Why Is Liking Wine a Character Flaw on TV?

Villains always blink their eyes; must they order fine Burgundy at dinner too?
Aug 9, 2012

If there's one thing I learned from a very short-lived side career as an art director on television shows, it's this: No prop is accidental. Unlike, say, my desk at work, where random things that get sent to me tend to sit until I do something about them, every single element in a television show has been chosen and placed on set because someone thought it would make sense in whichever world the characters live.

Which means when I watch TV and see a wine bottle, I have to wonder, what is that doing there? And what is it supposed to mean? Too often, wine (or wine appreciation) gets used as a shorthand cue for an "evil" character or some other moral deficiency and a wine bottle on screen signifies there's about to be some evil-doing ahead—equivalent to a James Bond villain having a foreign accent and laughing maniacally. But that's too bad, because I know plenty of non-evil wine drinkers, and I'd like to think that enjoying wine doesn't have to be a character flaw.

With that in mind, I graded some of this season's televisions shows on how positive their portrayal of wine drinking was on a scale from 1 (wine = bad) to 5 (wine = good). Is it really possible the Bachelor had the most positive view of wine on TV? What did you see that's not on this list? I know there are a few more episodes out there—something from Cougar Town with Courtney Cox perhaps, or that episode of Up All Night in which the couple buys a van after drinking four bottles of wine. Tell us about them in the comments.

Episode 6 of ABC's Revenge

When handed the wine list at a tony Hamptons restaurant, talented Mr. Ripley-character and manipulative pyschopath Tyler Barrol orders a $400 Montrachet or something equally pricey. Heroine Emily Thorne shows him up on some appellation trivia, and Tyler confesses he only ordered it because it was the most expensive wine on the menu.

Grade: 2

This is tricky to rate because the wine list becomes the battlefield between good (true connoisseur Emily) and evil (pretender Tyler), and Emily ends up "winning" while Tyler comes off as seriously smarmy. But still. It's no accident this showdown takes place over wine and not, say, at a bookstore or coffee shop. Lesson: Wine can be misused to fraudulently inflate status.

Episode 8 of Girls

A skeezy venture capitalist invites uptight gallery assistant Marni and boho-babysitter Jessa back to his apartment for a "beautiful bottle of red." Venture capitalist proceeds to have a massive freak-out when wine is spilled on his $10,000 rug.

Grade: 2

Good wine, the province of shallow dudes.

Episode 7 of Girls

When Jessa accidentally invites her lecherous boss to a warehouse party in hipster-mecca Bushwick and then rejects him, the deflated dad confesses that they would never work together because he's "the kind of guy who would worry about which bottle of wine to bring to a party like this."

Grade: 2

Wine is for old people. Too bad, 'cause I bet any one of the 20-somethings at that party would drink wine if someone brought it. Since they're probably sommeliers and servers at Brooklyn's locavore restaurants, they may even know more about it than he does.

Every episode of Bones ever

While we applaud the writers on Bones for showing that Dr. Temperance Brennan likes to enjoy a glass of wine after a hard day of murder solving, we do wonder why she always drinks bourbon or beer when she's out with her partner and professional tough guy FBI agent Seeley Booth.

Grade: 3

While not depicted as bad, it's clear that wine is for ladies only. You want to hang with some crime-solving tough guys? Don't be drinking wine when you do.

The Bachelor

While wine is usually a signifier of capital R romantic times on the Bachelor/Bachelorette series, season 16 of the long-running reality dating show starred California winemaker Ben Flajnik as the love-seeking hero. Which meant lots of wine, all the time! Episode 10 in particular stands out, as Flajnik took his suitoresses to Sonoma, his homeland, for some wine-inspired times. The Girl & the Fig restaurant? Check. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa? Check. Making out? Check.

Grade: 4

A point docked for the forced fantasy-date seduction aspect, but this is not unlike how regular folks drink wine—at restaurants! Plus, romance!

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