2) Breaking Bad
Originally, this was a three-way time between Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Better Call Saul, but that would be a cop-out. By all accounts, Saul is still in its infancy, and even though Game of Thrones seems like it was genetically bred for me, I have to give props to Breaking Bad for getting me into a genre I had virtually no interest in: Crime Drama.
The conception of the show was this: “Turn a Mr. Chips type into Scarface.” Walter White is by no means a perfect peach before his descent to the dark side, but you follow his progression easily. He’s made choices that he’s happy with, but also many choices that left him feeling pathetic and emasculated, and his pride can only suffer so much. So when he finds out that he’s probably going to die from Lung Cancer, he accompanies his DEA brother-in-law on a casual meth lab bust to “covertly” scope out his next venture: becoming a New Mexico meth kingpin.
With the help of a former student, the street-smart but chemically illiterate drop out Jesse Pinkman, Walter begins his simultaneous rise to the top of the drug ladder and race to the bottom of human compassion and decency.
Much like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad is brilliant, not only for its drama, flow, and intelligence, but for its compelling, yet morally grey characters. The show has inspired so many complex reactions from fans; I myself have gone from loving a character to hating them and back again, all within the scope of a season or so. I find this even more impressive because the show has no dragons, magic, or grand political conquests to fall back on, which are interesting but entirely too innate to my tastes. It takes place in relatively modern day America, and while some schemes can be too intricate and far-fetched to be believable, or just rely on insane luck, suspension of disbelief surprisingly doesn’t hinder the show much.
The greater significance of such a show is its willingness to delve into the “why,” if in more subtle ways than the “how.” Keeping with the theme of criminals being real people who act on life’s complexities, this show provides both a cautionary tale to the individual (don’t commit crimes and act on fantasies of power and influence) and an encouragement for viewers to look at prevalent, problematic ideologies (for example, subtly-enforced, pervasive hypermasculinity that boys pick up on as they grow up) in society that may need tweaking.
Walter White is at fault for his actions, no questions there, but the need to feel “manly” by providing for his family and discouraging his wife from working, as well as profiting from a creation that is solely his baby, are things that regular Joe Schmoe’s might sympathize with, but can also be, for example, teaching them to crush their feelings down inside and be too proud to accept help from others, even when they might really need it.
Mentalities like that, while not necessarily causing or indicating issues like domestic violence, can certainly be contributing factors.
Breaking Bad is about many things, but I see it predominantly as a story about a man running from his weaknesses, rather than embracing them.
And, on that note…
1) BoJack Horseman
Forgive me, South Park. You haven’t been replaced; this is just a whole different ballpark.
This show is amazing. It’s depressing as all hell, but it’s truly amazing, and if the viewer is open to it,
BoJack Horseman may just change your outlook on life. I really don’t think I or anyone else just talking about it can ever do it the justice it deserves. It is just one of those things in life needs to be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated.
Back in the 90’s, BoJack was in a very famous T.V. show, Horsin’ Around (in a nutshell, Full House). 20 years later, he’s largely done nothing but sit around, do drugs, and re-watch episodes of his own show, longing for the glory days and yet running from them at the same time. Even though BoJack got the fame and fortune he was aiming for, BoJack Horseman (the show, not the character) goes out of its way to show you how hollow and meaningless that can really be.
Just look at the intro:
What is the impression you get from this? How does it make you feel?
BoJack is rich, self-centered, and constantly pushing people away when they try to get close. He’s dragged out of his shell somewhat by Diane Nguyen, the woman hired to ghostwrite his memoir, but she is also dealing with commitment and comfort issues with her own boyfriend, Mr. Peanutbutter, a rival actor who became successful by essentially ripping off Horsin’ Around. BoJack’s agent and former girlfriend, Princess Carolyn (voiced by Amy Sedaris, the sister of one of my favorite authors btw), is constantly trying to get him up off his ass while dealing with her own loneliness and stress. Todd, a dumb but well-meaning slacker (voiced by Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad), lives in BoJack’s house rent-free and tries to be his friend, even when BoJack frequently puts him down.
Ironically, though the cast is comprised of many anthropomorphic animals, it is a very human show. At its core, it’s about change and consequences, as well as the definition and permanence of “happiness.” In the words of the great Albus Dumbledore, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”
Despite being downright unlikeable at times, BoJack is a very compelling character. He was dealt a crappy hand with abusive, unloving parents, but that doesn’t excuse him hurting the people he cares about most. And what is very refreshing about the show is that, unlike with something like Family Guy or even The Simpsons, there is a “too far” BoJack can reach, and his friends will call him out and hold him to it, even if it’s heartbreaking for them.
All of the main characters have their redeemable and irredeemable moments, because the show wants to illustrate that people, the world, and in particular, Hollywood, can be very screwed up, especially if they stop growing and changing. BoJack Horseman explores their capability of making the right choices; their capacity to learn from past mistakes and change in the future.
Watching his exploits, even the more humorous ones, you realize things about yourself that you’ve been ignoring or hiding from. It can feel downright terrible, but you don’t want yourself to fail, and you find yourself not wanting BoJack to fail either. The “power of positive thinking” only applies so far, because change is difficult and comes one step at a time.
The show is also genuinely funny…No, really. I’m not kidding.
Like South Park, it’s satire is biting, but unlike it, BoJack Horseman has smaller adventures, tighter show continuity, and a more coherent narrative. That doesn’t make it shallower or any less important, mind you; it’s just a different, more focused approach. Storytelling put above jokes, as opposed to the reverse.
If you can make it past the easy first few episodes, you may be pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised by depth of wit and humanity here. I was, for sure. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I wouldn’t oust South Park or Game of Thrones from a top spot that easily. 😄
I hope you all enjoyed my list. If you’ve seen these shows, or check them out sometime soon, let me know what you think in the comments!