America has seen some pretty traumatic events in the last year. From Ferguson to Baltimore to Orlando, pressure is at an all-time high for people to have important conversations about race, sexuality and basic human rights. So it was only a matter of time before those storylines started bleeding into our favorite TV dramas, like The Night Shift.
Tonight, the show covered a riot that broke out because a white cop shot a young black man. And even though the show is fiction, the conversation they had and the opinions the characters gave could have been pulled directly from Twitter or any news outlet. While I watched it, I understood why the writers wanted to cover the topic of police murders, but the whole episode made me really uncomfortable.
I wasn’t uncomfortable with the subject matter, because it’s clearly a conversation our country needs to continue to have. It just didn’t sit well with me because I don’t know if we should be turning events like this into scripted television.
The Night Shift took a multilayered issue and condensed it into a 40-minute episode that even the casual viewer could understand. Streamlining the complex conversation can only help educate younger viewers who may not have understood everything that was happening during Ferguson or Baltimore.
It also gives context and delivers opposing opinions in a way that isn’t aggressive or biased, something none of us can count on our national news outlets for. So in that way, the writers of The Night Shift did a lot of good.
But they also made a pretend storyline out of a very real issue that is currently affecting millions of people. Any time you create a fictional story, you may accidentally give viewers permission to see the tragedies that happen in real life as fake as well.
Each time we see a mass shooting or a riot or any kind of terrible tragedy, we grow a little more desensitized to it. And for a topic as important as civil rights, we can’t afford to think of it as just another plot line on TV. Especially when TV has the advantage of tying everything up with a nice, clean ending — something real life can never do.