After recently re-acquiring access to Netflix, I decided to sit down and watch the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy. I don't watch television, that is to say via a cable box. I some times find a series on Netflix and decide to watch it through. SOA is not the only show I've watched on Netflix. I've watched The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Hell On Wheels, Dexter, and a when I had SHOTIME On-Demand I watched the first season of Californication.
I didn't think too seriously about the content I was viewing, but rather accepted it openly because it was hailed to have some of the greatest drama--And proved it on many fronts. Now, however, after an observation made by a friend in mind and watching S4 of SOA, it's become apparent that all these shows are incredibly dark--Too dark perhaps. It's not just that they have darkness about them, but that rather, darkness is all they seem to have to them. Each one of them remains relentlessly hopeless with hardly a chance to feel good. And a majority of them seem depressingly fatalistic toward their characters. No chance for escape, this is life for them, and will be for at least as far out as we can see on the horizon. It's ironic that the finale of the fourth season of SOA closes with a cover of the memorable "House of Rising Son" because as far as I can see, there is not even the remotest sign, not a single ray of sunshine. The question is why?
Why has television turned down this road? And why is this new breed of drama so popular? What does this say about our collective psyche, or about our philosophy in general? Does this express an underlying sense of resignation to tragic fate? Is this where we're really at? Historically, there have always been tragedies, but they always had a fair balance with more optimistic stories and plays they never seemed to be so brutal and detached.
Any way, regardless of what I've here written, share your thoughts and analyses on the current state of entertainment.
I know what you mean. To be honest, we've had more success with dramas than comedies on the child-friendly front. We're not as sensitive to violence/fighting as you are. TMNT is fine by us. We don't much mind violence, so long as it isn't horribly gory. Watching good guys fight bad guys is fine for kids. Indescriminate sex we're not so comfortable with.
My kids have watched a few minutes here-and-there of The Walking Dead ... though not before we've seen it, and not the goriest parts. My son thinks the zombie combat is awesome. He seems to like my wife's "scary" movies, though. He saw about 10-minutes of Scream once about a year ago ... and still talks about it.
Then again ... we've cut off episodes of The Big Bang Theory because of sexual content. Go figure. Modern sitcoms are just too sexual for kids. Youngsters are much more likely to derail their lives with casual sex than with gunfights, anyway.
For us, most dinnertime fare is Pawn Stars or The Cosby Show or America's Funniest Videos or something innocuous like that.
Even though The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows I have to agree about turning it off when Ayden is around, which sucks as it is on just after dinner so I miss it 9.5 times out of 10. We like watching Wipeout together and he was fascinated with one of the science shows about volcanoes on other planetary bodies in the Solar System.
My kids like Mythbusters a lot. Science. Engineering. And explosions.
We watch most of our TV after we've sent them to bed, though. That's why God invented the DVR.
I used to watch SOA when it started. I made it to season three after Oppie shot that FBI lady in the back of the head, and they were being halled away in the paddy wagon. I agree that there is so much darkness. I think it's part of our psyche that we have become so detached form things. Some of my friends like braking bad for the drama the Brian C has when he plays his character and about how when your despeart and trying to get a hold of your life you will do some crazy things. As much as yes that is a fact of life, seeing on tv that way grandizes, and turns people who do bad things into heros instead of the heros that really gave theier lives for the common good.
One of the reasons I stopped watching SOA was because of the SEX sceans. I don't care what show it is if it is a show about gangsters I want to see gangsters not this prolonged sequence of Jax getting his flippers of with Tara. Also the writers are in no way in a rush to get Jax to actually do what he says he was going to do when he read his Dads memoir. They are perfectly ok with Jax not living up to what his character is supposed to do, like the modern day Michael Corleone who was suppose to legalize the family business. Plus it is to much dramatized for a biker gang. The mother would never be in the position she is if it was a real biker gang. Lets face it at the end of the day, Women are property to those guys.
I don't apologize for the standards I set for TV shows, but it's such a fall from what it once was. no one acts anymore, there is no redemption on shows especially gritty crime dramas. Like if they did get out of the life it sends a message that it is possible for others to and to pick themselves up when they fall, and no one wants to see that because it makes them look in the mirror.
Can you expand on this sex thing?
The characteristics you're describing remind me of literary naturalism like that of Jack London or the more contemporary Cormac McCarthy. It involves a generally fatalistic view and places characters in extreme situations. The focus of these kinds of narratives, and I'm getting to the heart of your question here, is that it's not about the hopelessness but about the human spirit. The Walking Dead has far more to do with the men and women surviving in that world than it does with zombies. These seemingly hopeless situations simply provide the best mirror.
It is dependent on what you watch. I like the BBC's Torchwood and Mythbusters.
As to tragic fate, I assign that to the rise of a game of thrones. I could not get into caring deeply about a character and having them killed off. But I don't watch soap operas either.
The description in OP sounds a lot like the 1970's. There seemed to be no reason for things to be so depressing and awful.
And in the 1980's, people were tired of it and started to party again even if life sucked ("Neutron Dance" sums this up).
And in the 1990's, we were getting sophisticated.
And now we're depressed again. I don't think it's necessarily cyclic. But there was a reason for 1970's cynicism: people were cynical in the rest of life, too, coming to greatly distrust every major institution except (!) TV. They stopped trusting the cops, stopped voting, stopped thinking life was going to keep getting better. Today, we (or at least I) feel helpless on the national scene once again -- crazy things happen, and we shrug and move on, feeling powerless to change things. That was not the feel in the 1980's, when things were getting better. Or in the 90's, when things were staying better. Or in the 00's, when we were so used to things going well we no longer found it interesting.
There will be exceptions to this analysis. Terminator is a 1980's movie, e.g. But I see general trends, and it's interesting to watch things from decades back and see how ludicrously easy it can be to place them, even if you aren't looking at the turtlenecks, mullets, etc.
Interesting article from last year, vaguely on-point. The rise of the anti-hero in shows like Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Dexter, etc. ...
Where are the heroes? Dislikable antiheroes have taken over the TV landscape. It would be nice to have someone to root for again
Last week, a strange thing happened on “Mad Men,” stranger than Fat Betty, Roger’s marriage-ending acid trip, or even Don’s blindingly plaid dinner jacket: Don Draper lectured Pete on the sanctity of marriage. In the cab ride home from a business-slash-pleasure trip to a brothel, Don condescended to Pete, “Look, I am just trying to tell you because I am who I am and I’ve been where I’ve been that you don’t get another chance at what you have … If I’d met [Megan] first I’d have known not to throw it away.” Up to that point in the season, king cad Don Draper has been transformed into an adoring, puppyish married man, one who had nightmares about committing infidelity and swaggered while fixing busted sinks, not pleasuring other people’s wives. Before last night’s episode, and his wild display of bossy childishness, workplace dysfunction, and enforced sherbet eating, Don Draper was no longer quite an antihero. Of course it couldn’t last.
The antihero, the alluring, charismatic, sometimes sympathetic, but simultaneously immoral, selfish, unethical and often criminal protagonist, has long since taken over the television. Tony Soprano, Stringer Bell, Walter White, Don Draper and their kin comprise an omnipresent archetype found in the best shows on the air (“Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Homeland,” “Game of Thrones”), some of the most unimaginative shows on the air (Fauxpranos like “The Killing,” “Magic City,” “Hell on Wheels” and “Boardwalk Empire,” series that have been conceived in “The Sopranos’” image, but lack all of its depth), and many of the dramas in between (“Dexter,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Revenge,” “Damages,” “House,” “The Borgias,” “Shameless,” “Boss,” “Weeds”). The preponderance of antiheroes and the masculine worlds they tend to inhabit is now so extensive that on Twitter a few weeks ago, when NPR’s Linda Holmes wondered, “Hypothetical: I want in on this ‘golden age of TV drama.’ I am not really into blood or macho power jostling. How many choices do I have?” the only answers seemed to be “Friday Night Lights,” “The Good Wife,” “Parenthood,” “Downton Abbey” and “Justified,” which does take place in a world of macho power jostling, but at least features a hero who deserves the white hat he wears.
The sheer ubiquity of antiheroes has numbed us to the oddness of their prevalence. It shouldn’t. The number of antiheroes on television is straight up weird, as if 80 percent of the people on the street were wearing eye patches, or, more accurately, if 80 percent of the people on the street were wearing eye patches because this guy named Tony Soprano made them look cool.
Consider the state of the antihero in the decade prior to 1999’s “The Sopranos.” When “Twin Peaks,” TV’s first audaciously auteurist series, premiered in 1990 it kicked off a decade of TV whose best shows revolved around more standard good guys, even if they were complex and conflicted ones. Think of “Peaks’” Zen-practicing, pie-eating FBI agent, the dedicated doctors of “ER,” the charming-irritating Ally McBeal, the idealistic civil servants of “The West Wing,” Mulder and Scully and their endless search for the truth and a diminutive but lethal vampire slayer named Buffy.
Then in 1999, “The Sopranos” arrived. “The Sopranos” had antecedents — from comic book vigilantes and the Dirty Harrys, Travis Bickles and Michael Corleones of 1970s cinema to “NYPD Blue’s” racist, alcoholic, butt-baring detective Andy Sipowicz and the convicts of HBO’s “Oz”— but it quickly out-influenced all that had come before it. With backup from 2002’s “The Wire” and “The Shield,” it all but annihilated the hero, give or take a few survivors on “Lost’s” Oceanic Flight 815 or “Six Feet Under’s” the Fishers.
The first wave of antihero shows acted as a statement of purpose about television’s new, serious ambitions. If historically, TV had been a medium designed to sell you soap, to entertain and distract you, a vehicle for commercials, the antihero thoroughly upended that. If you watched Tony Soprano, Vince Mackey or any of the corner boys, cops or drug kings on “The Wire” like they were characters you had seen before, heroes in waiting, you were going to get sucker-punched and devastated over and over and over again. An antihero was an aggressive way to short-circuit viewers’ expectations, to show them they were watching something brave and new. TV could be challenging, thorny, difficult, and there was no better way to convey this than through the challenging, difficult, thorny central character.
But we are well past the place where thinking people doubt TV’s artistic potential, and well into the territory where the antihero is a cliché. And yet he still flourishes, in shows both good and, increasingly, not so good, even as series like “The Good Wife” and its cynical worldview, or “Friday Night Lights” and its dazzling, wonderful Mr. and Mrs. Coach demonstrate, yet again, that the antihero is not necessary to ambitious television.
It’s against the backdrop of the oversaturated antihero market that the possibility, however brief, that Don might be maturing was so fascinating to me: Redemption is not a typical fate for an antihero, and here was Don, inching down that path. I had my fingers crossed that Don was making real progress, even as that meant ignoring all the ways he remained a jerk. (He may believe the self-deluding nonsense he said to Pete, but it was still nonsense, if only because Don never could have married a woman like Megan — confident, knowing — the first time around.) If Don was still unpleasant, at least he was a faithful while he was doing it.
As of last night’s episode, fidelity and bold speeches to Pete aren’t enough to cover up Don’s still glaring flaws. Even in love, Don commands Megan around like his favorite docile toy, remains uninterested in her wants and desires, abandons her when he gets mad, gets threateningly physical, and entirely ignores his professional responsibilities. Wishing this not to be so, wishing that Don Draper would cease to be an antihero just for variety’s sake, would be to miss the tree for the forest, when Don makes for such stupendous, watchable, handsome, volatile and emotionally damaged tree. “Mad Men” is “Mad Men,” and I feel lucky to watch it, antihero or otherwise. But I do hope the fact that “Mad Men” was still working during the brief calm of Don’s temporary personality makeover is taken as proof that there is no possible twist — not even the happy ending, or the nice guy — that a great show can’t pull off.
We’ve seen the antihero die and we’ve seen him stagnate; wouldn’t it be nice, every so often, to see him get better?
Two things. First, as a matter of craft, is it harder to write a story with a hero or without? Would the greatest writer create a hero, the greatest hero, or not?
Secondly, as a matter of public opinion, what's the worth of outraging bourgeois morality when everybody does it? Like Chesterton said, in these latter days, defending any of the cardinal virtues has about it all the thrill of a vice...