Tag Archives: TV Shows

My Top 5 Modern Adult TV Shows, Part 2

2) Breaking Bad

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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.  XD

 

 

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!

My Top 5 Modern Adult TV Shows, Part 1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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…