Rants

Rant#18 – All the TV that made me (Pt 2)

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Continued from Part 1.

Everybody lies.

House M.D cast

It was smart, keeps you on your toes and gets really dark. Dr.Gregory House’s cynicism and general misanthropic tendencies were just what I was looking for to drown into day in, day out in late 2015. It was perfectly structured for a lengthy binge session too – it was finished by the time I began, 8 seasons with 20-24 episodes each, 40-60minutes an episode. If I wasn’t in class, I was in my room on my bed watching House. The show pulls you in, each episode opening with a mysterious illness and then the fallout, eventually leading to the big reveal. For all non-doctors, any medical show is a mystery in itself; when you take that and add a team of doctors, each with their own stories, a Sherlock Holmes-style reveal and the truth bombs that House keeps dropping about human nature, you just can’t stop watching that. It is uncanny how the writers managed to do that  – find a medical mystery, progress the character arcs of each person and weave them into each other – for a hundred and seventeen episodes. The pilot is titled ‘Everybody lies’ with the finale being ‘Everybody dies’ and that pretty much sums up the commentary on human nature that the show focuses on. It’s beyond just how smartly a medicine can hide, it is about how sometimes people try to hide behind lies just to keep their darkness within in spite of their life being at risk, how everyone is basically out for themselves and literally no one’s an exception. An average looking patient comes in with a gorgeous wife, everyone sees true love but House figures out that she’s a psychopath, a patient who gave away all his belongings to the needy comes in, everyone else is in praise, House figures out he’s got a tumour on his pituitary gland making him exceedingly altruistic. He doesn’t do them out of doubt, those are just his first instincts about the situation. I found all of it rather thought-provoking. People never really do anything that doesn’t come accompanied with a personal benefit, should they be aware of it or not and that’s just how it is. And no one ever does anything out of free will, there is always an underlying reason, again, should they be aware of it or not. And everybody always follows a pattern. Dr.Wilson only dates women he deems ‘broken’, ’cause it lets him feel better about himself when they are ‘fixed’, after with he is prone to cheating on them as a next broken target appears. Thirteen’s actions all can be traced back to her awareness of her mortality as she has the markers for Parkinson’s. House’s own actions stem largely from the loss of his leg and the constant pain he suffers from. Everything is a defense mechanism. Of course, outside all the cynicism, the show is oodles of fun with the differential diagnoses, all of House’s comebacks and some very intelligent screenplay. That one episode where House’s brain figures out what happened on the bus right after an accident muddles up his short-term memory was genius. The show is also a vague homage to Sherlock Holmes and besides the names of House and Wilson, mirroring Holmes and Watson, his address being 221B, and the similar ‘faking their deaths’ ending, there lies a long list of subtler references to Holmes throughout the show. I miss that show.

Meth, Blood and Tears.

Breaking Bad promo

Breaking Bad was to pace myself as I attempted to walk out of House and into the real world. It was equally riveting but it wasn’t as depressing. It was shorter too. It was chock full of easter eggs and foreshadowing, who else remembers that one episode with the plane crash that pretty much hinted at the deaths of everyone else for the rest of the season? This show is a trivia-quiz goldmine with so much thought put into every scene. From the colour palette of the clothes of each character to the names of some of the people and episodes, they all always had something to be read between the lines.

A Convenient Acronym.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again every time – Agents of SHIELD is the most underrated marvel show ever. There are barely two other people I know who watch the show and I’ve been terrified of it getting cancelled forever. The show was similar to Supergirl, which began with promises of linking directly to the big-screen DCEU but turned out to be its own thing. AoS was and still is, a direct spin-off to the big-screen MCU but even as the movies continue to fail to acknowledge them, the show still stays true to its initial goals and faithfully reacts to and picks up the pieces of every Marvel movie that comes out. Granted the whole premise of the Avengers coming together was built upon the death of Agent Coulson and acknowledging this show in the movies would mean the acknowledgement of Coulson’s revival and it could have profound effects on the Avengers, especially Tony. That would make things messy and it needs to sway the plot substantially to do it justice. The movies at this point are far too along to have their very cornerstone questioned, not to mention it would leave a huge gaping hole for those in the audience who aren’t aware of AoS at all. They can’t just have Phil Coulson show up next to Fury in a scene, throw a quip, get a smirk back from Tony and be done with it. That wouldn’t be right. They did have cameos from Maria Hill, Fury and Lady Sif in the first couple of seasons but then the larger MCU has been stowed away into mostly name-drops only. The shows do take cues from the movies though – they showed up in Scotland to clean up the mess left behind after Thor: The Dark World, their entire premise is thwarted when The Winter Soldier dissolved SHIELD and they dealt with the aftermath beautifully, Dr.Strange introduced magic and dimension-hopping and made way for the ghost rider to walk into AoS. His final departure into the hell dimension by opening up a portal using his fiery chains is an exact replica of the portals that Dr.Strange and his wizard buddies open using their sling rings. Even standing on its own, the show is pretty darn good. Almost every season opens slow establishing the plot, throws the entire plot out the window with a mid-season twist, builds up a new plot for the second half, ending with a cliffhanger leading to the next season. One of the best outcomes of having this show is the love story of Fitz-Simmons. You can pretty much ignore everything else that’s happening in the show from its moon-dwelling-inhumans to the flaming-skeleton-heads to the virtual-simulation-Nazi dystopia (it’s a sci-fi secret agent show set in a world of superheroes, what did you expect?), and just watch it as a TV romance drama solely following the arc of Dr.Jemma Simmons and Dr.Leopold Fitz. Their love literally transcends time, space, life and death

Avengers: Street Cred.

Netflix Marvel shows

If the CW-verse was DC’s take on the MCU tone, the Netflix shows are Marvel’s take on a DCEU-ish tone. The TV format is perfect for establishing and exploring the complexity of these characters given all of them are born out of tragedies and don’t exactly see themselves as ‘superheroes’. They are not crusaders of justice, they do not want to make the world a better place. They were people bestowed upon with heightened abilities virtue of accidents, illegal experiments, years of training in a mythical plane of existence and they have very specific, slightly selfish goals. They are the street level micromanagers. Daredevil takes care of Hell’s Kitchen and not much beyond and he does it best. It’s more realistic. He’s blind, he’s a lawyer by day and he can’t fly, swing on webs or own a super suit, so it’s more believable that he would roam around the rooftops trying to do as much good as possible in his immediate neighbourhood. Jessica Jones’ powers were the result of a childhood trauma and it’s understandable that she wants to stay hidden as much as possible, drowning her time in bottles and chasing cheating spouses for a living. That’s the most good that her persona allows her to exact. Luke Cage is more of a small-time Captain America as far as this group is concerned. He, to an extent, enjoys being the hero and it’s all he does and he does it with a greater good in mind. As the second season shows, he does get carried away with the fame and in a time of need, tries to make money off of it using sponsorships. He has his flaws and space for so much growth in future seasons. Iron Fist, as he states more often than he blinks, is the sworn protector of Kun-Lun and enemy of the Hand. Throughout the first season, that’s all he cares about, even though he abandoned Kun-Lun for his old life the moment he got a chance to. So he has his flaws too. I wouldn’t say the shows are ‘dark’, rather the themes they choose to explore are more complex and cater to the human side of these heroes and it’s not a treatment we’ve seen of super-powered characters in recent times. It’s similar to how Zack Snyder approached Superman in Man of Steel. Of course, in classic Marvel style, once we had the respective first seasons – and a second of Daredevil, guess that makes him the Iron Man of the Netflix world – there was the glorious team-up series, The Defenders. It worked. At least for me. When they finally stood next to each other after four episodes and the music pumped up a notch – literal shivers. I recently read that there are no talks of the second season of Defenders yet. I guess that’s good news. They don’t necessarily have to stick to a format of phases like the MCU. Let the heroes team up when there is an organic need to. Until then we’ll get our jollies from watching Danny Rand help out Luke Cage for a couple of episodes and Misty Knight becoming BFFs with Colleen Wing. I’ve heard the Punisher’s first season was one of the best, but it is still queued. Too many shows, too little time. 

The prodigal son returns.

Collage Sitcoms

I’m not sure in what order I saw them, but they all came back to back as I stepped into the sitcom genre again. They are all absolute comedy gold while holding their own personas as well. Brooklyn nine-nine was the buddy-cop trope in the sitcom format. While it does touch upon more serious issues like racism, homophobia, sexual discrimination and corruption, it does so without deviating from the comedy format while not trivialising the issue at hand as well and just for that the writers have all my respect. Parks and Recreation and Modern Family are what the kids these days call wholesome AF. They don’t stress too much about the real world and revolve around the little group that they’ve bred us to grow fond of. Every time I find myself in a tough spot while working, I try to associate them to one of the PnR characters and think “What would Chris Traeger do?” You have no idea how handy that can get. For now, I’m just assimilating all that’s going on in Modern Family and I’m sure I’ll start looking to it for guidance when the time comes for me to raise my own family. Any dead end and all I have to think is “What would Phil Dunphy do?” While Chris Traeger was chosen out of his sheer optimism to literally everything, Phil Dunphy was chosen more out of a personal compatibility with the character. Looking at him, I just know that that would be the kind of father and husband I’d be someday. Just hope I find a good Claire. 

Community is more of an acquired taste. It may not be for everyone. The show mostly deals with meta humour, exploring different TV tropes and plays around with a variety of storytelling techniques. The complexity of the show doesn’t stem from its story or characters but rather how the show, as art, as a story-telling medium, chooses to approach it. We dealt with Abed and Troy’s feeling about Troy’s departure through a game of ‘The floor is lava’, dealt with Jeff’s coma through an animated G.I.Joe style-episode, Pierce’s insecurities regarding being the odd-son were explored in an episode entirely styled as a Mario-era video game. They have a dark dimension and they constantly talk about bottleneck episodes and ‘6 seasons and a movie’. I run a website called ‘what fourth wall’, so I obviously love meta jokes. I’m all for the show. It does come from the same creator of Rick and Morty and backed by the directors of Civil War and Infinity war, so you can expect solid quality from it. Much like House MD, this show too often dives into the underlying reasons behind why people do things they do, in a more comedy-laced treatment.

Netflix and Chill

Netflix

Somewhere along the way, Netflix had gotten all the rage and was churning out new cult hits every month. I began watching Stranger Things just weeks after we had begun our first dungeons and dragons campaign. The show being layered like one was very much fun to watch. 13 reasons why came next and left me quite broken. For like a week. More than the show itself, how the world reacted to it was more interesting. There were comments that it was a very typical high school drama blown out of proportion and wasn’t suicide worthy. and that Hannah was just whiny. Most of those comments came from grown-ass adults who had completely forgotten what high school felt like. It was barely 3 years after my high school ended and even I found myself judging if it’s really big a deal and had to consciously remind myself what it was like being 16 just a few years ago. There were also lawsuits filed against the show for ‘putting the idea of suicide’ into the heads of young kids. I don’t know if a decision to end one’s own life can be coerced like that through external factors unless it had already been inside them long enough. So I can’t really decide if that was justified. Personally, I loved the second season much better. That particular sequence where all the women recall their sexual assault experiences in court, Clay’s eulogy and the music in the final couple of episodes were some of the most powerful TV moments I’ve experienced.

Talking of powerful TV moments, one can’t forgo Black Mirror and Westworld. To me, the underlying parallels between the hosts and people, the scientists and God makes the show about creation. It takes inspiration from so many religions and myths about where we come from and extrapolates that to what could happen if we do meet our creator and realise our insignificance. While Westworld is about where we came from, Black Mirror is a commentary on where we are heading towards. I’m a big fan of science-fiction and while most portray a highly advanced society with flying cars or a dusty dystopia with killer cars. However, Black Mirror often takes one single piece of technology, takes it up a notch very slightly – barely five years into the future and then weaves a storyline about how this particular advancement would affect our everyday lives. Within every hour-long episode, it establishes a new world, introduces us to this a tech, dictates the logic of this world and how society has been affected by this tech and tells a satisfying, highly plausible story set in the world. The plausibility of the show is what’s chilling. Usually, when we see time machines, trains zipping in hyperloops and every surface overlain with holographs as the ‘future’, we don’t often relate it to our world and dismiss it as being a distant fantasy. But when Black Mirror shows us normal people living normal lives, but with an added gizmo in their heads that records memories, or an overprotective parent monitoring her child using another gizmo or a virtual assistant that’s personalized by literally cloning your mind which is then stuck for eternity inside a tiny bubble, it feels like these are things that are somewhere definitely in the works right now and could be in the market next year. People’s lives are indeed affected largely with the advent of smartphone cameras which has resulted in people storing way more memory than before, helicopter parenting is an age-old thing – parents are already capable of keeping enormous tabs on their kids just by using the GPS on their phone or the various geotags people leave behind on social media. All of us use Siri or Google Assistant or Bixby which are becoming more and more life-like every day. Black Mirror scares the crap out of me. I like it.

Honorary mentions

Post college, I’ve had loads of free time in my gap year and the amount of binging has only skyrocketed up. But given the title reads ‘All the TV that made me’, and these are new shows that I’ve only watched in the last few months, I don’t think I could really go on a rant about what they mean to me. However, it would be a stain on my conscience to leave out any of my babies, so here are the honorary mentions. I went through a cartoon phase for a while that began with Rick and Morty, which one day will get its own post, Avatar – The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra followed and I really regretted not watching them fully as a kid. They would’ve taught me so much, but then again it’s never too late. It ended with Final Space, which was, well a lot of fun. I also outgrew my obsession with closure for a while there and left out a lot of shows mid-way because I grew bored or something else caught my attention. We have Masters of Sex, Secret Diary of a call girl, Mr.Robot, The Gifted, Legion, Altered Carbon and Office on that column. Maybe I’ll revisit them soon enough. There were few more superhero shows – Krypton and Black Lightning from DC and Runaways and Cloak and Dagger from Marvel. Frankly, I’m leaning towards Marvel here. I dropped both DC shows mid-first season. Marvel wins here. However, I’ve been procrastinating finishing Gifted and the second season of Legion for a long time. I finally caught up to Silicon Valley and it gave me a newfound respect for all those struggling in the start-up world. The Good Place got added to the long list of favourite sitcoms. I did not think Young Sheldon was a good idea but it set itself apart from TBBT by being a sitcom littered with very sweet family moments. That scene where he’s about to cry and his sister warns him that she’ll laugh if he does only to hug him when the tears start rolling will always bring a wide smile to my face. It’s amazingly cast with the kids and the mother resembling their older versions very well. It paved the way to provide the context for Sheldon’s many quirks and TBBT often uses characters like Tam that Young Sheldon introduces that it hasn’t explored at all. I usually shy away from cop-dramas but Blindspot took me by surprise and extremely cut down my sleep routines for about 3 weeks. I eagerly await the new season soon. That about covers it. 

It’s a beautiful day to save lives

Grey's Anatomy title

While all these other shows were being watched, somewhere around early 2018, I had begun watching Grey’s Anatomy on the side as well. I still am, it is long. It always came in phases. I would watch 3 seasons straight in under 4 days and then I’d forget about it for months as college or a newer show takes over my attention. Eventually, I come back to it and it’s like I never left. The whole then repeats. I’ve slugged my way onto season 12 finally and hope to catch up to the current season 15 run by the end of this month. But then again Physics GRE is in the way. The reason this show gets a special, standalone mention at the end of my write up is that it helps me sum up how exactly all these shows have ‘made’ me. I could’ve just as well called this a list of all the shows I’ve watched or turned it into a ‘Top 10 sitcoms’ series. I had to list them out, chronologically, for me to fully appreciate all the changes I’ve been through these last seven years and the influences that I’ve had accompanying me. Anyone who knew me well enough would tell you that there is barely a speck of originality left in me. Most of the things I say, most of my humour, most of my sarcasm and most of my solutions to deal with my problems are directly paraphrased from ‘that one episode from that TV show’. I often hesitate to suggest shows to people because they would discover just how much more of my personality is layered off of TV characters. Unfortunately, I at times expect the world to react like a TV show as well and that often ends in disappointment.

The characters in these shows are written by other humans and they often assign a strict profile to each character and all of their actions fit that profile. You could write a fanfic and put it up on Reddit and people will be quick to point out so many instances where the particular character would never act that way. We know these characters, we’ve seen their journey and all their proud and weaker moments and we only judge their characters with all that in mind. It is almost a voyeuristic pleasure. People are never like that in real life, anyone is capable of anything depending on the circumstance. They only judge you for the immediate action at hand never bothering about what brought you there. Everything makes sense in a TV show and very often the people involved immediately acknowledge the reasons as well. Barney Stinson cannot commit long-term and sticks to one-night stands because his father abandoned his family when he was a kid, Marshal Eriksen fights desperately to ‘win against the machines’ because he is scared his body is letting him down when he can’t impregnate his wife, Chandler’s sarcasm popped out as a defence mechanism post his parents’ divorce,  Ellis Grey turned out to be so fierce because she had to fight to be taken seriously as a female-surgeon, Ellis and Richard leaned on each other because they were outcasts being female and a black male in a white-male-dominated team. Meredith Grey is so twisted because she could never win her mother’s approval and this bleeds into her own doubts of bearing children. Karev’s first instinct is to be mean because he had a tough childhood dealing with an absent father and schizophrenic mother, Owen Hunt and his war PTSD, Derek and his issues with seeing his dad shot in front of him – I could go on all day. Nothing inexplicable ever happens in TV shows. Each character has a distinct profile and a backstory and all their actions can be explained away and often the characters themselves acknowledge that’s why they’ve been acting so at the end of the episode. That would require hours of therapy in the real world. Even the ‘twisted’ characters who are prone to shrug off their issues and stay in denial always end up finding a person to have the ‘talk’ with. You can never expect such a rich context and closure from the real world. People are unpredictable, hate facing real issues and don’t really bother much about leaving loose ends as long as it is comfortable for them. TV shows can’t do that because the viewers would never accept loose ends. People on TV never leave or change abruptly, even if they do, they come back at the end of the season to explain it away. You don’t get the explanation and backstories in real life. People never take the time for introspection or sit down to tie up loose ends.

I keep expecting life to be like TV, for everything to hold context and every ending to grant closure, to explain away why people are the way they are. I feel more confident about doing something when I can relate it to an episode, it gives me a sense of premonition. I know how that episode ends, so I have some plausible information about how things would turn out for me. Ross Geller, Ted Moseby and even Phil Dunphy were all professors at some point in their lives, and even more so, Eric Forman took a gap year after high school and eventually decided he wanted to be a teacher and moves to Africa. All that makes me feel better about the gap year that I took and my decision to move out of the country and someday become a professor (even though the ‘teacher in Africa’ scenario was written just to give Topher Grace an elegant ‘out’ of That 70s show). It sounds silly, but if it helps, is it really silly? I get so excited when I watch my parents or my brother talk or do something very similar to me. It means subconsciously I’ve been noticing them and he’s been noticing me and we’re feeding off of each other’s habits. That makes me feel good. It gives context. I notice myself acting off course, I’d be the first person to notice and it lets me course-correct. A friend once asked why I feel an incessant need to turn everything dirty, as a joke but it led to long hours of introspection and I finally figured out an explanation thinking back to when it first began, perhaps it’s a bullshit explanation but it makes me feel like I’ve tied up a loose end, that’ll do. It is not about relinquishing responsibility, I wouldn’t make a mistake and when questioned, shrug it off with, “It runs in the family.” Of course not, I take responsibility but knowing where it comes from allows me to make changes at the root and decide if it is worth changing at all. It’s much healthier that way. It would be pretty sweet if life was indeed like these shows. We can live next door from our best friends, spend every day in a bar, the nerd gets the hot girl from next door, cops do their job and have fun, hospitals care so much about their patients that they’d throw all medical ethics out of the door, give away pro-bono cases like free candy, have sex all the time in on-call rooms, nobody would ever have a normal wedding that’s officiated by an actual minister and of course, people like Jon Snow get resurrected.

 

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