Since I was little I’ve loved film and now I’m older I can appreciate the production and art in the craft as well as the story- it’s always made film something I love to learn by watching.
Conversely, I’ve had a special kind of dislike for TV shows. While there are plenty of exceptions, in the span of all my memory they’ve been little more than a mix of shallow creations with little value or story, and the non-fiction has always been just plain boring.
The exceptions come and go from time to time- Mythbusters and How It’s Made were two (initially) low budget mostly-independent creations that were focused and pure enough while still interesting enough to be good to watch. But blockbusters with soul are rarer still and you have to look at the outcasts and indie companies like Adult Swim to come up with anything with a skew from the status quo.
It’s with this in mind that I say shows like Futurama and the titles below are worth their weight in gold- they’re big budget blockbuster productions that stood the onslaught of the corporate overlords to keep their ethics, values, souls and stories intact and through that gauntlet they became shaped slicker and sleeker but still with enough depth to reach a mind or two.
These are 3 shows I feel represent this perfectly, the best 3 shows I’ve ever watched.
Firefly is an interesting entry because it’s modern and oldschool at the same time. It feels like old TV- where a group of main characters are put through different situations and everything goes back to normal at the close. It harkens back to a time where TV shows ended on a pleasant moral point that the audience can think about, without soapboxing or arrogantly assuming right or wrong. The early Simpsons did this fantastically and many of the best fictional shows of the past stuck to this formula- but Firefly feeds it into a more flexible background story, a higher production value and more human moments than the universe it exists in has any right to portray. Firefly is the best of oldschool feel-good TV.
If you’re interested in Firefly you might want to check out the film version- Serenity. It’s a lot thinner and less character driven than the series but it’s a great entry point and has a faster pace.
It’s with hestitation I add Westworld to this list because it’s so new and it’s similar to bad shows in a lot of ways- it has shiny production values and regular characters going through different situations each episode, perfectly regular normal TV. But what’s hidden to the audience while you’re watching Westworld is that you’re learning- you’re learning about the Universe and the characters and the rules that shape what you see around you without ever knowing it. Every interaction and scenario tells you a little bit more and gives you another piece of the map until you think you realise you want to know what the hell is going to happen next and how things are going to change- which is where the incredible story picks up. Unlike other shows, Westworld has a concrete story in place and a direction from day one and you have no idea what it is or where it’s headed unless you watch like a hawk. Throughout this development you’re also battered with moral considerations, questions of life and love and progress and technology and humanity. Westworld is a show that doesn’t dumb down to let you catch up to the story- it’s on you to interpret a lot of what you see and if you don’t keep up them you’re going to miss out.
It’s one of the few shows I’ve watched twice and it’s just as interesting a ride the second time as it is the first.
If you like Westworld check out Michael Chricthons other work- he’s a director and writer I could talk about for weeks because of two primary reasons- he’s intelligent and curious in equal measures. The original Westworld movie, while dated and cheesy by todays standards, was unique for the time. It’s basically Jurassic Park (also by Chrichton) with robots in that it’s a disaster movie about a theme park where the attractions become the danger.
More than that, read his books. He writes in a way that typically takes real history, science or evidence/discovery from either and writes according to the good old science fiction formula of what-would-happen-if.
1. The Wire
The Wire is everything you don’t do on TV- You don’t make a show about poverty, filth, crime and degeneracy because according to the studio audiences aren’t going to want to put themselves in those characters shoes. You don’t portray real life and all it’s little boring moments and failures because nobody wants to watch that crap. You don’t beat the characters the audience likes with a stick and show their countless mistakes and horrible attributes and you certainly don’t kill them off because that’s what happens in real life. The Wire does them all and more. The Wire drags you into the world and as you slowly come to understand the characters and their choices you find yourself routing for them and the scenario you think might just play- then reality and humanity hit and you’re left with your pants at your ankles and a bullet in your head, cause all the action and suspense and great writing in the world don’t change the fact these are, for the most part, real events taken from real case reports.
Despite the realism and issues The Wire deals with on screen, it never once blames anyone or tells you what’s wrong with the world- every character has dimensions and changes depending on the circumstances they’re dealing with and so while I felt angry at the city in the first season for the failures and lackings in the school system, the show comes back around later on to show that those failures I was bitter about exist for 20 other reasons, including being a result of the people I felt sorry for.
The Wire ultimately shows the human shit-show in all it’s strength and weakness and nails home the fact that being angry and upset at the state of the world is wasted sentiment- you can spend time trying to fix your small part of it and maybe make a difference, you can take what’s yours and help yourself get through it, you can bury your head in the sand, and you can walk away from it all and do your own thing but ultimately we humans are still going to be humans and the shit-show is going to play on.
It’s all in the game.