Monday, January 20, 2020

2010s TV: THE ESSAY (According To Shawn) PART ONE

2010's TV


There is a book I got for Christmas that I've been powering through all month and am nearly finished with. It's called The Revolution Was Televised by Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall. In the book, he details how a handful of TV dramas from the mid-2000's changed television forever. I can certainly relate with my own relationship with TV. Growing up, I didn't really do TV, I watched movies. If I was sitting in front of a screen, I more than likely had a movie on. I never committed to TV shows and if I didn't have a movie on, then the TV wasn't on. If you asked me in grade school what I thought TV was, I thought it was just a haven for afternoon kids learning programs, soap operas, hospital shows, family sitcoms and police procedurals. It was clear to me that movies were the superior medium.

When I got to high school, I heard people talk about certain things on TV. I began to see an episode or two of "The Sopranos." I still wasn't committed to any television programs in high school, although I did love me some "Family Guy." But it did feel like television was beginning to change. Once I got to college, at the tailend of the 2000's as a decade, I really began to see how it was changing and the shows that Sepinwall highlights in his book are hard to ignore. A show where we empathize with a family of mobsters? It had never been done before. A cop show that felt like a novel come to life? It had never been done before. A show that so accurately portrayed our post-9/11 anxieties so soon after the attack. It was hard to imagine that it could be done. The 2000's changed TV forever.

Into the 2010's, the change continued. As movies were pushing the nostalgia, pushing the past, trying to jumpstart any shared universe they could, TV was experimenting. They were constantly challenging what could and could not be done on television. It got to a point where you couldn't tell TV apart from the movies. There was a time when TV was secondary to movies and when an actor went out to Hollywood, they went out to be a MOVIE ACTOR not a TV ACTOR. That day is officially done. So many actors have crossed over from movies to TV and back, and vice versa, because the quality in TV is there. Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Terrance Howard, Michael Pena...nothing like it had ever been done before. If the 2000's was the decade in which TV matured, then the 2010's was the decade in which TV tried to see how far they could push the definition of maturity. This was also the first decade where I really began to pay attention to TV.

Back in November, I teased writing a Best TV of the 2010's list and recently I've been running into much writers block around it. Like I said when I teased the list, TV is such a different animal compared to movies. TV required many hours of attention and time. When you watch a movie, you know how you feel about it after its over, sometimes it can take a few seasons to find out if you like a show, or from a good show to become a bad show. Even though this was the decade of binge, there's a bunch of shows I have either not watched yet or I'm right in the middle of them, since I'm in the middle, I have no idea where I'd put them on an actual list. So this end-of-the-decade list isn't going to be a list. This is going to be more of an essay. I am going talk my way through the TV I digested this decade. The stuff I loved, the stuff that I possibly didn't, and everything in between. It all added to the flavor of a decade where I was front and center and TV for the first time. I've broken this essay into "chapters," and in each chapter I will discuss things within the same topic.

So why don't we get started.

Chapter One: Adult Animation is my Achilles' Heel.
Possibly my favorite thing on TV this decade was the overwhelming wealth of adult animation. When we talk about animation, it is always treated as something that is exclusive to kids. But in movies, with stuff like "Sausage Party" and "I Lost My Body," animation is merely expression. That's it. You can pretty much do anything with it. While all the adult animation that came out over the 2010's was pretty much rooted in comedy, what could and could not be done with adult animation comedy was challenged this decade. Even on shows that had already set the bar for adult animation from previous decades.

Shows like South Park, The Simpsons and my personal favorite, Family Guy stayed strong this decade. Hell, even Beavis and Butthead came back for a brief stint, it felt like it had never left. I am amazed by the longevity of South Park, especially after how the 2010s manifested into the PC-SJW wokeness that we are living in right now. The show has certainly benefited from telling a season-wide story each season. But for the show that literally makes fun of everything, I am so delighted that it has remained on the air and will be moving into its third decade.

Family Guy remaining on the air into the 2020's is definitely a little surprising, mainly because sometimes the show feels like its phoning it in. I would definitely say that the funniest episodes came from the late-90's and 2000's era of the show. Many of the show's biggest episodes fell flat in some ways. The last two "Star Wars" parody's weren't nearly as funny as "Blue Harvest." The episodes making fun rom-coms and Grimm fairy tales could have been better. The episode where The Griffins finally meet The Simpsons should have been a watershed for adult animation history, but it ended up being astonishingly safe. Despite these hiccups, there were still some classic episodes in this decade. The episode where Brian and Stewie get locked in the bank is a classic. I love the two-part Agatha Christie spoof and I loved their various Christmas episodes. The show is still very lovingly weird and still feature moments where I belly-laugh for hours.

Adding Bob's Burgers to Fox's animation domination Sundays was the icing on the cake along with The Simpsons, Family Guy and whatever else Fox chose to align them with (Possibly the best Animation Domination run in my opinion was Family Guy, The Simpsons, Bobs Burgers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine). There were lots of shows like Alan Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite and BorderTown that went in and out of the line-up. I am just glad that Bob's Burgers had the power to excel throughout the decade. It's a wildly funny show, a nice mix of offbeat, quirky and slapstick humor. For as long as The Simpsons and Family Guy have been on the air, I hope Bob's Burgers can stay for many more years to come.

We can't talk much more about animation involving H. Jon Benjamin any further without discussing Archer. I fucking love this show. I love that there is a show that so merrily pays homage to the old James Bond movies and the old "Mission: Impossible" serials while also tearing down those things to their exposed id. It's almost like an exaggerated look at James Bond, that just so happens to be absolutely hilarious. Even when you thought the show was running out of steam, and Archer goes into a coma, the seasons of "Dreamland," "Danger Island" and the one that takes place in space is another fun look at old exaggerated iconography of pop culture's past. The crews really do their homework before each new season. The payoffs have really been revelatory since. I am going to miss Sterling Archer once he's gone.

Then there is Netflix, and even though we are going to get into a much deeper dive of the streaming platform, I cannot go further without mentioning their huge slue of adult animated entertainment. They've got a lot to choose from. I think my absolute favorite show on the entire platform was easily BoJack Horseman. I know some people that watched the first season and couldn't get into it. That's fair. Its a pretty weird first season. A world where humanoid animals and humans live together and it chooses to focus on a washed-up actor who is passed their prime. But when you keep going with it, it reveals itself to be more real about getting your life together, relationships, failing families, depression and anxiety better than any live action show. Even as early as season two, the show is already experimenting with what it could do. (The silent underwater episode is oddly beautiful) and the episode where BoJack speaks at his mother's funeral was simply amazing. F is For Family is possibly the best Netflix cartoon nobody is talking about, and much like BoJack, gets pretty realer than real at moments. I am on the fence as to if Big Mouth should exist at all, but while sometimes I am pretty uncomfortable watching it, I do appreciate how challenging it can be. Then there is Disenchantment, which looks to be another winner for Matt Groening. One thing I watched last winter that wasn't comedy but totally adult animation was Love & Robots on Netflix, and oh man its amazing. I think the first season of Paradise P.D. will be its last on the platform.

While they are not necessarily "adult animation," I have had so much fun watching both Regular Show and Adventure Time on Cartoon Network. Anything that has a funny and weird world is a pretty safe bet for me and while those shows aim mostly for kids, there is something universal around them. These are two shows that I am confident could work for the whole family if they sat down to watch together and that's rare. Something that isn't for the whole family though, Rick & Morty. Yes, I am  huge, huge fan of this warped "Back To The Future" riff. Its so wonderful, too wonderful for words.

Chapter Two: World War Stream continues into the 2020's
We just can't talk about TV in the 2010's without getting into streaming services, because they have been a game changer. More and more, people are cutting their cords (my household included) and opting to invest in a handful of these streaming services. Its been a very lucrative business, but as we've been seeing, now every company and studio wants to own their own content. Understandable. Definitely. But the thing is, paying for ten streaming services all at $5.99/each ($9.99/each if you really can't stand commercials) and at that point, you might as well just pay for cable. Each of these streaming services comes with its own slue of original programming though, most of which doesn't go out on blu-ray (Which I think is absolute bullshit and bad for business.) These companies just want us to buy up all these services without much remorse.

My wife and I own subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video and CBS All Access. We have Disney+ through a friend and I like CW Seed because its honest-to-God absolutely free. So these are the services we will be discussing in this chapter. We already got into Netflix in the previous chapter, and like we stated in that chapter, they have a great slate of adult animation programming. Netflix is significant because they were the pioneer. It all started with House of Cards. The show had to be a hit, or the significance of the streaming service would drop considerably. Thankfully House of Cards was hit and for many years, it was my favorite show on television. I thought it was fun, rousing little political thriller for those years. I thought it featured some of the best acting by Kevin Spacey in his whole career. But the last two seasons saw a significant drop in quality and it had one of the most anti-climatic endings to a show I can think of. Plus, after what happened with Spacey, its kind of disgusting to discuss anymore. Stranger Things seems to be the next big thing that is really appealing to me and since BoJack Horseman is sadly ending its run this year, it might just be my new favorite from the service. Netflix excels with their true crime docu-series'. The Staircase, The Keepers, Flint Town, Evil Genius and The Ted Bundy Tapes are all absolutely flawless and frightening looks at real crime and corruption in our own backyard and I found all of them riveting in some way. Even though I only saw bits and pieces of Making The Murderer, I'd say that was riveting as well. Black Mirror aka Technological Twilight Zone was a massive addiction, telling out small tales that made me laugh (Miley Cyrus last season) and even made me cry (seriously, "Arkangel" from season four, dear god, it broke me) and it had so much to say about the 21st Century that it would have made Rod Sterling weep. I also can forget the awesomness that was Ozark and Mindhunters both excellent and gritty crime dramas. As well as the criminally (pun intended) underrated Bloodline. After its first season though, The Witcher is a big question mark for me going forward. It didn't capture my attention like I thought it would.

That might sound like lots of amazing content on one streaming service, but honestly, Amazon Video is an unsung hero with great content as well. I haven't cracked into everything that Amazon has to offer quite yet, I feel like I've sampled enough to let you know that it is a worthwhile streaming service and if you take the time to roam, you'll find something to love. Everything you've heard about Fleabag is true. All of it. It's one of the greatest things I've laid eyes on, honest and warm and charming and hilarious in equal measure. A total delight. As is The Marvelous Ms. Maisel. Both are shows you wouldn't think would appeal to 30-year-old guy like myself, but I hope that highlights just how powerful they both are as shows. I haven't dug into season three of "Maisel" yet, but its on the to-do list. Jack Ryan has had two wonderful seasons, action-packed without being exaggerated and hyper-realized like the movies were and just plain cool in general. Homecoming is a show that I am absolutely rabid for a second season, I loved everything about it. Forever is also a show I can't wait to see a second season of, simply because of how fun and unique it is. I also highly recommend The Romanoffs even though with each episode about a new family and each episode being the length of a movie, its a hard show to binge watch. I have just now started to scratch the surface of The Man In The High Castle, yes I am late but I like what I see so far.

Hulu has been late getting into the original content game and there isn't nearly as many choices as both Netflix and Amazon Video have. That is soon beginning to change, and if Bob Iger is to be believed, then Disney has some big plans for the streaming service. Really, I've only actively watched two of their originals so far. The Handmaid's Tale was a show I loved for the first two seasons, but the middle of the third, I gave up. It's very dark, its very bold and aggressively told. Its got a knockout cast. Its got everything needed for a riveting drama. But, within the rules established in this world where a far-right fundamentalist Christian group takes over the American government, our hero Offred, should be dead. She's escaped her captors several times and somehow still remains alive, even though characters die (or are granted punishments worse than death) for much lesser offenses. Its the most obvious example of Plot Armor in a show I can think of, even worse than The Walking Dead. The way Offred leaves her captors, then sneaks back into enemy territory to rescue her daughter...only to not do any of that. Seriously, how is she still alive? Stuff like that took me out of the show, so after two and a half seasons, I've broken up with the show. Castle Rock had a cool first season, but it was tough to binge. I am not sold on the J.J. Abrams Mystery Box belonging in the world of Stephen King. In season two, with a really young Anne Wilkes, it just seems weird. I am going to start watching season two as soon as possible and I hope I enjoy it. I am just looking forward to what this service could possibly become.

CBS All-Access doesn't have much yet but its a fairly young service so far. I am very much looking forward to Picard, but since we are talking 2010's, Jordan Peele's The Twilight Zone was everything I was hoping for with the revival. A show that respects and acknowledges the old show, but has taken an identity of its own in the process. I don't have AppleTV+ and I am not sure I am going to get it. An app that only has original content is ballsy if anything else, but it sounds like they really haven't made a significant splash with what they've offered so far. That's always in line to change, so we shall see. Disney+ is another fairly young app, but The Mandalorian is worth every single penny. Everything a Star Wars fan would want and even more. It's rougher around the edges than I thought it would be and featured some fun actors and cameos. The World According to Jeff Goldblum has been a surprising addiction as well. Encore! seemed like a good idea, but a show I got bored with in the middle of the first episode. The Mandalorian is a great start, but I can't wait to see the Disney+ Marvel shows.

There are plenty more shows on each of these services that I will be discussing in future chapters (they simply tie into other chapters in a better way). The bottom line is this though, these streaming services aren't going anywhere. The 2020's will serve how much livespan is left before the bubble bursts and it will see who lives after the dust settles afterward. But in the upcoming months, get ready to re-manage your entertainment budget.

That's all for now. Tomorrow, I will publish chapters on Horror-On-TV, Reality TV and yes, Superheroes-On-TV. So come back then as this look back at the 2010's in TV continues...

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