Television Characters Are Becoming Alcoholics

Is excessive drinking on TV realistic? Does it matter?

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"Television has a drinking problem," remarks Alessandra Stanley in today's New York Times as she proceeds to rattle off the long list of prime time television shows that feature alcohol as a main character. But despite popular recovery shows like Intervention and Celebrity Rehab that portray the absolute rock bottom of substance abuse, it's the shows whose characters are considered relatively productive members of society that really give alcohol a starring role.

Stanley is not the only one to observe television's alcoholic tendencies. In honor of Mad Men's Season Four finale this October, The Daily Beast's Kara Cutruzzula tracked the number of drinks consumed by each of the show's characters, even making a chart of who drank what, when, and how much. But the cast of Mad Men aren't the only ones reeking of booze, and now Cutruzzula assesses Prime Time's Biggest Drunks every week. From reality shows to scripted drama, TV's most popular characters are drinking heavily--and people are starting to notice.

  • Family Holidays Don't Stop the Housewives from Drinking  Cutruzzula observed some of TV's biggest drinkers taking it easy this week, perhaps because of Thanksgiving. A certain group of Atlanta Housewives, however, managed to keep drinking through the holiday. "On Kandi's webcam talk show 'Kandi-Coated Nights,' writes Cutruzzula, "the ladies appeared plenty drunk when a leopard pant-clad stripper gyrated them through the closing credits. Kim almost always drinks red--the only time she abstained this week was while helping her 13-year-old daughter pick out an abstinence ring. While taste-testing Appleton soy marinated tenderloin and mango cake for their wedding, Cynthia and Peter drank Champagne and white wine."
  • The Drunk Joke Is Overdone  How realistic is television's portrayal of regular alcohol consumption? "People booze it up more wantonly on television than ever before, but there is an element of denial in even the most extreme depictions," Stanley observes. "In real life drinking is fun until it's not. Most television shows can't deal with that kind of contradiction." Today's comedies such as Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother, the modern day versions of Seinfeld and Friends, drink significantly more than their 90's counterparts who hung out in coffee shops and diners, Stanley points out. "Inebriation on network television is a little like masturbation: a once-taboo topic that is now joked about so much that it's almost a cliche."
  • But TV's Not Supposed to be Realistic  Slate's Tom Scocca responds to Stanley's above piece, reminding us that realistic television isn't always entertaining. For example:
Why isn't there more television programming that shows a person having two beers at a party and then talking to a few people he or she wouldn't otherwise have talked to? And then they go out for aother beer and some burgers and the person wants to tip 20 percent on his or her share of a $47.23 check, split three ways, but all he or she has is 20s from the ATM, and--shoot, all the other people have are 20s, too, so can the waitress--where's the waitress? Can she break a 20--no, two 20s--no, wait, one's OK, right? Three fives and five ones? Why is drinking on television so simplified and...dramatic?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.