We’re exposed to a plethora of subscription streaming services, here in 2017. Not only has this content wave brought the entertainment world a little closer (and more conveniently) to our fingertips; but it’s forced the new age media monoliths to really up their game and start making better TV.
Gone is the waiting all week to catch some ‘decent’ TV – which was normally on a Saturday night (think Gladiators and Blind Date back-to-back); when shows started at a specific sit-down time and messing around/faffing during the ads was a sin, as there wasn’t a pause or rewind button in sight.
I think this shift is also a healthy kick up the arse for broadcasting in general – public service in particular (despite what the staunch Strictly fans might argue…) Bodies like the BBC have really had to pull their creative socks up over the past five or six years and this has actually resulted in some pretty sweet product from them too.
The digital entertainment age is truly producing gems. Once you choose your favoured arsenal from the now astounding number of service providers, and sort yourself out with a decent VPN to experience global broadcast – you’re ready to rock.
And by rock, I mean, finally, truly get your money’s worth. Not just your entertainment fix. And not only your choice of what to watch and when. But, an opportunity to enrich the soul. After all, that’s what TV should be doing…
In my eyes, looking at the medium in its most basic form – whether being absorbed on 55 inches or 5.5 inches – TV is a magical story-telling box.
Yes, it tries to sell us stuff. Yes, it can have its bad content days. But, in essence, and at its best (which I believe it hasn’t been until now), it’s a shaman-like domestic friend that entertains AND educates; throwing us wisdom and morals in 25, 55 or sometimes 79-minute (cheeky GOT finale) segments.
So, how doth the box enrich? Well, here’s a most recent, personal example, that has genuinely improved my life through its clever characters, socio-cultural messaging and sheer elegance.
Gosh, this one didn’t half sneak up on me. Don’t judge a book by its cover, my Granny always told me. Well, nowadays, we shouldn’t judge a TV show by its promo shot or name. After seeing Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Nicole Kidman (none of whom are my favourite on-screens stars) lined up next to each other under the title of ‘Big Little Lies’, I thought, “A new take on the Gilmore Girls; probably a light-hearted comedy romp – not unlike Modern Family, but sadly without Phil.”
[CUE FAMILY FORTUNES INCORRECT BUZZER SOUND…]
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Admittedly, even after the first episode, I wasn’t convinced. It was the lovely, smart and culturally-enriched (I’m calling this sentence my begrudging apology) Kirsty who said to me, “Jeez Greg, give it a chance; everyone who’s watched it, LOVED it.”
And she couldn’t have been more right. Here’s what the show absolutely owned, what I think it teaches us, and why it ended up meaning so much to me:
Big little life-lessons
- Getting the slightly less important, but still very cool ‘style over substance’ segment of this piece out the way; wow – what a cool/beautiful show. With Lynch-esq creepy flashbacks and cut scenes aplenty, opening credits that tell their own mysterious little story and a masterfully picked soundtrack, Big Little Lies pulls no creative punches. And this is enough to whet any TV appetite (“It looks damn good, so it’s probably going to be pretty damn good” – I convinced myself).
- Slightly meatier stuff now. I really like a good tale of Trouble in Suburbia. Why? Because, it erodes social barriers, challenges our understanding of the norm and reminds us that we’re all vulnerable/flesh and blood; that’s why. I love that the money, houses and high powered jobs of the majority in Big Little Lies, can’t mask their misery, nor solve their problems (actually, it makes them worse and drives unhealthy competition that distracts from resolution). This is all rather akin to some of my all-time favourite horrors (sorry to bang that drum again); where middle/upper-class suburbia is violently disrupted by the menace of an unseen/evil presence. There’s nowhere to hide. And white picket fences don’t mean shit when there’s trouble to fight.
- Auteur-wank out the way, what really got and taught me, were the frightening everyday social issues and their depiction by a collection of, IMHO, the most inspiring, influential and genuine characters I’ve seen on the screen. Our suburban heroines find power in sharing and connecting their individual struggles. A great ‘love thy neighbour’/problem-shared-problem-halved analogy and lesson in today’s fast-moving and sometimes lonely world. The characters’ journey through adversity, is ultimately rewarded with real friendship, respect and trust (the power I mention). I think we’ve got a lot to take from this and learn, as a society – particularly my fellow dudes, who are synonymous with bottling up/non-sharing which can result in seriously messed up and damaged mental health to name but one of the many unwanted by-products. More often than not, it’s really positive and healthy to share, unload, discuss and support, when it comes to social taboo. Fuck being British about it. Fuck being ‘brave’ about it. Just talk/share a random connection, even if it’s with someone you don’t know, or even like (your ex-husband’s sexy new partner, or your daughter’s friend’s mum who thinks she’s better than everyone else because of her amazing job).
- To loop back, I also think this show (and other TV diamonds) go beyond a portrayal of simple honesty and opening up. They transform into something more quintessentially human than we realise. A deeper level of emotional intelligence that’s probably helped us get to where we are today. Let’s look back at the wonder (medium) of TV itself, for a moment: our magical storytelling box. Well, these are the stories being told – and we’re witnessing the true art of sharing, teaching, etc. Telling our own stories, in a thousand different ways. They don’t have to be a happy or funny. Quite often, the best aren’t – they’re simply ranked as ‘the best’ because they’re the ones that help us teach each other about the important things in life. It’s a true gift of humankind. And we’ve found the optimum stage (and constant flow of rich content) to finally use and spread it.
Thanks, Reese, Nicole and Shailene. And thanks, Netflix; you’re helping me become a better person. Or at the very least, recognise what it takes to become a better person. And all for £7.99 a month.
My mum always says, “Too much TV isn’t good for you; most of what you watch is absolute rubbish.” I think she’s partly right. Staring at a screen for hours isn’t good for anyone. But I must stress the ‘partly’… Nowadays, thanks to real investment back into what seemed like a dying medium, I reckon more and more of what we consume is absolute gold.
Image courtesy of HBO.