Entertainment today is truly fascinating, specifically television. Television is the only sector in the big three (Film, Television and Music) where actually good, original content is what is most popular and successful. Unfortunately, movies are seeing an increase in productions of remakes, spin-offs or other sorts of adapted works that stifle originality. Superhero movies-case in point, I mean what is hotter than the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the film world right now? Nothing! Based on comics written decades ago, Marvel has found insane box-office success with most of their productions (even though they all look similar, i.e. no real cinematography, explore similar themes… yadayadayada, you get the point:No real artistic value in them), but obviously one cannot deny the scale and quality of the action sequences they create. But that is a direct consequence of their financial success. You don’t really need much brains to create a great action sequence, throw in some guns, explosions and the classic damsel-in-distress scenario, and you’ve got an audience that is cheering by the end, saluting and praising their heroes. Television, however, has explored alternative structures of story-telling. I actually hesitate to use the word television, because I don’t know whether to count Netflix as a television series producer. Let’s just refer to them as series’ for simplicity. The last few years in series production have been quite groundbreaking in terms of originality, thematic value and production/distribution methodology.
The story of AMC is the primary source of my desire to write about this. We now know AMC as the greatest producer ever existed in all time forever (excuse the excess praise, but they happen to have produced 3 of my favourite shows: The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Mad Men, though not necessarily in that order). AMC’s transition to a full-on original scripted content producer slowly initiated itself in 2002. Specifically, September 30, 2002. The day AMC underwent the significant production model switch from showing classic films to films of all eras on its channel. This also included a change to its brand logo to what we know it as now, with small letters. 2007 was the year AMC started on its journey, with the debut of Mad Men, the now popular show about the Madison Avenue Advertising Executive life, filled with sexism, alcoholism and the blatant sexual banter that is associated with the era of the ’60s. Then came the one and only Breaking Bad, which became a SUPER-hit with both critics and fans, and The Walking Dead, which is another hit with critics and an even bigger hit with fans.
These three popular shows have one thing in common, a very problematic protagonist. I can’t say much for Mad Men, as I have just forayed into that journey, but I know my Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead stuff quite well… Donald Draper in Mad Men is blatantly sexist in the series premiere itself (“I won’t be talked down upon by a woman” I believe was the phrase.), cheats on his wife regularly, among other things like his job anxiety, excessive smoking (which apparently every white person in the show has.) Walter White suffers from an invulnerable pride in ownership and legacy, and stifles in his day to day life right till his diagnosis of cancer, upon which he cracks with an innate desire to mean something before his inevitable death by leaving a mark on the world, as well as leaving something behind for his family to survive, hence the legacy. Rick Grimes is terribly tormented by the post-apocalyptic world he now lives in, brutalised by not only the necessity to do seemingly terrible things for survival, but the death of his wife as well as the constant loss of people in his group, which he cannot control, and the occasional necessitated killing of people around him.
Another show that cannot avoid discussion in this is, obviously, House of Cards. The Netflix adaptation of the BBC original. (Yes, there was in fact a show of the same name produced by BBC released in 1990. Both of these shows are based on a novel of the same name by Michael Dobbs). Francis Underwood does a lot of f***** up things along the way in his quest for power and his rise among the ranks in Washington. The point in all of this is that morality is set up as being an aside. A thing that the supporting characters reconcile with via conversation with the lead, or by reacting to situations occurring to them. This allows for deeper, more comprehensive exploration of other themes not often dealt with in movies. Racism, homophobia, elitism and other deep topics as well as themes like pride, doubt(the movie of that name is genius, by the way), duality(BrBa is the number one contender in this regard) receive proper treatment at the best TV shows, but is often treated with a passing aside as a one-liner joke filled with satire. Movies nowadays have relegated themselves to the traditional good-guy vs. bad-guy-who-wants-to-do-traditionally-evil-things conceit, wherein morality is the primary, and often the sole theme that is advanced. We know the good guy is the one to root for, and we desire that the bad guy is taken care via defeat, death or whatever. It is so simple, its become a rudimentary element in popular movies today. These shows have garnered unprecedented fan bases, and more often than not critical acclaim is proportionately allocated with popularity and commercial success. Yes, even shows suffer from the exceptional few not-so-popular one season shows that you think are truly genius pieces of work but are cancelled right after season one due to low viewership, because after all, it is a business.
But the majority trend as mentioned before is a great indicator of the serial audience’s taste, as compared to film. Transformers 4:Age of Extinction, a Michael Bay piece of poop, grabbed over a billion dollars at the box office… Its times like these that I often question my own existence as a human being, even though there are other reasons to do so vis-a-vis war, murder, colonialism, blah blah blah <insert more world, human problems here>. The Fast and Furious franchise, poorly done things calling themselves movies that struggle to even make sense, as inconceivable as action movies can get, garnering millions of dollars each movie at the box office. My personal exception to this would obviously be Christopher Nolan, who has somehow managed to stay on reasonably great terms with both critics and audiences, with nearly all of his movies garnering critical acclaim, commercial success and fan recognition and praise alike. Heck, he was so influential he was able to convince Paramount to fund a 9 digit (100’s of millions) budget for a non-superhero, non franchise film (Interstellar) after he finished The Dark Knight Trilogy!
So basically, if you are looking for actually good content, watch serials and some offbeat low budget movies with the casual Nolan/Scorsese/Tarantino/Fincher film. Thanks for reading this essay, and see you tomorrow!
P.S. Here is a favourite youtube of mine talking on a slightly related topic, on the lines of original content’s absence in the film world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVv_9rqaDHA