The Good Wives

“God save us when an Aaron Sorkin antihero is the closest we get to a good guy.”

Image

A few months ago, the New York Observer ran a piece entitled Bad Men: TV’s Most Reprehensible Antiheroes and the Women Who Love Them. The piece was a follow-up to the Golden Globes, which was argued to be indicative of “a new trend in millennial TV protagonists—men who are, if not quite villains, then at least Bad Men.” 

Tony Soprano, Dexter, Nucky Thompson, Sgt. Brody, Tom Kane, Walter White, and Don Draper all fit the description of this type. “At best, our guy is an immoral misanthrope and a latent misogynist. At worst, he’s a sociopath, one who may or may not be running an international drug cartel. Or a terrorist ring. If you’re lucky, he’s merely a serial killer who kills other killers.” The presence of a misanthropic character on a television show isn’t necessarily a new trend – Archie Bunker is a prime example. What is unique about these millenial protagonists is that audiences identify with them. They root for them. They even respect them. 

Who we don’t respect, for the most part, are their wives.

These shows “all portray nosy, ineffectual matriarchs who are simultaneously ice-cold bitches, helpless victims and puritanical enforcers.” Betty Draper and Skyler White especially are despised by audiences, seen as the “spoilsports” to their husbands’ activities – even when in fact they are the victims of them. 

What these women really do is act as a foil to their male counterparts, foils that question the glorified masculinity that the shows depict through violence and rebellion. These women show the side of these men that can be sexist, weak, self-deluding, unreasonable, and downright threatening. When the protagonist is questioned, the audience is uncomfortable. They look for a scapegoat, the root of the problem. “Why is my hero struggling?”

That isn’t to say these women are perfect moral counterparts – they have their flaws and questionable decisions, their infidelity and maternal struggles. But the widespread negativity towards them has to be investigated, especially in an era where there are examples of complex, interesting, powerful female characters leading many different television programs.

There have been many different articles recently on the topic, which is promising, and Breaking Bad and Mad Men each still have a season (roughly) left to engage with these characters on a more complex level. As well, shows like Enlightened and Girls keep encouraging discussion around female protagonists whose relatability and respect differ widely among audiences, an interesting development for complex television. At the very least, the nagging matriarch is a trope that is being dissected in critical reviews.

“Way Down in the Hole”: Title Sequences

A shared feature of many recent shows is their focus on downward spirals, character demises, and mourning, grief, and loss – and their title sequences show it. The credits of these shows are exemplary of their respective shows’ themes and indicate the turn towards darker, more complex content that has been occurring.

Mad Men

Mad Men’s opening titles depict an ad man falling from office buildings, floating downwards past oversized advertisements on the walls of the buildings. The image has been used in print campaigns for the show as well, depending on the viewers’ alignment with the figure and the show (this has caused some controversy, as the image is reminiscent of a 9/11 photograph). The instrumental music accompanying the titles mimicks the trajectory of the falling man, dipping lower somewhat ominously until the man is finally shown sitting in an office chair.

The Wire

The Wire used a different version of the same song for its five seasons. The song, originally by Tom Waits, is called “Down in the Hole” and evokes religious imagery – temptation, salvation, and the fall from grace – that can be applied to the program as a whole. For each title sequence, a sequence of clips from the show is strung together. The clips may be focused on certain themes depending on which season it is, but it is the same effect for each: this show is a glimpse into a fragmented, broken world, composed of various crimes and characters that are in some way associated with “The Hole.” (Notably, much of the first season is set in a location called “The Pit”).

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad uses a short, simple title piece to neatly string together science and drugs, or, more appropriate to the show, formula and effect. In just a few short seconds, the sequence illustrates how rationality can be overtaken by something darkly appealing – in the show this is Walter White, his old life based on formula and routine fading into smoke.

The Sopranos

The opening lyrics to The Sopranos’ title sequence: “woke up this morning, got yourself a gun,” immediately sets up the violence that saturates the program. Tony’s uneasy expression as he drives through the bleak landscape of New Jersey indicates his discomfort in both his work and family life without explicitly showing either.

Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under, a show completely based on narratives of death, loss, and grief, immediately introduces its content with a bleak, desaturated series of images related to the world of funerals. The starkness of the sequence reflects the frankness of the way the show deals with its primary theme, while at the same time bringing artistic detail to what could otherwise be a cursory look at a funeral home.

Four Favourite TV Couples

In honour of Valentine’s Day, here’s some great television couples that you can use to model your romantic life (or, maybe not…) – *warning, some spoilers!*

Image

Buffy and Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Angel’s such a drag, don’t you think? I’ve always preferred the complicated Buffy/Spike chemistry, especially in “Once More With Feeling.”

Image

Jesse and Jane, Breaking Bad

Tragic, doomed, heartbreaking. This storyline gave Jesse depth that no one would have seen coming at the beginning of the series, and makes me cry every time I watch.

Image

Kim and Daniel, Freaks and Geeks

The dreamy rebel and his tough-chick girlfriend? Definitely the most realistic portrayal of a high-school romance, and the source of my favourite Kim quote of all time:

“Are you calling me irrational? Because I’ll tear your head off, Daniel. I’ll tear it off and ‘Ill throw it over that fence.”

Image

Joan and Roger, Mad Men

Mad Men knows how to work the “not together, but still connected” romantic plot perfectly (see also: Pete and Peggy), and Joan and Roger’s continued chemistry throughout the series is a perfect balance of humour and melancholy.

So, who did I miss?

Link

The Buzziest Thing at Film Festivals? It Might Just Be TV

“‘We’d been interested in opening the door to showing adventuresome, quality TV for some time,’ said festival producer Janet Pierson. ‘The lines between indie film and TV have been blurring for years, both in terms of filmmakers finding work and creative possibilities in that medium, but also in terms of where the interesting, intelligent eyeballs are going. When I get together with my peers, I find the conversations quickly turn to the likes of The Wire or Breaking Bad.'”

Interesting article about the increasing presence of TV screenings at film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, SXSW and IFFR, indicating the changing perceptions of television as a “serious” medium.

(via http://indiewire.com

Introducing 20TV

Hi there!

For the next few months at least, this blog will be home to my scattered thoughts on issues pertaining to television series in the 21st century. I’m currently researching this topic for an undergraduate independent project at McGill University (Montreal, QC).

My research is focused on three distinct aspects of contemporary television networks and series: (1) networks such as HBO and AMC and how they work to establish themselves as a brand; (2) the changing visuality and content of shows on these channels, and (3) new viewing experiences created and perpetuated by these shows. Ultimately, the course will lend insight into the future of television studies, taking into account its changing landscape.

In addition to recent theory regarding the topic, the course will involve close looks at The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007);The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008); Mad Men (AMC, 2007- ); and Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008- ).

I hope for this blog to be a space where I can collect my thoughts on my readings, examine particularly interesting episodes, and engage with current discussions about contemporary television studies.