There has never been a better time to be a bad actor

This explosion in content has, we’re often told, been a major boon for consumers. But it’s also been good for actors — and bad actors in particular. As demand for acting grows, so do opportunities for people who are not very good at it. Bad actors have never had it better; never before have so many received so much for performing their jobs so poorly. Thanks to our unflagging thirst for new shows, more shows, better shows, any shows, the so-called golden age of TV is dissolving into a new golden age of bad acting.

What distinguishes today’s bad acting epidemic from the blights of previous generations is that it sits at the center of popular culture. There are two types of bad acting: bad bad acting and reputable bad acting. Bad bad acting is the bad acting of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, of 1940s wrestling pictures, 1970s soft porn, exploitation cinema, Ed Wood, and Snakes on a Plane: a laugh, but not to be taken seriously. Reputable bad acting is more subtle, more arthouse, more respectable. Think of Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s feature-length demonstration of misplaced syllable emphasis in Match Point — classic bad “good” acting — or the brittle-boned painter in Amélie. In French veteran Serge Merlin’s overcooked performance, a character who is supposed to embody old-man kindliness instead ends up as a fur hat-wearing perv and neighborhood telescopist who uses the plot’s main romance as a microwave for his own frozen sexuality.