This week, Redmond Bacon takes us on a journey through his televisual trails…
Who would’ve thought that an animated show about a talking horse would turn into one of the finest explorations of depression on TV? Against the odds, Bojack Horseman has achieved just that, using its absurd premise – in which anthropomorphic animals and humans coexist in a satirical version of Hollywood known as “Hollywoo” – as a springboard to enquire into the ephemeral nature of fame and the cost it has on those who become famous. Never taking the easy way out, and never forgetting to be funny – including zingers such as “It was endless, like the second act of a Judd Apatow movie” – the original Netflix series is one of TV’s strangest yet most effective offerings. Its third series is its strongest and most experimental yet, including a silent underwater riff on Lost In Translation and a hilariously meta drink-and-drugs bender which uses blackouts from too much indulgence as a framing device. There’s nothing else quite like it on TV today.
The first French-language Netflix original Marseille disappointed French critics, with one calling it an “industrial accident”. Starring Gerard Depardieu as a long-standing mayor of the seaside town, it is a somewhat flawed look at how corruption works on a regional level. It sure is soapy, but it is precisely this soapish quality that makes it such a guilty pleasure, combining sex, drugs and violence into a maelstrom of corny delights. The sexual frankness on display from the French makes HBO look tame. Coupled with intense violence and copious amounts of drug-taking, Marseille is junk food television (especially by French standards) but extremely enjoyable nonetheless.
With the gross inequalities existing in Southern France between those in luxury flats and those in the banlieues, Marseille tries its best to see how problems of ghettoisation is created as a result of selfish political manoeuvring, yet ends up being more amusing in itself than a truly serious show. Perfect for binge-watching.
Orange is the New Black
The Black Lives Matter movement has found its dramatic analogue in season four of Orange is The New Black, which uses its large ensemble cast to demonstrate ever so subtly how racial bias can manifest itself to the point that people do not realise they are actually being racist. More and more do we realise that Piper (the white protagonist of season 1) was merely a trojan horse to tell the much more intriguing stories of women of colour. The word to describe the show is “empathy”, and by providing it here in tons, Orange is The Black is television that feels like it could make a difference. With a tragic conclusion that would bring a tear to the hardest of hearts, Orange is The New Black is political storytelling at its best, for not hammering home its points but coalescing different strands together to show how the prison system is rotten from top to bottom.
Considered a Dickensian exploration into the systemic failure in Baltimore to counteract its crime problems, The Wire has been firmly established as one of the finest TV series of all time. From its on-point dialogue to its cohesive narrative focus, few series have matched its abilities to combine social realism with effective entertainment. Each series focusing on a different institution from drug gangs and the police, to the education department, to reporters on the frontline, The Wire provided an effective investigation into the supposed end of the American dream, showing how one’s allegiance to one’s institution or the other blinds you to the plight of your fellow man. One of the originals to pave the way for the “Golden Age” of television, it set the perfect blueprint for ensemble politicised drama.