In “Is Quality Television Any Good?” Sarah Cardwell seeks to sort out the differences between good television and quality television. She begins with an anecdote from one of her classes. After watching an adaption of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, one student replied they could see that it was quality TV, yet they still thought that it was boring.
Cardwell uses the example of the student to argue that quality TV is a generic designation. It’s an impersonal, detached label. Cardwell says that the student was aware of past evaluations of Persuasion, which suggests that those views impacted the student’s interpretation.
Cardwell further explores this notion of quality TV with another TV critic, Christina Lane. Using Lane’s ideas about what makes NBC’s political drama The West Wing quality, Cardwell contents that quality TV requires high production value, naturalistic acting, and characters who are more than just emotional vessels.
Another key feature for Cardwell when it comes to quality TV is challenging myths. Cardwell says that The West Wing aptly reveals the disparity between political ideals and unsavory political realities. Meanwhile, FX’s Nip/Tuck, in Cardwell’s view, exposes the bleak reality of maintaining certain beauty standards.
Whether it’s Nip/Tuck, The West Wing, or another show, like HBO’s Six Feet Under, Cardwell argues that what makes these shows quality also makes them good. That is, their elaborate style and complex characters draw viewers in and demand repeated viewing.
For Cardwell, “good” is preferable to “quality” when assessing TV shows. The former is less generic and requires a person to deploy their own personal, critical judgements.