My BFF and I binge-watch episodic television on streaming services, or – in the parlance of our times – “Netflix and chill.” We always find, though, that everything in the panoply of shows available, on multiple streaming services, is just so dark. It’s either harrowing, desperate drama or mean and sarcastic comedy. Personally, I like harrowing, but my BFF prefers entertainment with a positive message – but where is it? I suppose in the Kids Profile, but that won’t suit us.
So why is everything so dark in this entertainment era? I think there are two possible explanations. The first is that the fault lies with my generation – Generation X – which currently dominates television and film, as directors, writers, producers and lead actors. GenX likes fiction that is raw and uncomprimising, exposing the rotten side of the human psyche. We like fraying and corrupted settings populated by wandering anti-heros.
Another possibility is that it is simply the zeitgeist, or spirit of the age. It is a deeply pessimistic time, and our society is interested in exploring human failure, at both the individual and institutional levels. That is why there are so many end of the world stories coming out. It’s where we assume we are headed.
Really these two factors intersect, as it is the attitude of the living generations that defines the spirit of the age. So while my generation is at the peak of life and in charge of creative content, you’ll just have to live with the new noir age while we work out some personal issues. Once we get through these dark times, some other generation can create the celebratory epics of our triumphant passage through the gates of history.
Of course, it is also true that there are options for entertainment that my BFF and I ignore – cable and over-the-air television with its many niches and its nostalgia channels. No mind, because my BFF got hooked on the brilliant – and harrowing – Amazon Prime show The Man in the High Castle. And if we want upbeat, we can always watch The Waltons. Yes, on video streaming services one can binge-watch television from 40 or 50 years ago if one wants. Truly amazing times.
We’ve been watching Star Trek: The Original Series on Netflix and I am impressed by what a good show it is, really standing the test of time. This is despite the fact that by today’s standards the plot development is slow and the acting melodramatic. On the other hand, the characters are well defined and engaging, and the stories are interesting.
It’s really the superlative writing that makes the show, bringing in the talents of some of the great science fiction writers of its time. As I watch the episodes, I see how Star Trek was the fountain from which all future sci-fi television sprung. There really didn’t need to be any more sci-fi TV after that; it’s all just the same stories again and again. Not that I’m saying there shouldn’t be any more – I am someone who laments when I can’t find any more high-quality sci-fi left to watch on three different streaming services.
Star Trek: The Original Series comes from another age, an expansive era when America was confident and proud. It deals unapologetically with issues of empire and civilization, has faith in the benefits of technologically progress, and projects a future where gender is still strictly defined and the white guys are comfortably in charge. Later versions of the franchise (there are at least six) tracked the changing social mood, and I’m hoping that once we’ve watched all the episodes, I can convince the family to pick up with Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I’m up in PA for a bit and the boy wants to watch as much Smallville as we can get in while I am here. He says it’s his favorite Superman story because Clark Kent is not overpowered compared to his adversaries. The girl mostly likes it because Tom Welling is such a cutie, but she’s so exhausted from her work days that she usually falls asleep during the episodes anyway.
I like the way it neatly bridges the transition from the Gen-X youth era, as exemplified by a similar TV series, into the Millennial youth era. The other series to which I refer is (you may have guessed) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which like Smallville has a superpowered chief protagonist who attends high school in a town where weird things happen. In Buffy the preternatural events occur because of a gate to Hell, whereas in Smallville they are because of a meteor impact. In both shows the main characters depend on as well as protect a cadre of loyal peers, and there is ample high school relationship drama.
What’s neat is that the characters in Buffy are from the class of 1999, the last Gen-Xer high school class, while the characters in Smallville are part of the first wave of Millennial high school grads. Granted, Clark Kent is portrayed by a Gen-Xer (Tom Welling was born in 1977), but the supporting cast of friends and love interests are almost all first wave Millennials. Overall the characters seem more well-adjusted, more outgoing and less angst-ridden than the characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Smallville characters with emotional issues who exhibit antisocial behavior turn out to be the episode’s bad guy and often meet unfortunate ends.
You can really see the contrast in the families of the main characters. Buffy has a fraught relationship with her single mother, who is usually too busy to be involved with her daughter’s life and doesn’t even realize she is a Vampire-slayer until later in the series (sorry for the spoiler). But Clark’s Mom and Dad are together, invested in helping him with his powers and fully present in every episode. The Kents are a quintessentially American midwestern family, corny and endearingly wholesome.
I’ve heard that the series changes format and gets darker in later seasons; so far I’ve only seen Season One episodes. For now we’re enjoying what feels to me like part of the early 2000s television coming of age of the Millennial generation. I guess Glee could be next…
A tough day at work has put me in the mood to watch Vikings (on Amazon Prime, of course), another in the modern vein of gritty and rough-edged TV series, covering a period mostly neglected in historical drama – the Dark Ages in Europe. As you may imagine, there is a lot of warfare on the show, just what I need to heat up my blood.
One scene from an episode I’ve already watched has a Norse warband defeating a less disciplined English force, which ties into a book I recently listened to – War by Sebastian Unger, a reporter embedded with a platoon of airborne infantry in Afghanistan. In the latter case, as well, the superior training and discipline of U.S. forces allows them to prevail against a seemingly endless supply of hapless Taliban fighters, who are mostly teenage boys with almost no warfighting skills (but armed with deadly weapons and therefore a serious threat).
So across the ages, this simple military principle holds – discipline and training are the key to success in battles, whether fought with bow and arrow, spear and sword, or with rifle, mortar and grenade. But also consider that England is ruled by the English still, and the Taliban remains a force in Afghanistan. So winning battles is not necessarily going to achieve one’s war aims in the long run.
That’s enough thinking for now I am going to watch TV.