Pop Culture

When TV Shows Get a Little Too Real

One of my favorite shows, Southland, aired its finale a few weeks ago. Following various LAPD officers and detectives as they do their jobs, it was dropped by NBC after its first season because it was “too gritty” for a network. It really has blossomed over on TNT, where the cops can swear and not get bleeped, blood can be shown after a suspect gets shot, etc.

I don’t watch the show because of the gory parts; I like it because it feels real and raw and the actors are all fantastic. If there happens to be a particularly bloody scene, like when a detective was hit by a gangster with a bat, I cringed but kept watching because it was over fast and was an integral part of the show. This season, though, things got out of hand and I actually had to question if I could finish an episode.

The episode that got to me involved two officers being kidnapped by meth addicts who are suffering from severe paranoia. Convinced that the officers had tracking devices hidden inside their bodies, the two deranged men started doing everything they could to find one. I won’t go into too many details, but lots of blood and screaming was involved, and before the episode was through, an officer was shot and killed by a bullet to the brain.

It was an unnerving episode because of the violence, and I was actually afraid I would have nightmares when I fell asleep (the show is on at 10 p.m.). It was a harrowing hour, because everything felt so realistic and I honestly had no idea how it was all going to end. You get emotionally invested in this program, and I was drained not only by worrying about the characters, but also the graphic depiction of a shooting.

I ended up not turning the show off, but I don’t think I could have handled much more. I get that nasty stuff happens out on the streets, but there comes a point where I can’t stand to look at a battered body any longer. Everyone else I know who watches the show agreed that it went well past their comfort zone, and one did actually have to turn it off. I don’t know what else they would have had to do for me to turn the channel, and frankly, I don’t want to know.

Is there a threshold you have for violence on television? Have you ever been so turned off by a show you refuse to watch it ever again? That’s definitely not what happened here ““ I still love the show and will tune in when it comes back ““ but I can see why some people would be scared away. Share your thoughts in the comments.

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

11 replies on “When TV Shows Get a Little Too Real”

I watched both those episodes and was absolutely heartbroken. I think the episode that disturbed me most though was when said officer was bitten in the neck by a speed freak and lived to tell about it.

The closest I’ve come to giving up a show was Criminal Minds. There have been at least two episodes that left me curled up in the fetal position on the floor because of how graphic and disturbing they were, how much they got away with on a broadcast channel!

The episodes that freaked me out were…


The marionette episode of this season and last season’s episode where a serial killer was giving his victims hysterectomies. They obviously couldn’t show what he did but that they made sure to talk about it in excruciating detail. I’m surprised I still watch. I can even predict when the episode is gonna traumatize me and yet I go back for me. I have serious issues.

I like horror movies and similar shows, but I can’t do too much gore. I’ll turn away if I know it’s coming (and since I watch everything on netflix/hulu, I check a few particular web reviews to figure out what I’ll want to not see).

Otherwise, That One Episode of Buffy has a good ten minutes that I skip. Y’all know which one I mean. The one before Spike leaves Sunnydale freaked out at his own behavior. Yeah. That one. I can’t.

It really depends. I can’t watch SVU like I used to, but with shows Supernatural and Vampire Diaries, it’s somehow OK because it’s all a story and I just have to suspend my disbelief for an hour. I do better with Elementary and Sherlock because Sherlock Holmes offers a lot of reassurance that everything is going to be OK.

I think the only reason I made it through Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is because I had read the book so I knew to expect it. In that case I was actually more relieved that it wasn’t at all erotic but was portrayed as the violent act that it is. The only time I’ve had this experience is in the first episode of Homeland. There’s a scene that borders on spousal rape, which just turned me off from the entire show. Thankfully it’s not my regular genre anyway so I let my boyfriend watch it on the days we weren’t hanging out, and made him find something funny to watch with me instead.

I have to turn a show or movie off for a certain level of violence, especially if it’s against women so the one scene in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gets a skip. Also any horror with a religious element to it is also skipped (thank you Southern Baptist upbringing) so no American Horror Story.

I’ve only ever quit watching something partway, and it wasn’t because it was to emotionally painful. The Lizzy Bennet Diaries is a web series that resells Pride and Predjudice as a modern vlog. Lydia Bennet does her own episodes and they start out cute and funny but then as her relationship with Wickham progresses and gets more abusive she gets withdrawn, and it was just like something I had watched a friend go through. I love that whole series, but those episodes were too hard to watch.

I can never turn something off in the middle, and I’ve watched disturbing things and regretted it later (the original Girl With a Dragon Tattoo movie, for instance.) I feel like I have a high tolerance for violence and gore–I enjoy Criminal Minds though I don’t watch it regularly, and I love Ripper Street–but certain things can really get to me.

Violence is an incredibly broad term, so trying to determine a threshold isn’t something I find easy. I guess I know the point something has gone too far when I see it, and there may also be different reasons behind each decision.

For me, I do know I tend to switch off gory hospital dramas/reality shows quite easily because I’ve seen too much like that and don’t particularly want to be reminded of it.

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