Time to bust out your remotes, everyone!
I’m definitely more of a movie person than a T.V. person, but I’ve never really been able to articulate why. I love good stories and good characters, and television is arguably the better medium for that because it has all the time in the world to flesh them out.
As with many things, both have their individual pros and cons. Movies have an exciting, rewarding feel to them due to their spectacle; it used to be much more of a treat to go see movies in the theatre than it is today.
Cinema is intrinsically unique and massive, and can get away with some subjects, words, and images that T.V. shows can’t, but its products are sometimes rushed due to limited run times. Especially in the process of adaptation, important elements and morals can be sacrificed in the name of pacing, and while some cuts are understandable and necessary, others are downright criminal.
Sometimes even worse, in my opinion, are the stories that are whittled down for pandering purposes. Simple, feel good romps have their place, but it’s tragic when a powerful narrative is senselessly broken down and altered, simply because it might not have sold well in its original incarnation.
T.V. shows, by contrast, feel smaller, but often more casual and approachable. They have more flexibility when setting the pace and structuring the narrative. Outside of books, television can offer the most accurate depiction of how events would play out in real time; for example, over the course of weeks or months. Where a film would need to resort to time transitions, a T.V. show could choose to break things down, one by one, focusing on the impact that such events might have on a character. What would be background elements in a movie could come to the foreground in a show, and sometimes it’s those little details that make a story transcend from mindless escapism into something profound and relatable.
The downside of television is that great stories can become labored, meandering, and directionless. Long production time can translate to more changes in cast, directors, producers, writers, and sponsors, and shows without a somewhat clear end game can lose meaning, or just overstay their welcome in the public consciousness. And, much like movies, they can also dumb down an otherwise important experience.
Conversely, what might have once been lofty or difficult to comprehend can become more accessible, especially when trying to teach morals and concepts to younger viewers.
In essence, films are often a whole greater than the sum of their parts, and shows are comprised of many great parts, but sometimes make for a weaker whole. They both can have similar pitfalls, especially when money becomes more important than the artistry, but they can also produce great, stirring, memorable stories that are beloved long after their initial theatrical or broadcasting run.
Today, because I don’t do it so often, I’d like to shine a brief light on T.V. shows. Specifically, I would like to honor and endorse the recent shows which, while enjoyable in general, have also really made me think, whether it be about myself, society, or life as a whole.
It’s going to get very adult up in here, so as much as I love these series, unfortunately I will have to leave off talking about Gravity Falls and possibly more Steven Universe for a later time.
5) Last Week Tonight
I’ll start out with a comedy show that has some lighter moments.
Much like his predecessors John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, John Oliver is funny, witty, poignant, and never takes himself too seriously. Unlike them, however, Oliver seems distinctly more balanced politically, taking shots at wackos and assholes on both sides of the aisle. Also, due to his flexible network, he seems to be far less driven by agendas and endorsements.
Most importantly, and perhaps a first for any political comedian, Oliver gets some things done. Sure, he clowns around while drawing attention to important issues that sometimes go under our radar, but then he also does things like buying and forgiving an ungodly amount of zombie debt, and delivering questionably acquired food to clothing makers who produce cheap clothing with foreign workers in dangerous working conditions. He is less passive than other political comedians, and his show offers a refreshing balance of being told what you want to hear and what you don’t. Oliver can call us all out when our desire for freebies and instant gratification might actually be destroying something that we need, while at the same time catering to our growing desire to be edu-tained, if we have to learn anything at all.
It seems like it should be contradictory, and yet…not really. Or at least, he’s making the current system work for him, and that is definitely not something we can scoff at too much.
Whatever you want to call his methods or his ideologies, that dorky, British rat-faced bastard is breaking new ground in comedy and activism.
4) Rick and Morty
Here we have another comedy show, though much blacker and less audience-driven than number 5.
Rick and Morty is about so many things, but first and foremost, it tells the story of an average boy with an eccentric, alcoholic, downright sociopathic scientist grandfather. Morty seeks validation and guidance from Rick, and Rick often takes advantage of Morty for his own selfish pursuits, barely disguising them as “grand adventures” across time and space. There are morals, references, and frequent call outs to the elephant in the room, whether that “room” is the episode, pop culture, or the rest of society.
Meanwhile, Morty’s parents, Beth and Jerry, are constantly trying to resuscitate a dying marriage, unable to completely stop resenting one another for their failings. Morty’s older sister, Summer, often shifts between “semi-popular girl” and “disaffected teen”, but is by no means a one-dimensional character. She deals with the stress of being the oldest child, often overlooked, and later, she feels bitterness and guilt at being what caused her parents to “settle” for each other.
There is so much more to the show than that, and it is genuinely funny (sometimes in not so dark ways), but the characters are what really makes the show work. Much like in Family Guy, everyone has their “asshole tendencies,” and somewhat like Archer, those traits and instances are presented at face value. You can either take them as they are, or leave them, and should you choose to take them, you begin to see things that you may not necessarily like, but you definitely understand or relate to. The “good guys” won’t always win in the end, but often times, there was no perfect “good guy” to begin with.
Shows like this officially killed my belief in karma, or at least how it is presented by most people. Very few people are objectively good or bad, but it comforts us to think that because we are all egotistical to some degree. We don’t like to imagine a world that isn’t fair, but especially not when it’s going to be unfair to us.
Rick and Morty plays with reference humor, almost by definition digging up the past, and then reminds us that life is not so black-and-white, as we liked to think as children. Wubba Lubba Dub Dub.
Orange is the New Black
Speaking of black-and-white…
This show deals with so many themes that we either haven’t seen before, or haven’t seen in this degree of scrutiny and popular discourse. Most prominently, it talks about lesbianism, racial tension, and the life and treatment of prisoners, specifically women, in the American Correctional System.
There is some comedy involved, especially during the culture shock episodes, but there is also very gritty drama.
The main character, Piper Chapman, is at first a sheltered, entitled Caucasian woman, implicated in drug smuggling by her ex-girlfriend, Alex. She is then thrust into a world she has never really known before, where no one cares who she is beyond what she did and what she’ll do now. The outsiders who seem to care more about her are fleeting, only really hoping to bolster themselves in some way.
More than ever before, Piper must deal with feelings of powerlessness, isolation, and remorse, and making matters even more complicated is Alex, who lives in the same facility.
Much like Walter White in Breaking Bad, Piper undergoes a startling character shift, but in this case, it is borne from the desire to survive prison. The series is far from over, but one this is already clear: a part of her hasn’t survived.
The prison bunks and tables are segregated by groups, and each collection of characters has their own problems and stories, taking spotlights away from Piper every episode. What they did to end up in prison is, of course, important, but again, it is not so important as the consequences and new decisions they must face in order to continue moving forward. Relationships are established, rekindled, and lost, sometimes very quickly, but even the strongest, most likable characters have to use and trample each other. Beyond that, they must either have crazy inner strength, whatever privilege and influence they can claim, or strength in numbers.
The story is as much about actual prison living conditions as it is about women’s relationships with each other. Some characters you will love, and others you will hate, but those boundaries may not stay in place for very long, because change is inevitable and some limits of compassion and empathy will always exist. Murder is still a wrong, regardless of why it was committed, but considering intent is not a worthless endeavor, and some crimes are punished too harshly and/or disproportionately among our people. Sometimes innocent people go to jail, or are forced into situations that they can’t really fight or control. We want to believe that they can because this is America, and we want to believe that we can, as long as we truly consider ourselves “good people.”
This show, along with Last Week Tonight, really cemented the fact that saying “as long as it never happens to me, I don’t care” is a poor excuse for labeling people as “just criminals”; effectively striping them of their humanity and not concerning ourselves with how they are treated, during and after incarceration.
To be continued…