This is part of a weekly series called in which The Lantern’s Ty Anderson offers his take on the week’s pop culture news.
I love television. Through the good and the bad, the plausible and the implausible, the clichés, the tropes, the horrible special effects and the unforgivably cheesy jokes — I embrace it all. I am infatuated with the small screen, whether it’s realistic or not. I might be the first to critique the acts of the rich and famous, but when it comes to television, my standards are very low, and I’m incredibly forgiving.
That is, I am incredibly forgiving until it comes to guest stars. The idea of celebrity guest stars is great in theory. Previews for next week’s episode feature a familiar face — typically a popular familiar face — and more viewers tune in to see them. It works for TV producers, because it boosts ratings and brings in a new audience, and it works for viewers, because they get to see their favorite celebrities pop up on their living room screens. It’s a win-win, right?
Because when Lena Dunham made her way onto last week’s “Scandal,” it absolutely ruined the episode for me. If you’ve seen “Scandal,” you already know that the entire premise of the show is a little stretched. Nobody could ever really pull off such a long-winded affair with the president and get away with it. Nobody could ever really drink an entire bottle of expensive red wine each night and then effortlessly deliver kickass speeches the very next day (and few can even afford to drink a bottle of expensive red wine each night). And finally, nobody could ever really find wrinkly Tony Goldwyn to be more attractive than dreamy Scott Foley.
But somehow, for “Scandal,” it works.
What didn’t work was Lena Dunham. Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against Lena. She’s interesting, she’s quirky and she’s probably really fun at parties. But the only reason she landed a role on “Scandal” was because she wanted one, and creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes is all about giving out guest roles to people who want them.
Portia De Rossi, bless her beautiful soul, was given a way-too-big part this season on “Scandal.” A part which has added absolutely nothing of value to the show, save for limit the screen time of other, more interesting characters. She pops up on screen, and all I can think is “Dang, Portia looks great for 42. Wait, why is Portia de Rossi on my screen? I thought I was watching ‘Scandal’?” Then I remember that Portia plays the pointless and dry chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.
The problem with guest stars is that they simply don’t fit. Their roles are often created last minute, then jammed into the story in a very square-through-a-circle type of manner. Not only did Lena Dunham’s character not fit into “Scandal,” but Lena Dunham herself didn’t fit into “Scandal.”
Why? Because it was impossible to forget that she was Lena Dunham. And here lies my truest beef with guest stars — they ruin the illusion. As I said before, I can put up with television’s unrealistic storylines, the clichés and the awful humor. But what I can’t look past is when a producer decides to inject a dose of reality into my entertainment.
Fox’s “Empire” does this on an even larger scale. The show is infested with celebrity guest stars. A few of them — the ones whose roles seem to have been part of the story from the start — do work. Raven-Symoné’s character was not only believable, but she served to further the show’s plot. But when Rita Ora flops by the screen in a 5-second cameo, or when Estelle puts on a wig and plays the fictional Delphine, it ruins the illusion. I don’t believe it, and it reminds me that what I’m watching isn’t real. It turns my fictional escape from responsibility into a reality check. It reminds me that I have real world obligations and homework. I get antsy, I lose focus, and I stop caring about the fictional world before me.
I get it, it brings in viewers. I get it, producers want to work with their friends and fans. I get it, casual TV viewers think guest stars are “cool” or “neato.”
I get it, but I’m over it.