For many of us TV is a tool used to escape the dullness, even the cruelty of everyday life. After a weary day of being bombarded with aggressive online behavior, or even just having to deal with callous social interactions in the real world, turning on the TV, or switching to that Netflix/Hulu account serves as a way to distract from how awful everything around us seems to be nowadays. We’re living in a time where misinformation, unsympathetic behavior, and general douchebaggery reign supreme. If it’s one thing we’ve learned from the past year, it’s that everybody has issues. Typically where TV has served as a reflection of the world around us, often giving us relatable, ,glamorized versions of ourselves, it has now actually started to take on a much more bleak tone. While we still see the characters on our screens as relatable, within the past year, a shift has occurred to embrace how awful the world around us truly is. If you pay close attention, it’s actually obvious that these shows have taken over the cultural milieu, and can even be broken up to emphasize that, yes, the world is truly a terrible, scary, sometimes funny place to live in.
The Criminal: The Reveal
These are the shows that focus on the psychologically…tilted. This is “The Reveal”, or the beginning of the end. Shows like Mr Robot, Mindhunter, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace give us a glimpse of what it’s like to live in the minds of the emotionally disturbed. While Mr. Robot differs from the others, in that its focus isn’t quite on understanding the minds of the corrupted, it still gives the same insight by explaining the “why” of the world around us. Whether it be the top of the top 1% (or the psychological damage done in attempting to reveal the truth), or your typical serial killer, each of these shows has a prime interest in revealing not only the true criminals that roam our streets, sometimes uncontested, but that they have a vested interest in explaining how they go about affecting the world around them.
The Horror: The Reality
So, as it turns out, the world is messed up. It’s full of criminals, serial killers, and the socially anxious. For many of us in the United States, 2016 proved to be a tumultuous year, where our worst nightmares came to life. The following year, the problem proved too big to ignore, and TV shows like American Horror Story, Black Mirror, and Stranger Things have all concentrated on the dark side of our very real situations. The content of each show may vary on a base level, but each show in this phase deals with how we go about confronting our worst fears. Whether it be our anxieties about Presidential Elections, the countless ways our technology can turn against us, or the growing darkness that seems to be sweeping over everything, these shows plunge us right into the world and leave us to do our best to survive it. Where “The Reveal” focused on the criminals at large, “The Reality” focuses on the victims, and how their lives are forever changed by the actions of those around them. This is where everything we know is turned upside down, and it seems the only way out is through.
The Surreal: The Confirmation
Is this really happening? I mean, is it really happening? The answer is yes, things are just as bad as they seem. This phase is as far into escapism as we really get nowadays, but if you take a close look, the escape isn’t much more than a twisted, and weird reflection of some of our deeper, more ingrained fears and insecurities in a larger social context. Atlanta, The Good Place, and Rick and Morty, are good examples. In each show we get surreal landscapes, alternate timelines, and thinly veiled, dreamlike versions of everything we think we know. You’ve gotten through “The Reality” of the situation, and now “The Confirmation” phase of shows asks the big questions: “is this really happening? and if it is, does it even matter?” These shows exist to show us not only how far removed from reality things have gotten, but also that maybe things have always been this messed up. On a larger scale, they blur the lines between what we think we know, and what actually is, to the point that it almost doesn’t matter. Rick and Morty deals with alternate timelines so often that we see how each reality has patterns play across similarly in each parallel world, and Atlanta had an entire episode dedicated to a fake TV talk show, complete with fake commercials. These shows ignite the fires in our worst existential nightmares, not to bring us out of “The Reality”, but for us to embrace it fully, because the world is different than it was just a few years ago, and yet it doesn’t matter.
The Insanely Funny: The Bright Side
So this is the state of the world now. We’ve all gone through some traumatic events, and our fair share of self reflection, and as it turns out, things are probably going to be pretty bleak for awhile. Shows like Corporate, Alone Together, and End of the F***ing World put emphasis on people in the world as we know it today. These are shows where we see a darker side of our own behavior, combined with how we interact with those with similar issues (if not worse), in this new, terrible, not so different world. A show like Corporate for example, which takes place in an office environment, focuses on the demanding, soul sucking aspects of working for a large corporate entity. It looks similar to a show like The Office, but the one thing that makes them different is their tone: where The Office dealt with similar things, it took on a more lighthearted approach, and Corporate doesn’t bother to do that because in the current socio-political climate, we’ve found things have changed. Not only have the people around us changed, but we have as well. End of the F***ing World is about a self diagnosed psychopath and his journey to kill his only friend in the world, because that’s just the world we live in now. “The Bright Side” may seem to be the gloomiest of the phases, but in reality it proves that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. While each show in this phase may have that “American Psycho” theme of everybody being crazy, it also just proves the point that everything is just business as usual. The only thing that’s really changed is our awareness of the world around us, and how we interact with it. Now that we realize how messed up everyone around us is, the bright side is that we’re not really alone in any of this, and once you realize that, you can start to laugh a little bit.
Each phase represents a part of the whole that makes up the current TV landscape that we know today. Where in the past we’ve had shows that have had similar content, and even largely the same in tone, nowadays these shows are more popular than ever. If TV is representative of how we see the world around us, then the rise in popularity of these shows with darker themes, and bleak overtones are indicative of how we’re dealing with the trauma of the past two years.
Be sure to share this article if you agree, or comment your favorite TV show to pop up in the past year that relates to any of the phases.