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American Horror Story is consistently well written (by the same people that do Glee) even when it’s consciously been written badly. The ninth season, 1984, is a classicover the top slasher picture with sporadic—but sparingly— blood heavy scenes. And just enough shocking moments to keep it original (there’s an oven scene to dieeeee for).
Set mostly in a typical American summer camp, a bunch of young adults are terrorised by a serial killer at large. But each character comes with a dicey past and their own demons, which provides discernible motivation for escaping LA and taking up residence at the camp.
It’s not really until the third episode that it gets into the core plot. There seems to be a lot of padding in points and flashbacks so the chronology is a bit confusing, perhaps intentionally so (the season is only halfway through).
Eighties nostalgia translates really well on the small screen, particularly when done well like in Maniac, Stranger Thingsand Black Mirror. And AHS are renown for taking solid horror tropes and aesthetics and making them interesting still/again. And the eighties aerobics scene/s are everything though. Everything!
However, this season is the ultimate let down. I don’t say this lightly as I will totally stan AHS, even Roanoke. But don’t totally disregard it as it dallies around some pretty intriguing sub plots about the psychology around why serial killers kill, in an almost homage to the popular series Mindhunter. High fructose corn syrup was one theory why more people were being murdered…
With a noticeable absence of the usual cast of Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Evan Peters or Kathy Bates, it is reasonably lacklustre. However, Angelica Ross is outstanding and almost makes up for the lack of usual talent.
So you’ve finished watching Fleabag and kind of, sort of, gotten over the Hot Priest. After you’ve come down from the absolute genius that is Fleabag you’ll be scouting around for your next “dark and dry” to keep fuelling the fire if your inner unexpressed angst.
I don’t know about you but I am grieving the end of the show and miss it like a beloved friend has moved away. Which is silly because it’s *just* a TV show. Right?
Here are some shows that you can watch next:
This Way Up
I love a post breakdown recovery series. Irish comedian, Aisling Bea, has created a very witty series calledThis Way Up about getting your life together in your thirties.
Back to Life
By the producers of Fleabag, Back to Life is about a woman in her thirties returning to her hometown after serving a jail sentence.
This is a little hidden gem, Pure, tackles some huge, unexplored issues such as sex addiction and intrusive thoughts. Be warned: it gets pretty real.
This is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s other show but Crashing didn’t quite grab me. You might like it though.
A hilarious, modern look at being a hot mess in your thirties. Not a unique TV premise but I can’t get enough. Can you? Tell me what you think of Game Face.
Finding Joy is about a woman struggling to get her life together in her thirties… I mean, you get the idea, right?
Okay, I should rename this post from what to watch after Fleabag to ‘shows about women in their thirties’ but that’s not as fun.
Barry (Bill Hader) is a hitman who launches his alter ego as an actor in a community theatre group. Barry wants to leave his life of crime and marine past behind him and embrace his new life as a performer. Of course, balancing double lives cannot come without consequences and one life must come out victorious. As an audience member, you almost feel sorry for him and his lack of emotional ability, lack of acting success and love interest gone awry.
With 30 Emmy nominations, Barry is pegged as a tragicomedy. It’s straight faced darkness is as appealing as the deadpan comedy it effortlessly delivers. The levity is peppered in with the gloom so much so that you could be forgiven for being genre confused. But that’s a credit to Hader’s acting.
It sets a new standard for the way comedy is delivered and executes the antihero device that modern television watchers are so drawn to these days. Barry evokes our sympathy, despite the fact that he is still a cold blooded, calculating killer. A fact which is easy to forget because it’s almost a by product of his narrative, rather than a central focus.
Anthony Carrigan is a standout supporting actor in Barry and adds a comedic contrast to Barry’s darkness.
Why Women Kill tells the story of three relationships (and more) across three separate decades.
Beth Ann (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the perfect doting nineteen sixties housewife, Simone (Lucy Lui) is an eighties socialite and Kendall (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is a modern day feminist in an open marriage.
This is not a podcast cum documentary like the title would suggest but a camp dark comedy that looks at infidelity and negotiating romantic unions throughout time and how each woman, in her own ingenious way, deals with it. And sometimes with fatal consequences. But not without rediscovering who they are and what they truly want out of life.
Infidelities, which sprout in their own ways with their own meanings pertaining to each couple, are revealed early on, so it’s clear the TV show is not about how infidelity spells the end of a relationship. In fact, this show depict how it’s the start of every good story.
All tied together by one house, Why Women Kill is like Desperate Housewives (both were written by Marc Cherry) mixed with Mad Men but on a heap of sugar. And the outfits are off the hook. It even has fun episode titles like I Killed Everyone He Did, But Backwards and in High Heels.
Cheat is a British psychological thriller that tells a story in a tight four episodes. How often do you watch a dark TV series these days that has a four ep season?
In Cheat, a university professor is stalked by her student, who quickly becomes more aggressive and conniving in her exploits. All the while, those around the professor are discrediting her as being paranoid, including her own husband who continuously dismisses her fears and even begins to side with the stalking student. As with any high stakes thriller and precarious dynamic between characters, it escalates and ultimately ends up fatal.
The writers create great audience empathy with the protagonist. Her frustration and confusion is portrayed well and believable without being melodramatic.
What’s odd about the telling of this story, is the choice to flash forward in the first episode to the conclusion. Essentially, giving away a chunk of the ending. Which isn’t a terrible spoiler as there aren’t any dramatic surprise twists (maybe one quite easily guessable one).
Other reviews have penned this as chilling but I think that’s hyperbole. It’s intriguing and watchable but it won’t give you nightmares.
Molly Windsor plays the student and her portrayal is excellent. I expect her to appear in many more delicious dramas and thrillers. Including the upcoming Traces (which features an all female production crew).
Should you watch Cheat?
Yes because the storytelling is riveting but it can be lagging at times.
This dark comedy, set in the heart of the early nineties, explores the predatory and cult like nature that are multi level marketing schemes.
Forced to take on her husband’s downline (upline? I don’t know, I’m confused how it works) Krystal (Kirsten Dunst) has to keep up the constant hustle just to make ends meet. After realising that resisting isn’t getting her anywhere, she dives straight into the con herself like only a broke Florida housewife can. And hopes—and works hard— for the riches and fame that the company undyingly promises.
Dunst is exceptional in this. You are on her side from the very start and will spend every bit of your TV watching energy rooting for her to win (but also find a way out of the cult that is the featured MLM that sells cleaning products).
This show is as much about Krystal’s fierceness and continuous resourcefulness as it is explicitly exposing every MLM that has ever existed. Not surprisingly, it taught me a lot about cult psychology and how MLM companies will take advantage of anyone, no matter how much they are struggling. Whilst the premise could certainly be true, it doesn’t appear to be based on any real life situation. However, the New York Post speculates on the likeness between the show’s company and Amway.
Another highlight of On Becoming a God in Central Florida is the epic eighties and nineties soundtrack.
Should I watch On Becoming a God in Central Florida?
Based on the awardwinning novel (published in 2001) of one of the world’s most loved authors, Neil Gaiman. American Gods is a dark and suspenseful spec fic TV series. The book and author has a cult following and it’s not hard to see why.
With a promising opening credit sequence, it sets the scene for dark fantasy and neon horror. And yes, it’s intriguing as it sounds.
The rich and complex scenes are concurrently fast paced and slow burning. Which develops the fullness of all the characters (based on deities), mainly the protagonist, Shadow. Who is every bit as his name suggests, in the best possible way. The story is told in a series of vignettes. Which are slowly revealed as connected by the main character (bad guy turned good).
Each scene in American Gods is highly visual and palpable stories in and of themselves. From the elderly babcia who tells fortunes with tea leaves to the futuristic leader called Technology Boy. To the sexual representation of goddess Ishtar who literally devours her subjects with her genitals. The details are complete and thick. And provide a great mattress for the obvious tension in every scene between at least two of the characters.
American Gods is heavy with mythology and historical legend and how the universal learnings apply to all humanity in today’s world. And it’s all complemented with an evocative gothic soundtrack.
Gaiman is one of the executive producers which gives comfort that there is some authenticity in regard to the novel.
Should I watch it American Gods?
Yes. Especially if you love your mythology. Also yes just to see the incredible Gillian Anderson play Lucille Ball-Riccardo, Marilyn Monroe and David Bowie.
The classic tree change sitcom, written by and starring Lake Bell, is a new comedy on the screen scene called Bless This Mess.
A fed up New York couple— a therapist, Bell, and music journalist, played by Kristen Bell’s husband, Dax Shepard— moves to Nebraska. In search of a simpler and possibly happier after they’ve purchased a farm. Upon arriving, they realise it’s actually a dilapidated and unworkable property (who buys before checking it out, seriously?). Nonetheless, they are committed to making it work. Of course, nothing ever lives up to the fantasy. And as a farmer’s daughter, I can confirm that farming is glorified by those who have never done it. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a story.
The “fish out of water” theme in Bless This Mess is still a lovable approach to watch. Who doesn’t relate to getting judged for wearing their activewear to the corner store? But it’s hard to forgive the irritable nature of the main characters. Especially because as the neighbours point out, ‘you don’t just decide to be a farmer.’
Bless This Mess is quite cliché but it’s redeeming in that the main characters are charming and naively enthusiastic and have a great, respectful relationship. Until the cracks in their marriage start to appear as their ill purchased house begins to crack.
However, the side cast (think Lennon Parham from Parks and Rec and David Koechner from Anchorman) are much more interesting and funny. Albeit stereotypical small town views and narratives.
Still very early on in its life, I’ll be disheartened if this gets renewed for more than two seasons and genius, relatable comedies like Alone Together didn’t.
Should I watch Bless This Mess?
Yeah, I guess. Just lower your expectations. A lot.
Bonding is loosely based on real life experiences. This original web series details the life of a moonlighting dominatrix and her gay best friend, who becomes her assistant. It was created by Rightor Doyle who has previously worked as a bodyguard for a dominatrix.
Mistress May, the protagonist, who is played by Zoe Levin, is inspiring. She takes absolutely no shit from men both in her personal and professional life. Of course, this poses problems when men genuinely want to get close to her and ends up costing her relationships.
The characters are rich and well rounded and experience rapid transformation and development, which is faster than most modern TV series. What’s most interesting is that the episodes are significantly shorter than most shows. Which is quite a feat to represent such fast transformation within the characters.
There are very cute and enviable dynamics between the entire character set, which will appeal to a millennial audience. There is something completely magical and unique about all the supporting cast who actually pull focus a bit, in particular D’Arcy Carden, which you will know as being Janet from The Good Place.
Honestly, I have an unconscious aversion to Australian drama. But I need to GTF over it because shows like Pine Gap and Glitch keep proving me wrong.
Pine Gap is an ABC created drama that speculates on the intelligence facility of the same name based in Alice Springs. Every single character is highly suspicious so you’re ever really sure who to trust or believe (as the audience) neither are any of the characters. Which is sad and disturbing as most of them claim to be one another’s friend and more than a few are in romantic relationships.
My favourite thing about the Pine Gap TV series was the diverse, inclusive and interesting cast with a blend of American and Australian actors. Some of the standout actors are:
Mark Leonard Winter (my absolute favourite in this show)
It will keep you guessing the entire series because the entire ensemble is chary. And it highlights that human nature extorts bad behaviour and shitty choices for survival. It will also pose the question (conspiracy theory?) about what really goes on at the facility in real life.
The ending was not entirely satisfying EXCEPT EXCEPT EXCEPT the very, very last fucking scene which I didn’t see coming and had me gobsmacked.
The final episode of Game of Thrones had a runtime of 85 minutes. And while this lengthy runtime obviously works for such a complex and intricate TV shows. But not everyone has the time, energy and focus to sit through such lengthy episodes no matter how acclaimed or award winning they are. The introduction of streaming services like Netflix and Stan and original web series has done a lot to change the way we consume television programs. But one thing has remained the same: runtime.
Most TV shows run anywhere between 10 – 100 minutes. With the average “hour-long” show running for about 42 minutes and the “half-hour” shows running from about 22 minutes to the full 30, minus commercial breaks (remember commercial breaks?). Most TV shows on streaming services have stuck with this tradition for the most part. Even though they don’t have to adhere to traditional broadcast time slots or commercial breaks. This has led to TV shows with longer runtimes like The Crown. Which has an average runtime of about 60 minutes.
However, streaming companies like Netflix have started realising that shows with long runtimes may not be as popular as they were in the past. Studies have shown that most viewers have short attention spans which they tend to split with their smartphones, tablets, and laptops while watching TV. Their potential antidote to this is the short form episode. Netflix has begun showcasing a small selection of shows with short episodes that run for a maximum of 17 minutes. Shows like I Think You Should Leave and Bonding, It’s Bruno! feature bite-sized plots and short form episodes and seasons that can be completed in the course of a night.
The start of short run times
TV shows with such short runtimes were traditionally reserved for children’s channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon as it’s quite a challenge to act out fully realised story in such a short time. All whilst holding the attention of busy minds. Still, it seems like Netflix is creating more shows that can be told in short chunks as a way to fill the 15-minute per episode niche. For example, the Netflix show, I Think You Should Leave squeezes about five scenes into its short runtime. This meant that the show’s scriptwriters and actors had to make the most of every scene.
However, this format of shorter TV shows is only successful for a specific type of show. Such as those with low stakes and simple storylines that are not compromised as a result of the time constraint. But while this format may be great for some it raises the question: is it possible to act out a complex storyline in that time? And enough to satisfy the viewer and hook them into the journey?
Well, the new Netflix show Bonding attempted this with a fresh and complex story arc which left viewers with mixed reactions. While some viewers appreciated the show’s shorter runtime, others felt that it didn’t manage to build a strong enough foundation for its finale. I, of course, loved it.
TV show timing and plots
While there will always be shows like Game of Thrones that have interesting plots and storylines that can fill an hour without tiring out its viewers, this type of show just won’t work in a 15-minute format. The most compelling TV shows feature several moving parts that make it necessary for them to have longer runtimes. This allows the show to fully develop without having the viewers feel like they are being dragged along. That’s not to say that the idea of TV shows with short runtimes should be scrapped entirely. There’s certainly a place for them. And I predict we’ll see more and more of them in due course (alongside longer shows as well).
In a way, it helps clear up the air surrounding modern TV shows as streaming companies can now easily classify their shows for viewers. The hour-long format can be reserved for epic shows like Game of Thrones, thoughtful comedies and dramas can fall into the 30-minute format while the 15-minute long shows can serve as a filler for those who don’t have enough patience for longer shows. Especially, if you like a quick resolve.
Breaking Bad had almost 3 million viewers by season five. Sure there’s a number of contributing factors to its enormous success and one of those defining factors is its gripping storyline and complex characters. There are a lot of lessons on successful writing that you can take away from these popular TV shows. Here I’ve listed the most prominent from a few of my favourites:
What I learnt from Breaking Bad (SPOILER ALERT)
Take your character just far enough but not too quickly. For example, when Jane (Jesse’s girlfriend) died, the writers consciously wrote in that Walt wouldn’t save her from dying as opposed to killing her directly.
Put the characters in difficult challenges and let them get themselves out.
Be flexible. Jesse was originally written to be a temporary character but worked so well, they had to rewrite him in.
Have endless discussions, with your cowriters, yourself, your keyboard, they character themselves. Only then will you be able to write what is best for the story.
The location of Breaking Bad very much influenced the story. Albuquerque tourism offered discounts to entice film crews to work there and once they started filming there, the writers found that the colours, the landscape and scenery, the way the sky sat all influenced the story.
Millions (literally millions) of people watch reality TV shows in Australia. But have you ever thought why do we watch reality TV? Here are three core and defining reasons that could be at the heart of our voyeuristic leisure activity.
We need comparison in reality TV
Comparison helps us to recalibrate and set expectations for ourselves and our own lives. By getting to watch people in “real life” without having to interact with them and create a genuine emotional connection with them, we can engage in this indulgent device.
The ‘…appeal of reality shows is the chance they provide for us to compare ourselves with other people involved in situations that we may wish we could be in, or are glad we’re not.’
one of the most effective ways to live through an experience without actually
having to live through it and all the risks, damage and emotions that it can
real people go through real situations can evoke deep core empathy. And
watching reality tv is not as much about witnessing humiliation as it is about eliciting empathy.
empathy is our fundamental mechanism to understanding one another and when we
understand something, we are at peace with it. And some people (Buddhists etc)
could argue that discovering/chasing peace is at the core of our purpose.
When we understand something, we are at peace with it.
Reality TV creates connection
As with most consumed entertainment, talking about it creates connections with individuals that are in your life (and not behind a screen). Have you noticed how often you reach out to a co-worker or family member when there’s a silence to say ‘hey… did you see such and such on show name last night?’
Binge watching TV is a relatively new phenomenon (well, some of us have been doing it for way longer than we should have) which is mostly driven by the ease at which these TV shows are offered up to us. Over the years, there have been several advances in technology that have changed the way we react to media. The introduction of recording devices like the VCR and TiVo allowed people to record shows and movies without having to rely on a TV schedule. It also allowed people to share these shows with their friends and create playlists of popular shows. Seems so retro now, doesn’t it?
DVD and streaming services took this a step further by giving users to entire seasons without having to wait for weekly episodes. This level of access to lots of episodes of the same show, which were originally intended to be viewed once a week is the major starting point for our binge watching.
I remember the first time I seriously binge watched a show. It was about eight years ago and I was housesitting a friend’s house. I told myself I might as well watch twenty minutes of Breaking Bad. This is not hyperbole when I say that I watched it for six hours straight. And thus my love of binge watching was born.
For the love of binge watching
Another reason we love it so much is that binge watching TV actually makes us feel more relaxed. People take solace in the world they choose to tune into and feel more tranquil when viewing this alternate world. However, this relaxed feeling disappears as soon as you turn the TV off and we are subconsciously aware of this. This keeps us watching episode after episode to keep that relaxed feeling going. Can you relate to this relaxation addiction?
Finally, scriptwriters have caught on to the fact that most viewers binge watch their shows and have begun writing for it. This is why I love the entertainment industry. Unlike many other industries, they adapt to their demographics’ behaviour as soon as they notice trends in data.
Most modern TV shows now feature engaging storylines with complex and surprising cliff-hangers to keep their viewers glued. And as we’ve looked at, TV shows are varying their length to suit all sorts of viewers.
Do you remember your first binge watch? What was it?
New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel and created by Elizabeth Merriweather, has a team of talented writers (11 during the first season and 15 during the second season) and each episode can take a few weeks or more to write and ‘…as the show’s jokes rely on the actors’ performance instead of perfectly constructed punch lines…’ the actors are encouraged to pitch story ideas.