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You Should Be Watching: Adam Ruins Everything

This series, “You Should Be Watching,” wasn’t meant to include spoilers at all. What’s the point of recommending you a show and then ruining all the best bits? However, I’m afraid it’s unavoidable in this case since the existence of narrative elements that we might call “spoilers” is one of the main factors that make Adam Ruins Everything worth watching. You’ll understand more in just a second.

An educational comedy, Adam Ruins Everything is a TruTV show that developed out of one of College Humor’s many web series. Hosted by Adam Conover, each episode tackles 3--4 related misconceptions; well-known “truths” that few people ever bother to question. Like how the hymen doesn’t work the way you think it does. Or why the TSA isn’t actually keeping us safe. Or even (a particular favorite of mine) how we'd all be much better off if we hadn't made cars into a necessity.

The comedy derives primarily from Adam’s bubbly nature. Characterized as a classic nerd, he frequently annoys those around him by “ruining” everything they love with facts and science, doing so in a happy-go-lucky manner that makes the viewer—if not the victims—smile. The gags are certainly humorous, as are all the meta references. Adam frequently reminds us that he’s producing a TV show, advocating transparency so that we’ll better trust his arguments, yet the show's reality also contains magic that’s made available to “anyone who has the knowledge,” for the purpose of education. It’s a fantastically entertaining mix of straight-talk and whacky adventures.

Yet the fact that I can describe Adam’s personality as characterization points to what sets Adam Ruins Everything apart. Unlike other informative comedies like Bill Nye or The Magic School Bus (or even pure comedies like South Park or The Simpsons) Adam Ruins Everything contains a distinct, narrative structure. Rather than relying solely on self-contained episodes—re-setting the world and the characters before the start of the next show----many events have a lasting impact on Adam and his relationship with those around him. The first thing we get to see him "ruin" is buying diamond rings when characters Emily and Merv get engaged in "Adam Ruins Giving." Far from being one-off characters that exist solely as a device for sharing Adam's knowledge, Merv and Emily become regulars of the show. Thus far we've seen them at their engagement all the way through to thinking about having kids.

Other characters frequently stay on as well, such as Kendra who first started out in prison ("Adam Ruins Prison"), came back for her court date ("Adam Ruins Justice"), and ended the season at Adam's Christmas party, connecting numerous episodes together through their themes while enabling her development.

Meanwhile, as the host Adam undergoes the most change, evolving from a man who is hated by everyone who meets him into a guy with so many friends his parents comment on it in shock. It's heavy-handed at time----the show is well aware of the 'lonely nerd' archetype that Adam embodies and the ways in which they exploit it to garner viewer sympathy----but that doesn't change the fact that you watch the show as much to see whether Adam gets to go on another "play date" as you do for the humor or the trivia----something I've never seen before in this genre.

Nothing demonstrates Adam Ruins Everything's unique blend of episodic structure and narrative 'complexity' (I do, admittedly, use that term loosely) as much as the episode "Adam Ruins Death." Here, drawing on another popular trope (O.O.C. is Serious Business), Adam drops his normal, bubbly persona to speak candidly----and earnestly to an uncomfortable extent----about why we all need to accept that we're going to die. It's worth watching in full:

After this speech the camera pulls back, color rushing back into the scene, and we realize that all of this was just Adam's (horrific) attempt at a conversation opening. Of course, moments later Emily is hit by a truck and while in her coma she gets the chance to think through death with Adam, learning about the exorbitant costs of funerals and the importance of communicating your wishes clearly to loved ones early on.

We all know how episodes like this end. Emily accepts that she might die, she's learned the lesson, but in a comedic twist (if she lives she can see her favorite wrestler!) she wakes from her coma and everything is a-okay.

...until Haley walks in, trips, and breaks her neck.

She's not happy about it

Another series regular, Haley was one of Adam's early "victims." She's Emily's roommate, a woman eager to find love and who, had she been given time, might have fallen for Adam. Her death (never retconned) is surprisingly devastating. Which is entirely the point. This comedy is informational and it has spent the last twenty minutes trying to get us to accept that death is inevitable. What better way to hammer that point home than to kill off a character and refuse to take it back? Adam's TV magic can do nothing here and this twist wouldn't be possible if the show wasn't invested in the characters nearly as much as the trivia. Otherwise, Haley's death wouldn't have the needed impact. When given the chance, Adam Ruins Everything doesn't pull any of its punches.

Balanced somewhere between the episodic and the serial, comedic but at times surprisingly dark, transparent in its existence as a television show, and highly critical of the information it supplies (the latest episode, "Emily Ruins Adam," works to fix many of the mistakes made across the last two seasons, providing updated information and viewpoints)... there's nothing else quite like Adam Ruins Everything currently on air.

And, if these spoilers haven't deterred you, it's a show that's well worth your time.

Image Credit

Local Man Ruins Everything:



Emily and Merv Wedding:



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