The Remote: Quirky — the new normal and the new nothing

Ryan Pait

September is coming, and with it comes TV pilot season.

And with pilot season comes a whole slew of “quirky” new shows.

It’s not just comedies, either. Even dramas are getting the “quirky” label now.

New drama series like Fox’s “Almost Human” and “Brooklyn Nine-nine” are already being described as quirky.

ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a branch-off series that takes place in the same universe as “The Avengers,” is also pre-approved for quirkiness thanks to the creative seal of Joss Whedon. Whedon is famously known for creating one of the forerunners of modern TV quirkiness, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There’s not even enough room in this column for me to list the litany of new comedy series that are being touted as quirky.

But this excess of quirkiness is starting to rob the word of some of its meaning.

Quirky may be the new normal when it comes to TV, but it’s also on its way to becoming the new nothing.

Think of it in terms of another buzzword that’s recently lost its oomph: “awkward.”

“Awkward” has become so overused that it can be used as a descriptor for almost anything, and it seems like “quirky” is heading the same direction.

It can already be applied to nearly anything in the first place, especially when it comes to people.

Because we’re not all the same combination of genetic material, we’re all inherently quirky.

To quote “The Incredibles,” when everyone’s super, no one is.

The same goes for “quirky.”

It’s not a bad trend, but it’s becoming an annoying word.

Anytime a show is described as “quirky,” I find myself automatically rolling my eyes.

So why is it used so much?

The true answer is this “genre” actually found success a long time ago — remember “The Odd Couple” and “I Love Lucy”? TV has featured unusual characters and situations for decades now, but they weren’t always advertised as quirky.

The idea of making shows based around more obviously weird characters and premises has seen huge resurgence and dominance in recent years, however.

It remains to be seen if any of fall’s new series will connect with viewers, but it seems that the ubiquitous idea of quirkiness is a trend that’s here to stay.

It’s already working for some of TV’s most successful series.

Consider “The Big Bang Theory” and “Modern Family.” According to, these two shows were the highest-rated comedies for the 2011-2012 TV season.

Think about their main elements. “The Big Bang Theory” features a cast of geeky friends, and “Modern Family” features a wacky extended family and its misadventures.

But at their respective cores, these two shows aren’t really that quirky in their actual plots. “The Big Bang Theory” is your standard buddy comedy, and “Modern Family” is a fairly standard family sitcom.

Even more modest ratings successes, like “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project,” feature leading characters that are overtly odd. Zooey Deschanel, the queen of quirkiness, stars on “New Girl,” in a role she seems born to play.

Underneath the surface of quirkiness, however, both “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project” are standard “girl looking for love and fulfillment” sitcoms.

I understand why these shows have become successful and the new “it” thing in the industry.

These strange leading characters make us feel better about our own personality tics, and it’s why they’ve become popular and why they’re connecting.

If characters like Jess Day of “New Girl” and Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory” can be weird, successful and proud, why can’t we?

But we have to find a better way to describe these shows. Maybe we should just call them what they are. 

Buddy comedies. Family sitcoms. Rom-com style sitcoms.

Quirky characters are fine, and they obviously make for great television.

But “quirky” is not a genre, and slapping a generic quirky sticker on everything means nothing.