Dark comedy with excellent performances FLOWERS: ALL4
So much more than just another poverty-porn police drama, HAPPY VALLEY: NETFLIX
Brilliantly clever mockumentary THIS COUNTRY: IPLAYER
John Morton's hilarious parody behind the scenes at the BBC, W1A
Phoebe Waller-Bridge's excellent FLEABAG - simultaneously laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking. IPLAYER.
the BBC's AMAZING adaptation of WAR AND PEACE
TRUST ME, this is so much more than what is expected of the label 'sketch show'. It's very witty, very inventine, very perceptive, and gorgeous to look at. CARDINAL BURNS: ALL4
For as long as I can remember, I have loved television. I remember rushing home to watch High School Musical on the day of its release. I remember crying at the finale of How I Met Your Mother. I remember first discovering badass women in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I remember guiltily falling in love with reality television when watching the entirety of Keeping up with the Kardashians in the space of a month. But until recently, I have always felt rather guilty about it. I would ask myself why I was consuming tv shows at such an alarming rate when I should be reading / writing / watching films. I was hyper aware of my habit being perceived as 'low' in cultural terms: it was lazy, it was unintelligent and it certainly wasn't useful.
And then something changed. In my time at UCL, virtually every essay I wrote would feature analysis relating to television. I discussed the ubiquity of scripted-reality television in relation to Pope's 'Rape of the Lock'; deconstructed the genre of sitcom in relation to Sterne's 'Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy' and even compared Douglass's 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass' to the seeming omnipresence of the Kardashians and the publication of Kim's book 'Selfish'. My brain seemed so attuned to the role of television in modern culture, and my marks positively reflected the originality of my stance on texts. For so long I had felt guilty about being so passionate about English Literature yet not necessarily being what one would recognise as a voracious reader. I read, of course, and when I'm reading, you can guarantee I will devour a novel or a piece of intriguing non fiction in the space of a couple of days (or less, depending on how interested I am in a work!). Instead of curled up with a book however, I will most often be found furiously powering through a tv show I have just discovered, which I will probably claim is 'the best thing ever'. I began to see that I wasn't just watching television for the sake of it. It was escapism, but it wasn't lazy: I was absorbing stories just as I would read books. I was watching them with the critical eye I wrongly assumed was reserved only for reading literature.
I became determined to dispel the myth that television was only a lazy endeavour, done at the end of the day with a cup of tea nearby. Television was only lazy if you wanted it to be. And there was no such thing as a 'bad' tv show - it was about how you watched it.
It was the same as what I perceived as the illogical way in which Mills and Boon or Chicklit was derisively dismissed. The stock Chicklit story structure; the connotations of the genre - sure, they might be easier to digest and might not send the cognitive cogs into overdrive, but they are still human art forms, and say something about the human experience, or our culture - you just had to look for it. The desire to read Chicklit says something about how we as human approach stories. It's derived from the same desire that motivated folklore. As humans we enjoy a degree of reassurance from rituals, expectations, genre and stock structures. The 'happily ever after' ending is not only an easy way of tying narrative strands together, but satisfies the human yearning for a completed story. It allows for satisfaction and is testament to the power of words. In the same way, TOWIE, Made in Chelsea or Love Island isn't inherently 'bad' television. Love Island in particular, allows for discussions within cultural anthropology about human nature; about the individual under surveillance; about modern gender expectations. The very fact that we absorb this content provokes discussions about modern culture. Watching this television doesn't make you outright lazy - it makes you a product of your culture. If we think about what makes us want to watch these programmes, we can learn a hell of a lot about how society operates.
But this is not a defence of so-called 'bad' television. My love for television is not only reality based. My love cuts across genre, and I will watch virtually anything. From high brow dramas to daytime television, I love everything about the endeavour of watching, to an understanding of how it works, and even a consideration of the wider implications of why we're drawn to it and what it is that keeps us instinctively letting the next episode play in bingewatching marathons.
Instead of seeing literature and television as separate entities, I've begun to understand that my flair for literature is interrelated to my love for television. They both allow for discussions of culture; both take the human experience as their subject matter and both provoke and deal with deep, core emotions - creating catharsis, pathos and mimesis for example. My love for television shouldn't make me feel guilty as it displaces time spent reading. I'm simply reading in a different way, and in turn this equips me with ideas, analysis and understanding which aids the way I approach literature. I'm well read, but it is also important for me to be well versed in television, and to refuse to regard it as a waste of time that could be spent on other endeavours.
I watched an interview with Greta Gerwig yesterday (which you can see here) (I'm yet to see Ladybird but am very eager to do so) in which she discussed her style when outlining scripts and putting a film's structure together. She acknowledged the way in which the mumblecore films like Frances Ha she rose to fame in contributed to her preference for the structure to be hidden in a film's narrative. We known it's there, but unlike the get the girl, lose the girl, fight for the girl, regain the girl narrative relied upon by romcoms, she suggested that in Ladybird, she didn't naturally make the trajectory obvious. There was a structure, but she didn't feel the need to draw attention to it. She claimed story structure was "our birthright" - "we have story structure because we exist in language" - an idea which embodies everything I love about literature and television and culture. Human art forms are an expression of the fact that we exist in language - they're always saying something, even if they're easily dismissed as 'easy' 'low' or 'pointless' in form.
I want talk about television more. I've never known how to write about television in review form, and have always felt rather inferior whenever I have attempted to put thoughts to paper, or fingers to keyboard. But since my enlightenment about the legitimate cultural role of television, I've been reading a lot more reviews and articles about the programmes I've managed to finish. I want to put my own thoughts out there and continue to perpetuate the idea that you get as much out of watching TV as you want to - it all depends on how you watch it.
In other news, I have a job! I'm now a barista at an independent coffee shop in my nearest town. It's very hipster, it's very cool, it's the kind of place they play 'Chill Indie' spotify playlists all day. But it's lovely. It's the first time in a long time, since I've felt comfortable and welcome around people after being in such an alienating environment at university. I start next week, and next weekend I am taking my little brother to his first concert - seeing Everything Everything. I'm also in the process of rewriting my personal statement in order to reapply to university. I'm putting myself through the hell of starting from scratch after I opened the version I used to apply last year and thought 'wow, this is awful'.
See you soon, enjoy the snow and watch loads of telly (Gogglebox is on tonight; series 2 of This Country is on iPlayer; Married at First Sight is on All4 and series 1 and 2 of Happy Valley are both on Netflix).