I’m not going to lie to you I watch way too much TV and none, or at least very little of it would be seen as genuinely intellectually stimulating. After long days stretching my brain to meet the needs of the day job, by 9pm all I’m really good for is a couple of hours on the sofa watching TV programmes that only vaguely reflect the real world. At least that’s what it looks like on the surface, but when my not-so-exhausted brain flicks back to the previous night’s entertainment I sometimes think how clever the writers and producers are at slipping genuinely thought provoking ideas into popular shows.
Stick with me and I’ll show you what I mean by looking at my favourite shows.
The Walking Dead
On the surface this is a good old fashioned western. A small group of pioneers setting out to find a safe place to live with enough resources to keep them safe and let them live. But on closer inspection the plot is secondary to the characters. The Walking Dead is all about the characters dealing with past trauma and moral dilemmas in a world where society has been exposed as a facade and we’ve returned to the survival of the fittest. Oh and there’s zombies too!
The story of an accidentally immortal medical examiner who is searching for a cure for his “problem” and works as a consultant to the police department sounds as formulaic as you would expect. However, the casting raised the bar on this one and allows writers to weave some really interesting subtexts about how life is fleeting and all things change into unsurprising plot-lines. Ironically the flashbacks (a tool I confess mostly irritates me in other shows) set the scene for the under current messages about the real things that matter, like how the things we do today impact on people and the world in time to come.
The TV spinoff of the graphic novels and I suppose the movie to some degree is still getting its legs as far as I’m concerned. And will reviewers please stop hammering Keanu Reeves for his part in the movie. We get it, so it was a little disappointing to die-hard readers of the original material, enough already!
Even though this can at times look and feel a little like a reboot of Supernatural (minus the annoying kid brother but with the necessary sidekick and angelic visitor) for me the really interesting element is watching how the back-story of the botched exorcism has affected the main character and what appears to have been the Scooby Gang that helped him. The impact of regret and how it influences our life choices is nicely handled without upsetting those who just want to be spooked.
Cain and Abel in Harlan County. It’s really that simple. The writing is amazing, the acting is even better and the accent is the cherry on top. There’s just the right balance of positive and negative in each of the main characters to make them real (even if the good guy wears a white hat!) and despite a certain lack of scruples on the part of both Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder the complexity of knowing what good and evil really keep the old brain ticking over constantly. Not to mention the intelligent plots twists.
I could go on and on to include the battle of the sexes that is the Good Wife and the importance of family and how it helps us survive life’s traumas that permeate every scene of NCIS but that’s a conversation for another day. What subplot keeps you watching your favourite TV shows?