Because coffee consumption is an everyday habit of real human beings, it’s an every-episode habit of many TV characters as well. But coffee is a troublesome prop in a number of ways. A spilled cup might ruin a prop or costume or even scald an actor. So TV shows largely opt to have their characters pretend to drink coffee out of pretty blatantly empty vessels. Those Starbucks cups should have some real weight to them, but actors fling them around without a care. Is that a problem, per se? For critic, media professor, and A.V. Club contributor Myles McNutt it is. He has been tracking television’s many unrealistic depictions of coffee consumption with the #EmptyCupAwards hashtag, and now with the help of filmmaker Daniel Hubbard, he has turned his findings on the subject into an eye-opening video essay for Slate.
Why does this matter so much to McNutt and others enlisted in the #EmptyCupAwards crusade? Having characters drink coffee is supposedly a way of making them seem more realistic, but those empty cups in shows like Supergirl only draw attention to how unrealistic television can be. In other words, the coffee scenes in these shows have the opposite of their intended effect. Once a viewer pays attention to the empty cups and the hollow sounds they make when placed on desks or tables, a show like Gilmore Girls, soon to return on Netflix, becomes “a macchiato minefield” in McNutt’s estimation. The critic chalks all this up to the fact that proper coffee depiction is simply not a priority in the fast-paced, money-conscious world of television production. #EmptyCupAwards is a way of letting producers and directors know that viewers do care about such matters.