I don’t like TV. I’ve said it before (not here) and I’ll say it again (maybe here). Though I’ll try to convince them to give it another go, I do completely understand when people tell me they don’t like books, because sitting in front of a TV makes me incredibly antsy. My boyfriend was a film major and works in the industry, we’ve been together for four and a half years, and I can still count on two hands the number of times we’ve sat down to watch a movie at home. Screens in general strike me as tedious. I’d rather be jumping up and down on one foot, or grating cheese, or packing for a boring business trip- really, almost anything seems preferable to sitting still and watching things on a screen.
But I’ve that there are those shows, occasionally, that can be enjoyable in the same way a good book is. Symbolism, solid characters, great pacing, and little rewards for the people who truly pay attention. I’ve decided to make a list of these, but again, since I don’t like watching things on screens, it is rather short: Mad Men and Downton Abbey.
There’s hardly anything I can say about either of these shows that hasn’t been said already, since they are turning into such media darlings, but I’ll give it a go from a reader’s perspective.
First of all, both shows are gorgeous. They just are. Look at the shot above, from Mad Men. Look at that dress. If I owned that dress, I would wear it for every occasion, including my wedding and my burial. But that’s not why I love these shows (though, okay, it’s a factor).
Mad Men is set in a New York advertising agency in the 1960’s (well, time moves quickly) and Downton Abbey is set in a grand old British home, just after the sinking of the Titanic. As you might be able to tell just from those one line summaries, both settings are ripe with conflict and controversy.
These shows have plot lines which can take some real concentration. You’re balancing at least ten characters at one time, and in order to do that you need to know all sorts of things- their backstories, their struggles, their vanities. I think even in the best written books, a large cast of characters can be incredibly confusing (have you ever read Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers? It can be a struggle). But Mad Men and Downton Abbey both make it seem so effortless.
I also love that the struggles the characters face are so engaging and timeless. In both shows, there’s a major plotline about women’s rights, which always gets me all lathered up. We’re not talking about who loves who and who hates who (though that’s in there, of course, because that’s life). Rather, these worlds are a microcosm of what’s going on around them. Both are fantastic reminders of how much we really are a product of our time- it’s inescapable.
Finally, both shows are clearly written by writers- people who take the craft seriously. When describing an episode, all those fifth grade literature vocabulary words come out. Suspense. Foreshadowing. Symbolism. Irony. Discussing these shows, an eavesdropper might think you were discussing a great work of literature. Depending on where you draw that line, perhaps you are.
What shows have you found that reward the reader in you?
The fifth season of Mad Men premiers March 25th, and the second season of Downton Abbey is airing now.