It occurred to me that I don’t write much about television shows anymore. My mother would like to say that this is just another attempt on my part to glorify watching TV serials. She would like to add that I really shouldn’t be making fun of her one vice, the Hindi serial she has been following for years, with a name as long as its running time.
“But it doesn’t have any villains, it’s about a family and how people can be good or bad depending on the situation,” she likes to explain.
My brother and I didn’t stop making fun of it, and her, as we sat with our dinner plates in front of the TV and gave her company.
Let’s go back to talking about me. This has been year of good TV.
I discovered The Americans, a show set in the 80s about Russian super spies Philip and Elizabeth, who are so deep undercover that they look like your average white couple in American suburbia. For all ‘normal’ purposes, they are married, in love, and have two children, a girl and a boy, who have no idea that their parents spend most nights cracking codes and stealing information, occasionally working overtime to avoid another world war. This show is about all those things, but I like to think it is about a marriage at its heart. It explores uncomfortable questions and situations. It reveals to us the pain that comes with never being able to go back to your country, and the guilt you feel when you realize your new home is one of great promise and many opportunities. If your marriage is itself a lie, does it matter that you lie to each other? What happens when you bring children into this union, who grow up thinking they aren’t different from other families in their neighbourhood? What would you do if your daughter turns to Christianity and your only guiding principle is the Communism your nation taught you? What happens if an FBI agent moves in next door? (If you are Elizabeth, you bake chocolate brownies and make his family feel welcome.) The conflicts explored are sometimes physical, sometimes ideological; self or state, individual freedom versus duty towards a greater good.
The Americans has possibly one of the best female leads: Elizabeth is fierce and strong, she isn’t as easily swayed by emotions as Philip, and she will stay true to her cause even if it costs her everything. She kicks ass in every way. And there is something glorious about old school undercover operations: the wigs, the accents, the mechanical equipment, the idea that maybe saving the world comes down to a group of people making the right decisions at the right time.
I am a bit late to The Sopranos party, but I now firmly believe it has got to be one of the greatest dramas ever made. It follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of an Italian-American crime family in New Jersey. All characters are memorable, but mob boss Tony Soprano is the one we can’t take our eyes off. He is the ultimate anti-hero: funny and generous, cruel and greedy, kind to animals and terrible to people. He is a gangster who fights with his therapist, has numerous affairs while assuming that his wife will remain faithful to him forever, kills people and then has nightmares about it. I do not know how real the show’s representation of this demographic is, probably because I do not know anyone involved in a crime syndicate, but I took no issue with it. I continue to have fun observing the accents, the attachment to an imaginary ideal of Italy, the ethnocentricity and all the delicious baked ziti.
Let’s just say I’ll never look at ‘waste management’ as a career the same way again.
While The Americans isn’t a very popular show, Stranger Things is, and I was surprised to note I couldn’t really get on board with that trend. Stranger Things is a combination of all the genres I don’t care much for: geeky kids who think they can save their town because they understand science and Dungeons & Dragons, melodramatic high schoolers who are preoccupied with dating and sex, adults who are busy bringing to light The Man’s conspiracy. Thrown into this haphazard mix of genre tropes is an 80s period setting and influences from popular culture of that time. It doesn’t help that I have no real feeling for any of that; I spent most of my time wondering why the kids were always unsupervised.
I am a bit terrified of having this opinion though, I have only been hearing praise for this show. It can get somewhat deafening, especially in these times of internet hype, where everything is a hashtag and everything is the #Greatestofalltime, or #Goals, or #Life, or whatever. Apparently, you can even describe something as #Everything, if you like it too much.
Of course I watched all the other shows that were talked about, some of these are Westworld (messed with my mind for a long time), the latest season of that bloated production Game of Thrones, Defenders (all the Marvel superheroes came together and put me to sleep), Master of None (still awkward, still hilarious, still important), Insecure (very attractive black people with narratives and concerns normally reserved for marginally funny white people, please watch it).
I continue to think writing year end lists is too much of a cliche, even if I I have done exactly that.