Does Racism Impact the Way Reviewers Rate TV Shows?

There's a difference between a legitimate critique and slamming a show without merit

As an avid television watcher, I’ve long wondered why quality shows are cancelled after a few episodes and mediocre ones allowed to drag on despite having similar ratings. There are variables, a failing show on ABC would be considered a success on a network like Syfy or the CW even if the ratings are identical. What’s most interesting to me is how reviewers arbitrarily deem what’s worthy of limping along, and what should be put down. I’ve noticed a pattern where reviewers will pan shows with black leads, and endlessly praise a white show despite its banality. There’s a pattern of racial bias when it comes to reviewing TV shows and when 88% of viewers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, I find that troubling.

[Related: The Power of Black Women in Fandom]

Last week, the Minority Report pilot took in 3.10 million viewers. Ryan Murphy’s new horror-comedy Scream Queens didn’t fare much better, reaching only 4 million. If these trends continue both could be in danger of cancellation. However, while reviewers are ready to throw Minority Report out with the bathwater, they’re also begging people to give Scream Queens a chance.

Minority Report is a follow up to the popular film. In the series, Dash (Played by Stark Sands) uses his precognitive powers to help Detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good) prevent and solve crimes. The movie became a commercial success when it hit theatres in 2002, yet the series has gotten mercilessly denigrated by reviewers despite the positive feedback on social media.

Having watched both pilots, I don’t believe the disparity in reviews is an issue of quality. If Scream Queens was a superior show, it’d make sense that reviewers would be more gung-ho about keeping it on the air. Unfortunately, it’s not superior and in many ways it’s substandard. Minority Report’s biggest strength is showing not telling, for example the scene where Lara leans out the window and Akeela grabs her arm to stabilize her. This interaction is wordless, effortless, and shows how in sync these characters are within minutes of meeting them. There’s lots of little touches like that, adding extra depth to scenes and characters. I was never taken out of a performance, or wished a character was recast. It wasn’t perfect, but it held my interest and was especially good for a pilot.

Scream Queens was a mess. Aside from the constant barrage of racism and homophobia trying to masquerade as tongue in cheek, most of the actors completely lost me. Ariana Grande’s acting was, unsurprisingly, Disney-level. I assume the only direction given to Emma Roberts (aside from “Play every bitchy character we’ve made you play before”) was to make faces that the Internet would gif and post on Tumblr. Niecy Nash and Jamie Lee Curtis did great with what they were given, but that’s damningly faint praise. It’s needlessly mean spirited and despite its genre, lacks anything scary or funny.

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  • Chris

    There is truth in what is written in this article, but I think also the vast difference in these two new shows is marketing. Until I read this article I never knew there was a show version of the movie Minority Report, but Scream Queens was marketed to death. I agree that shows with minority leads is given less time to develop and maintain a following. The show Undercovers starring Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha raw was cancelled after 11 episodes. Yes, the rating were low, but had it been given a chance I think the ratings would have improved. I really liked the show and thought it had potential, but something in the back of my mind knew it was going to get cancelled because both lead were black.

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  • Anne

    Good reading. I’ve seen numerous reviews (especially from Deadline!) panning shows led by black actors and praising white ones. It’s SO obvious!!

  • Many crime drama shows with majority white casts are far from perfect. CSI has been criticised for presenting a misleading image of forensic work, and yet is extremely popular. We need to keep supporting shows that represent a diverse mix of people and experiences. Stereotyping and racist language posing as tongue-in-cheek humour is not only a vision into the writer’s head, it is a sign of shit writing skill as a whole.

  • MPaule77

    I totally agree with this article. I can see the bias on social medias everyday. It’s about time to have an honest discussion about it.

  • MC

    A show like Minority Report would last at least 3-5 seasons on a network like Syfy. It might not have gotten the same publicity as other shows because its based on a hit movie and its title is its own marketing. I wish the writer of the article picked another show as an example because the first episode of Minority Report was available online for several weeks before the network premiere. That might have heavily skewed the reported viewings.

  • Trevor Stanfield

    And yet both shows have mediocre reviews with Scream Queens inching out Minority Report. Meanwhile amongst the top reviewed shows this season are Fear the Walking Dead, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, And Black-ish. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but the review numbers don’t support your point.

  • Leon

    I agree with the article but I think a lot is still missing for example, whenever a black lead is present their character rarely embodies a positive influence. Scandal, htgawm, being Mary Jane and the list goes on shows women as misteress committing adultery. Male roles such as empire and power show drug dealers. While Arrow, Flash, Bones, etc shows the boy and Girl Scout characters. More needs to be seen and heard

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  • Philipp

    Agents of SHIELD may have white protagonists but it has as pretty much the same number of poc as main characters