the Rick And Morty (i.e. subject of the deadly Szechuan Sauce Riots of 2017) episode “Rixty Minutes.” Summer, Morty’s older sister, discovers that her birth was an accident which, it appears, made her parents’ lives worse. Morty then confides in her that he’s not the guy she thinks he is, and that he’s actually a Morty from another dimension who replaced the Morty she knew after his death. He ends this story by saying, “Don’t run. Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die. Come watch TV.”

That’s where they leave it. There’s no happy, “This was all meant to happen!” revelation later. She has to come to terms with the fact that nothing was meant to happen … and that’s OK. That is, in fact, the running theme of Rick And Morty. Yes, life has no higher meaning and nothing ultimately matters, except the things that matter to you. Rick, being a godlike multidimensional supergenius, knows for a fact that nothing was meant to happen. But he once killed a jellybean king because he suspected he had tried to molest Morty. It’s, uh, a little hard to convey out of context.

Steven is the titular character in a show about himself and his fantastical gem-themed buds protecting the world from a rogue’s gallery of gem-themed villains. Steven is a bubbly, quipping action hero who dispatches bad guys the way you’d expect a cartoon character to. And then comes the episode “Mindful Education.”

TV shows will spend multiple episodes devoted to helping a teenage boy out with his sudden outbreak of boners. Tim Allen’s favorite thing in the world is to sit down and explain that shit to whoever happens to have been tricked into playing his son at the time. But girls hitting puberty is usually translated into one of two equally inept tropes. They either mature beyond their age and start doing stuff like sleeping with teachers (like in a bizarre number of teenage shows), or are rendered as unattractive punching bags (like Meg on Family Guy, who is hated for simply existing).

Tina on Bob’s Burgers is an anomaly. She’s unabashedly curious about sex in a way that’s not supposed to be sexy to the audience or the men she’s interested in. That’s where most TV shows stumble. Because a character is trying to wade through the swamps of her own sexuality, writers decide that we need to find her sexy as well, or at least adorable — otherwise, she’s a punchline. (“Can you imagine if unattactive people wanted to have sex?”) This is Tina:

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