Sunday, June 22, 2014

5 TV Shows That Count As Reading Great Books

Hello from Kate, and happy Sunday!

Almost every writer I know says, "I need to find more time for reading." As much as we love great books, it can be tough to carve the time and energy for picking up a book out of a busy day. Sometimes, all I want to do is lay on the couch with a drink and watch TV. I'm picky, though-- thin story, weak character development, a plot that goes in circles, or overly dramatic writing spoils a show for me and makes me feel like I wasted my time.

Often the mentality around TV is that it's mostly empty entertainment-- fun, funny, exciting, but not as good as a great book. But that's not always true. Some TV shows are just as well-written and thought-provoking. The goal is to consume great story, and while writers obviously also need to consume words too, storytelling is storytelling. One medium can inform and sharpen another, so here's my advice: when you read, read great books. When you watch TV, watch great TV. Here are some shows that are terrific examples of high quality storytelling:

Breaking Bad
Hands down, one of my favorite shows. Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time. By its end, the series was among the most-watched cable shows on American television. Just look at its award list: "The show received numerous awards, including ten Primetime Emmy Awards, eight Satellite Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and a People's Choice Award. In 2014, Breaking Bad entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest rated show of all time" (Wikipedia).Even though the show's arc is suspenseful and gritty and complex, it's the character arcs that blow me away. Heroes turning into antiheroes, one of the most compelling underdogs of all time, and a chilling look at the force of authority and pride in someone's life. Some people say it's too gory, but in my opinion the show really isn't that bloody. The first season has a few "ew don't look" moments, but it's more grim than bloody. Plus, it's frequently hilarious. The writers do a brilliant job of using dark humor to make the sky-high stakes and edge-of-your-seat storytelling also entertaining. The cinematography, too, is first rate.

House of Cards
I didn't think much could make me enjoy political drama, but this show did it. Subtle power plays turn into life-or-death stakes, and the sheer cleverness of Frank Underwood make him a character you're a bit terrified to root for, but you can't help yourself. It's a wonderful story of ruthlessness, manipulation, and the greater good. The southern flair, the complexity of Washington politics, and the fascinating, unusual relationship between Frank and Claire make this show a slow, calculated burn. Both Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated, the writing really is genius. Give it a few episodes, and you'll be hooked.

Mad Men
Another show with a gradual build. It gains layers episode by episode, so stick around to watch it come together. It's genius. The show handles an incredibly large cast with the deftness of Game of Thrones, so
watch it for handling several large personalities on one stage and managing criss-crossing stories. Don's inner demons guide the show, but the incredibly strong female characters give him a run for his money. Peggy and Joan are brilliantly drawn, powerful women, and they light up their scenes. The show is a fascinating look at secrets, pretenses, gender commentary, and the art in advertizing. With 15 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, and consistent ranking as one of the best TV dramas of all time, this show takes character-driven conflict to a brilliant new level.

No murders, no drug dealing, no political power plays--but this is one of my favorite shows. It's deep, it's funny, it's charming. Created by Ron Howard and starring a number of brilliant actors, it has won a Vision Award, a Critics' Choice Television Award, two Television Academy Honors awards, two Young Artist Awards, and three Entertainment Industries Council PRISM Awards. This is the show that made me love contemporary family stories, and it's especially brilliant for following both teen and adult storylines, and having such a differentiated cast of characters. Everyone is so different but so real and complex that it looks like real life. One of the things I appreciate most is that the show doesn't buy into cheap tricks-- arguments that would normally be blown out of proportion to develop action for the episode are resolved with a conversation; people adequately explain themselves in conflict; the characters don't hold too tightly to their flaws and virtues. If suspense isn't your genre but you want deep relationships and personal conflict, definitely go for this one.

I can't say anything about this show that hasn't already been said. Nominated for British Academy Television Awards, Golden Globes, and Emmys, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, this show is one of the most complex character studies I've ever seen. The episodes aren't about who did it, or even how they did it; they're about Sherlock and his friendship with Dr. Watson. (The longer length of the episodes also allows for a more complicated arc than many shows can achieve.) If you ever wondered whether it's characters who really make a show memorable, just try Sherlock. You won't regret it. Just do it. Right now. 

Any recs for us? Where are you finding top-notch storytelling in TV shows? Tell us in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I just started watching Orange Is the New Black. It's amazing and I'm completely obsessed. It's storytelling at its best and it actually makes prison look not so bad.