Though unnoticed by many Americans, foreigners realize portrayals of alcohol in American television. Naturally, these representations taint the way foreigners perceive the role of alcohol in the United States.
Television themes present different ideas on the role and view of alcohol in the United States. An Office of National Drug Control Policy study found that 34 percent of prime-time television episodes showed scenes in bars. In one case, a wealthy businessman enjoys hard liquor at the end of a busy day, before returning home to his family. In another, a young woman, alone and searching for happiness, drinks a few glasses of wine to forget her troubles. Either way, the television industry capitalizes on the characterization.
“Big Bang Theory” scored 19 million viewers in the United States in its November 2013 Season 7 premiere. Eurodata TV Worldwide found that Big Bang Theory was the most popular TV comedy in the world in 2013. In fact, “Big Bang Theory” is so popular in France, it is now available on LoveFilm, Europe’s comparable Netflix system. All to say, “Big Bang Theory” viewership spans the globe.
With that realization, it is important to consider the effects of widespread “Big Bang Theory” popularity. In the show, four geeky and socially awkward men, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Rajesh, experience life with Penny, their more socially aware friend. Throughout the season Penny has a drinking habit. The issue reaches its climax in the Season 4 finale, when Penny reveals, after drinking heavily, her feelings for Leonard. As most scenes with Penny consuming alcohol are funny, it is possible the writers added this aspect for comic effect.
In Season 6, Penny, Amy and Bernadette vow to find Raj a woman to spend time with. Naturally, they turn to a bar. The woman they identify in the bar is one who is damaged and distressed, turning to alcohol after breaking up with her boyfriend. Thus, alcohol in both scenes is an escape for the disappointed and distraught.
It seems alcohol always serves an addictive purpose and is reserved for depictions of failure. Katie Berkley, a student at the University of Nottingham in England and follower of American television, says of shows, “It’s unusual to see characters meet for casual drinks without getting rolling drunk and heading to either a raving party or a seemingly inevitable emotional downfall.”
“It’s unusual to see characters meet for casual drinks without getting rolling drunk and heading to either a raving party or a seemingly inevitable emotional downfall.”
Americans may be more desensitized, to the point we do not realize trends such as these. However, upon consideration, the alcohol phenomenon is shown in foreign television series, as well.
TV shows produced by Europeans affect the way Americans think of alcohol in those countries. For example, “Sherlock,” a drama that revitalizes Conan Doyle’s story of partners solving crime in 21st century London, frequently references Sherlock’s substance abuse and also ties in the effects of alcohol. In Season 3, Episode 2, Sherlock speaks at a friend’s wedding, and the episode details the lead-up to the wedding. For John’s bachelor party, he and Sherlock take to the pubs of London, where Sherlock calculates how much each can drink without becoming inebriated. The plan goes awry, Sherlock gets drunk and he embarrasses himself by getting arrested. However, in the process, Sherlock becomes somewhat of a hero by listening to his client Teresa’s tearful tale and showing sympathy. Sherlock’s embarrassing drunken performance is reconciled by his commendable actions.
It seems drunkenness does not hold the same connotation in “Sherlock” as in “Big Bang Theory.” In the latter case, Sherlock uses alcohol as a way to celebrate. In the former, the writers invoke alcohol to convey the desperate nature of the characters.
The motives working to insert scenes of alcohol consumption in television are largely left to interpretation. Nonetheless, alcohol portrayals in television shows, such as “Big Bang Theory” and Sherlock have power to influence viewers’ opinions of alcohol.