Surrounded by emptiness, a palm-sized screen
A problem that I have with true-crime series, books, films etc is that they often prioritise the perpetrator as an object of study when the stories and experiences of the victims are more important. The Assassination of Gianni Versace shone brightest when it focused on the traumas experienced by the gay men who had already been through so much before they met serial killer Andrew Cunanan. These stories were important because they uncover facts about the lives of gay men that are under-discussed even now. However, the series still suffered from repetitiveness when it narrowed its focus on Cunanan and began overstating details about his character that it had already established. When I read the Pulitzer-prize winning on which Unbelievable is based I believe it ran into the same problem albeit to lesser extent. The article includes passages from the subjectivity of the serial rapist who attacked multiple women in Colorado in 2011. After reading how much pain and trauma he had caused these I was not interested in his motives or mindset when he committed these abhorrent crimes and could not understand why the writers had included these sections. These sections do not provide much unexpected insight into the mind of a predatory criminal and only emphasises what us as readers had already assumed and what the detectives who worked the case had already stated. I just found these sections repulsive and sickening and was struck by how unnecessary they are, they do not illuminate anything in the narrative- only recap what we had already been told- and the most powerful aspect of the events, the victims’ accounts, had already profiled the perpetrator for us.
With broadcast television on the brink with today’s television landscape evolving past arbitrary notions of live ratings and into the echelons of the modern streaming world, the major broadcast networks stringently stick to any template that they find successful and replicate in the hopes that it will provide them stability. The historically successful family comedy has now become the template ABC so adores and pins much of its hopes on year in and year out. From a financial perspective this is perhaps a shallow enterprise as the network utilises this successful format to death until it’s no longer profitable, only last year did the programmer have ten different family sitcoms on in a single working week. This movement perhaps stemmed from the failure of shows surrounding the channel’s heavy-hitters Modern Family and The Middle failing to live up to the standards of its most-watched comedies whether due to quality or tonal incompatibility the network was at a loss to find something to put between their two favourites (although cult favourites Cougar Town and Suburgatory are still mourned). Moving The Goldbergs and Black-ish into the fold proved enormously successful and ABC soon wanted to branch this venture out further. ABC has been particularly savvy in their choice of projects to greenlight so that none of their shows look similar and there are such a broad array of family dynamics in the 21st century that there can be many unique portrayals of family life in such ubiquitous format. This has seen the diversity of the network grow as a result and many of the portrayals of minority groups subvert abhorrent stereotypes seen in previous media. If one were to look at this cynically it could be said that the network is aiming to reach every viable market demographic available, but the programmes created here can be desanitized when it comes to real social issues. Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish, The Real O’Neals and Speechless have offered us fantastic onscreen representation and work hard to represent diversity as a living reality and not just a tokenistic quota to be filled. Among these I think that Speechless’ emotional storytelling and buoyant humour made it the strongest sitcom and perhaps programme in general that the network had to offer and am saddened that the show’s run was cut during its prime.
Opening with a cold-open of quiet emotional intensity, Chernobyl is a gripping and haunting television from the outset and never once wavers over the course of its as it exposes the turbulent sequence of events leading up to the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the immediate aftermath of the disaster. It’s a grim but significant and ultimately necessary piece of television and an important lesson to a world that was on the verge of nuclear war at the start of the year. It’s devastating to see how an event three decades ago has not resonated enough to dissuade figures from producing nuclear weaponry even though their impact and devastation have a permanence that extends beyond our lifetime. These are the thoughts that spring to mind when watching Chernobyl and there are many disheartening realisations present in this miniseries that hit us hard as the show is deeply immersed within the harsh reality it presents. This is apparent immediately as the shows begins by depicting the suicide of its protagonist Valery Legasov- portrayed with ample gravitas and pathos by Jared Harris- which is an event that looms in the mind throughout the series as we witness all the devastation that he was privy to. His relentless fight against to overturn this devastation and save an entire continent while damaging his relationship with the state and making himself dangerously ill in the process is an remarkable act of selflessness. He’s the perfect figure to centre the series around but Chernobyl also shares a uniformly strong ensemble cast with some of the best working British actors today guiding us through one of the most shocking historical events of the 20th century.
Bong Joon-ho over the course of his filmography has established himself as an idiosyncratic filmmaker who’s known for making films with a postmodern approach to genre- combining subgenres within films and even in individual scenes to make indefinable hybrids that have reached mass acclaim. Parasite has been seen as his greatest achievement and has recently made history at the 92nd Academy Awards by becoming the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture- a momentous win that was unexpected yet entirely deserved. When I was watching the film I was so shocked that this film has been sweeping awards boards as it has simply due to the fact of how striking, original and brilliant the film is. There have been other films heralded and awarded for their excellence and originality like The Favourite and Get Out, both of which rocked the respective genres they were subverting to their core, but neither managed to take the Best Picture accolade. The way in which Parasite utilises allegorical narrative has seen comparisons to the latter and as Get Out’s brilliant symbolic imagery managed to evoke the sense of America’s distorted race relations, Parasite’s narrative does the same for class warfare with wholly unpredictable narrative twists that have left audience’s mouth agape and have seen the film garner a level of international success and intrigue not seen for a film from East Asia since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the turn of the century.
A critical darling but somehow never a dominating presence at the Emmys, Friday Night Lights is an almost unheralded gem that never quite attained a mass following or an array of accolades even though it clearly deserved both and more. Yet for those among the show’s devoted fan base, the brilliance of the show is well-known and celebrated dearly as this touching, brilliantly-realised depiction of a Middle America town crazed by American football offers a beautiful look at the value of community, family and love. It does this without dipping into hokum and instead gives us potent messages and a deep exploration of each of the show’s numerous young protagonists and the guiding figures of their lives that exist at the centre of the narrative. The show has such a uniformly strong ensemble that constantly changes as characters come of age and find opportunities outside of the hometown that has shaped their entire lives and that they’ll be bound the rest of their lives. This sentiment is immortalised by series mainstay Tim Riggins who makes a pact with his best friend Jason Street in the pilot with one of the fans’ oft-used quotes “Texas forever.” It’s a promise immediately threatened by an unexpected turn of events in the first episode of the show and a sentiment challenged throughout the show’s run but it’s become a declaration of appreciation to avid Friday Night Lights viewers who hold this special show so dearly to themselves.