New TV Genres

TV has changed drastically in the past decade. Yet we still use the same names for TV genres that we always did: soap, sitcom, drama, cop show, hospital show. Or else we just use derivatives from movies: Western, horror, noir, etc.

It’s time for a re-vamping! Here are some suggestions for new genres. I’d love to hear others. Some shows fall under more than one genre – they’re a mix!

The Sincerity Razz – Shows that mockingly portray a group of people treating something with far more seriousness than it deserves. Often includes one or two characters who know not to take it so seriously. These seem to be derived from the Christopher Guest improv movie comedies, such as A Mighty Wind, Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman. Examples: Parks and Recreation, both British and American versions of The Office, Extras.

The I, Claudius – Shows that involve a twisted family or families headed by a figure of moral ambiguity. Endless subplots and digressions. Examples: Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad. A subgenre or variant is the Kinder, Gentler Claudius: same exact thing but family headed by figure or figures of near moral perfection: Downton Abbey, Justified, Friday Night Lights.

The Absurdist Workplace – This genre is as old as the hills, but it seems notably the case that the absurdist stripe of humor is particularly paired with places of employment. Examples: Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served?, Taxi, NewsRadio, both versions of The Office, Better Off Ted, 30 Rock.

The Confessional Comedy: Sitcoms that figure out some way to include direct camera addresses by characters. Sometimes, but not always, a mockumentary. I’m not entirely sure why this technique has failed to make an equally prominent entry into dramas. Examples: both versions of The Office, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Better Off Ted, Malcolm in the Middle.

The Revisionary Genre: Trying to add new respectability to a genre that has fallen from elite favor. Examples: The Walking Dead, Deadwood, Game of Thrones. I am absolutely dying for someone to do this with the rich-person-soap! Well, okay. I guess I got that with Downton Abbey. But present day rich person soap!

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: cop shows that have the best of both worlds. They are both episodic dramas and have story arcs that last over the entire season and series. Examples: Luther, Justified, Sherlock.

Any amendments, additions, other examples, counterexamples,or other thoughts?

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. The “this is a really cool show because it’s produced by a cable TV channel” genre: These are dramas that are supposed to be cutting edge and well-done, and their cutting-edgeness and well-doneness is made even more cutting-edge and well-done because HBO or Showtime or one of the others produced it. See “The Wire,” “The Tudors,” “Weeds.”

    • “This must be an HBO show.”

      “How can you tell?”

      “How the fuck can’t you tell, you fucking fucked-up motherfucker?”

    • Yes, it’s really the first time there’s that level of imprimatur.

  2. I like the “I, Claudius” category, definitely worthy of its own genre – “Weeds”, “Hung”, and “Breaking Bad” are extreme examples.
    You aren’t satisfied with the existing “Mockumentary” genre?

    • There are some that are related that are not mockumentaries (Better of Ted and Malcolm and the Middle). And I think sometimes showrunners labor under the false impression that a direct camera address will be distracting or avant-garde unless there’s an explanation for it. So I’d like more of them not to be mockumentaries.

      Oooo, post on this soon!

  3. Don’t these deal more with theme than genre? Absurdist workplace, for instance, could be a comedy, but it also could be a drama, or horror… so long as it takes place in an absurd workplace.

    • Well, you know. Genres aren’t really one thing are another. They’re not natural kinds. Some are defined by the emotion they raise in the viewer (horror, comedy, suspense). Some are defined by content (action, police procedural, Western), some are defined by tone (noir).

  4. The “Can You Believe We Once Gave David Lynch a TV Show, and Can We Please Do that Again Instead” – The Killing (alternate genre name: Girls Wrapped in Plastic. Which is also a decent bandname).

    The “What The Hell Just Happened” – American Horror Story (and is Nip/Tuck still on?)

    • Lost would be another “What the Hell Just Happened”.

  5. I don’t know what to call these but I’ve recently noticed that a lot of the legal dramas have moved away from murder, murder, murder to other parts of the law. Suits mostly covers business law. The Good Wife deals with variety of issues but rarely murder.

    I like the change.

  6. Sympathetic characters who do bad things: The Sopranos, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Weeds

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