Category Archives: TV Encounters

TV as it should be – Bron|Broen

Welcome back to Screen Ethics after another unexpected hiatus. I could attribute the absence to the sluggish months of pop-culture news, to new challenges that needed more immediate attention or to the sheer laziness of the editor. Mea Culpa, readers and friends, because we all know that it is the third reason. To ensure a more organized workflow, Screen Ethics will publish once a week on Saturdays and this would hopefully allow me to line-up content more efficiently. Hopefully, the days of a post every day for a week followed by two weeks of silence is behind us!

So let us resume our discussions of TV and pop-culture with Broen|Bron, one of the best TV shows of the 2010s. Over the past eight years, this show has built a name for itself as a character-driven psychological drama that goes beyond its quirky murder plot. The fourth and final season of acclaimed Swedish-Danish TV series ended in its distinct fashion – with a finality necessary and fitting to the character, and somewhat unexpected in a TV series. Saga Noren from Malmo Police department is perhaps a cop unlike any other, despite appearing to be a TV cop like every other TV cop. She has inexplicable police instincts that drive her methods, she is utterly socially incompetent, her methods often lead people close to her to uncomfortable situations. However, she is different from her counterparts in her ability to revisit her site of obsessive crime-solving and raising an important question – is it healthy for her to do the work she does?

The gruesome and sordid world of “the Bridge” is a study in near-cultural differences between two Scandinavian cities as well as the psycho-social differences between the society and someone who has cast herself outside of its conventions. Amidst a sea of expressionless geniuses who also solve crime on TV, Saga Noren is unique in her rather rigorously methodical approach to routine and mundane police work. She does not solve crimes through magical abilities. In fact, there are times where her methodical approach is detrimental to the case as she demonstrates ignorance to social conventions and etiquette, preventing her from achieving her goals. Saga’s is not a story of exceptional behavior as a gateway to exceptional results – it is a study of something that TV rarely engages with – consequences of such behavior.

Like many of the other tales of exceptional genius, Saga’s story also lies in the connections she builds around her despite the barriers she raises and maintains. Her closest friend is a mentor Hans, with whom she struggles to connect in a way that he would appreciate the effort she has put in. Two successive partners from across the eponymous bridge, are often at odds with her eccentric antisocial behavior, and their friendship survives because of their persistence rather than the effort. The first of them is Martin Rohde, played by the instantly likeable Kim Bodnia, who seems to regard Saga as a project as much as a friend. He tries to impart social interaction cues to Saga by introducing her to his wife and colleagues. The second partner, Henrik Sabroe, played by a more ambivalent Thure Lindhardt, extends this recuperative mission by becoming romantically involved with Saga.

However, the show does not allow Saga to simply succeed in a typical manner of an overcoming the odds narrative. Saga’s success does not hinge on a “despite” which is the bread and butter of eccentric characters on TV. While she manages to forge important connections with people close to her, the narrative does not simply show an outsider magically transform into a well-adjusted person. This show goes one step further to examine the effects of her personality on the connections she manages to forge. The story also engages with the adverse effects she has on the people she is connected to, because of her relentlessly single-minded policing. In the final moment of the show, Saga stands on the titular bridge and weighs the defining role she accorded to her job as a police officer. In the dynamic world of the Bridge, Saga is not exempt from the changes and decision-making that other characters face. And therein lies the greatness of this show – in its unwavering commitment to providing consequences to its characters.

Similar only to River, she reaches something very remarkable in a TV series – narrative resolution for a character as a result of introspection and growth. TV shows are built to last and spawn more iterations of the same format. TV shows have suffered from this very limitation, as necessary elements of character development often strike at odds with the inevitable reset that occurs at the beginning of a new season. Characters will face reversals bringing them back to their earlier position, or they will face new problems that perpetuate a familiar structure. This is a glaring aspect of the TV series which we endure for the necessity of continuity. Unless we are willing to tolerate the endless run of stand-alone episodic structure from the 80s era sitcoms, there seems to be no option but to come to terms with the process of TV returning to stasis in order to continue. This is where Broen takes a bold step in a different direction. Every move in the narrative is structured towards a conclusive resolution for the narrative.

Although the viewer is surprised at this seemingly impossible conclusion, TV history has also warned us to be wary of such endings. Shows which have progressed to a fitting conclusion have often been resurrected from beyond the grave for yet another series for simple monetary reasons. Here is hoping that one of TV’s greatest shows does not face such ignominy.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Comedy about the Worst of Us

In this series, we have been looking at the audience identification with Comedy shows and the kind of affective response that we have towards such shows. The first post focused on why we cry while watching a comedy show and the second examined how a serious topic can be discussed in a comedic program. This post will expand on the previous two ideas and examine how the affective quality in a comedy actually makes us care about people that we normally would not in our own real life. While we have had the worst of the worst on ‘serious’ or ‘Quality TV’, none of those shows normalize the troubling, sociopathic behavior as much as a comedy show.

We need to look at one of the many sitcoms to see behavior that is completely devoid of basic human decency that is perfectly acceptable within the world of a comedy. Historically, we have seen some of the worst aspects of humanity, from indefensible selfishness to pure sociopathy, and pass them off as normal human behavior in comedy shows including Full House, Friends, Scrubs, How I met your mother, The Big Bang Theory (to name only a few). How does this work? How do comedy shows succeed in making us identify with a character that is clearly despicable, even when serious dramas fail to do so?

This argument needs to be clearly examined in the context of TV having presented us many likable villains, or villainous leads over time. From the Original Gangster (literally) Tony Soprano, to Vic Mackey, Omar Little, Dexter Morgan, and of course, Walter White, TV dramas are full of protagonists that range from morally ambiguous to thoroughly corrupt. We like them and root for their success to no end, but identification requires something more. These characters’ situations are entirely strange to us, that even though we may share the nature of the emotion that they experience, we will never understand the full meaning of the experience. We always foresee their inevitable comeuppance despite enjoying their success at defying the social order. This distance cannot be traversed by the audience to enter their worlds.

However, despite our distance from these characters, they all share an element that we aspire to—being a badass. The indisputable aura of coolness makes these characters appear more seductive than their immediate narrative circumstances. Although we may never be able to relate to these characters we seek to identify with them in a fantastic wish-fulfilment, as they do things that we cannot. They can exact revenge, or tell off a superior in a way that we can only dream of in our everyday frustrations. The abrupt and violent streak that we may not indulge or even tolerate in our lives becomes the key to a life that offers a glamor and thrill beyond our grasp.

At the same time, we often find ourselves slipping into relating to the experiences of equally terrible people in TV comedies. It is easy to enjoy the antics of narcissistic, psychopathic and utterly selfish characters in TV, from Lucille Bluth to Selina Meyer, because the shows already begin with an assumption against levity. While drama expects you to be in awe of their characters, comedies invite you to laugh at the characters as much as we laugh with them. These enfants terribles bask in their pettiness and their syrupy malice is just another way of looking at our follies without ever directly addressing them. These characters say devastatingly cruel about their loved ones, and we at least think of saying those things, while a threat or an action that truly puts them in harm (as in a drama) is unthinkable to us.

Also, despite their separation from our world, comedies still exist within the realm of possibilities. That is, despite the events taking place in the White House, Selina’s problems with her co-workers’ (and sub-ordinates’) incompetence are entirely relatable. These shows often articulate things in a better way that we wish we could have said in those contexts. These characters are brought to our level, if not worse than us, and we are (unsurprisingly) more empathetic towards their struggles than those of serious characters.

So many times, we pity Catherine. But we love seeing her getting crushed.

In HBO’s Veep, the President of the United States, Selina Meyer’s treatment of her daughter always teeters at the edge of emotional abuse. In the season five premiere she makes an off-hand remark to her daughter, asking her: “Catherine, why is that your hair?” The truly horrifying nature of this comment can only be understood when we realize that she means no malice when she says that. As a President of a country, Selina already has very little time for her daughter, and when she does, she has nothing but the sharpest of words – and these words are not meant to hurt her, and in that, they hurt more. Selina’s contrasting position as a powerful and noble figure in international politics and a barely functioning parent is shockingly funny, but also truly humanizing. While I cannot imagine Barack Obama ever saying something politically incorrect to his daughters, Selina’s humiliating words are embarrassingly familiar.

Despite this apparent celebration of malice, TV comedies are able to restore balance with narrative justice, such as entirely placing Selina’s political future at Catherine’s discretion when she inherits the family’s fortune. And not to mention, when Catherine makes her own comment about Selina’s hair.

TV also limits the toxicity of lived encounters in fictional narratives. Black-ish’s acerbic matriarch Ruby is another terrifying character who embodies some of the worst traits of familial relationships. Her intrusive and belligerent nature would be unbearable in an immediate context, but is offered with a slightly more nostalgic and indulgent outlook in a TV show. Fans of any of many comedy shows would instantly recognize as toxic certain characters while fully indulging in the comedic aspect of such situations. Of course, shows like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development and Louie have built their house on a bedrock of despicable and maladjusted characters full of self-loathing. Yet, we see a little of our eccentric friend or an annoying relative in such characters. The darker the circumstances, the deeper the laughs.

Perhaps this is due to the important fact that serious dramas also bear an obligation to make moralizing gestures where the villainous characters are ultimately censured and pay a price for their behavior. Comedy shows escape such responsibilities, because they are just meant to be laughed at. But in their failure to be human, these characters reveal the worst in us to nudge us along introspection and evaluation of good behavior. The fact of our laughing at these characters helps shape unexpressed thoughts of good behavior because of their folly. That is why we will always have the mean-spirited Falstaff-like characters who grow more complex, but continue to perform a restorative moral function in comedy.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Recommended TV: Speechless on ABC

This post begins with a non sequitur. Instead of directly arguing for the merits of the show that I am trying to get you to watch, I am going to explain the obvious reasons why you should watch a good TV show besides it being a good TV show. It has been a while since I posted on this site, and strangely, it also coincided with the annual summer break on the TV schedule. [It is one of my pet peeves that the scheduled TV summer break is irrelevant in the world of digital streaming and OTT content, but I will leave that aside for now. Clearly I am going to use the break to explain away my own laziness!]

So there are at least a half a dozen shows that I am watching (or failing trying to) at this time. Besides the great shows recommended by friends, family and Netflix, I am obliged to keep up with the upcoming scheduled network programs as well. One of the strangest, and beautiful things about network programs is that the audience voice matters and does not matter in two extreme and oppositional ways. First, if a show is underwatched in the outmoded AC Nielsen measurement, it is condemned for the chopping block. However, once the numbers are in, the critical reception and fan cultures have little influence on the show’s continuation.

While a show like Breaking Bad with less than 2 million viewers per week in its initial season was renewed for bigger and badder things in the latter seasons (which also ended up pulling monster level 15 million ratings for the last few episodes), a show like Hannibal on NBC could not drag its internationally subsidized production budget into a fourth season due to poor ratings. Leaving aside the less obvious shows like The Grinder (Rob Lowe’s best comedic performance), even the more widely appreciated shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreations, 30 Rock, Better off Ted all had to fend off the specter of cancellation throughout their run.

And that is why Speechless deserves your attention, because it fell from 7 million viewers to 4.5 over the course of the first season, and opened to a modest 5 million in the second season. Compared to ABC’s Modern Family (9 million viewers) and CBS’s The Big Bang Theory (up to a surprising 20 million viewers), Speechless’ position as ABC’s third best comedy might maybe good enough for a few more seasons, but not enough to be featured as a headliner as the show deserves to be treated. I guess that is rant over, so let us take a look at the show itself.

Formally, Speechless is far less daring as some of the modern sitcoms. The A and B plot lines are very clearly demarcated and the characters are, at times, typically indistinguishable from other dysfunctional TV families from Malcom in the Middle and The Goldbergs among others. However, the content of the show makes up for any timid imitative practices from other shows. In fact, the patient evaluation of simple situations may seem as obvious and tiresome to many. What kind of a ramp should a disabled child uses in a high school? Is a garbage disposal ramp an acceptable alternative to an adaptation or is it insulting to the user? How do disabled children fight? How do they express anger? Should adaptations help bridge access for them to do things that are perceived to be bad, just as much as they allow them to do things that are socially approved? The questions in Speechless move from the mundane and practical to serious grounds on social acceptance and good behavior.

In a different era, a show like this would have been deemed too depressing or heavy on reflections for a prime-time network TV comedy. And yet, along with shows like Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat, ABC continues to present families of all shapes and colors, while maintaining an engaging and entertaining storyline. Speechless encourages people to laugh about these things, but not in a mean-spirited way. It normalizes the needs of disabled children without trivializing them, thus performing an important function of communication that goes beyond representation. And yet, these attempts of remaking similar narratives with the focus on access feels like an intentional ploy to produce a show that can produce popular images which help visualize, if not normalize the issues of adaptation.

Disabled characters do not have a lot of visibility on network TV, unless they are used as narrative props for a specific episode or in a quirky, upbeat role as a sidekick. ABC’s new comedy Speechless engages with questions of access and disability head on, presenting important questions without exceeding the typical conventions of the sitcom. This is a precious little show, which examines the questions of what kind and degree of adaptation is acceptable. The disability presented in this show is not a magical way in which life moves on without any difficulties. The show actually lingers on the struggles without making it about sympathy or overcoming the odds. It engages with the difficulties without judgement, and that makes Speechless rather unique.

The show examines JJ, the protagonist who communicates through a words written on a board, in the context of his family and friends. The representation of siblings and parents whose lives are linked to the disability of their family member is handled with an optimism that emphasizes the importance of awareness and practical knowledge rather than an old-world idea of stoic and unquestioning togetherness. There is a lot of heart and very funny one liners in this ABC sitcom, but most of all – it is a manifestation of the transformative power of TV.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.


Borgen – Great TV

We live in a time of great political pessimism. Across party, state and regional lines, there is a growing anger with the quality of leadership and a skepticism about whether they have the best interests of the people in their hearts. Many TV shows have represented this anger in their dark portrayal of political figures ranging from the Machiavellian House of Cards or the pitch-black satire of Veep. Consistently, these shows echo or even preempt contemporary political fiascos, painfully emphasizing a bitter hopelessness for its audience. Contrarily, shows from an earlier era that presented an upbeat and idealistic view of politicians like The West Wing no longer resonate with the seemingly unresolvable entanglements we encounter today. Borgen, an episodic political thriller from Denmark treads a fine line between being its idealism and cynicism and delivers one of the finest TV dramas of this era.

With its riveting thirty episodes, Borgen has received near-universal acclaim since it hit the airwaves in 2010. Counted among the Scandinavian TV royalty that rose to global prominence in the late 2000s alongside Forbrydelsen (The Killing 2007-12) and Broen (The Bridge 2011-), Borgen follows the life and career of Denmark’s first female Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg. Borgen’s simple and clear narrative engages with different aspects of the political process as well as its media and public perception. While the intricate plot and the complex perspectives are compelling, it is clear that we watch the shows for its well-written characters. Chief among them is Moderate party-chief and statsminister, Birgitte Nyborg. Sidse Babett Knudsen delivers one of the best performances on TV as the dramatic protagonist who is tough, intelligent and moral. She is the epitome of a statesman, whose values-driven, progressive policies fly in the face of established conventions. And yet, not once do we mistake Prime Minister Nyborg for a naïve politician as she expertly maneuvers her way through a sea of political and personal treachery without compromising on her ideals. The narrative victories that she wins are not through shortcuts, and sometimes, they are not even victories. Nyborg endures unfazed through the circumstances, both as a witness and an ideal respondent in the face of adversity. Instead of presenting a simplistic heroic arc, Borgen offers something that we all long for; not just a protagonist we can root for, but an inspiring model for grace under fire.

In Borgen, Brigitte Nyborg and her staff negotiate for the survival of both their ideals and their government in the fragile balance of a multi-party system. The restrained tone and the deliberated style of writing works surprisingly well within the largely episodic format of the show. The show succeeds where some other shows fail because it refuses to offer unexpected twists or clever narrative-play at the cost of character and plot consistency.  It is not that characters do not change their minds or act erratically. However, any erratic behavior is a result that naturally grows out of their context and painful character introspection. The best moments of the show blend character-based drama that also exposes the political play and the machinations behind the institutional walls. However, it does not bask in the glow of mocking all notions of political integrity. When Kasper Juul (played by Pilou Asbaek), the charismatic spin doctor, orbits around the political drama with his brand of circumstantially convenient morality, Nyborg grounds the show in her principles stating that she wants to do politics in her own way. Her steadfast and upright approach recovers the idea of politics from the scheming and treacherous world we see in Game of Thrones in favor of administering the state and its people in the best possible way.

One of the fan-centric joys of watching a fairly niche program is to see actors from such programs achieve international mainstream acclaim. Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Pilou Asbaek and Sidse Babet Knudsen have all found success in international film and TV (in Pitch Perfect 2, Game of Thrones and Westworld respectively). I am not implying that Hollywood is the yardstick of success that the actors should be measured against. Instead, I am very happy to see these actors in performances where I can follow them without subtitles. While on the subject of subtitles, Borgen was so compelling that I found out if there are ways of learning Danish enough to follow the show without subtitles. Unfortunately, the watching easily outpaced any efforts of learning a new language. And yet, like the equally brilliant Broen (Bridge), this show has framed the eponymous Borgen in particular (the Christiansborg Palace which houses the parliament and other government offices), and the city of Copenhagen in general with its iconic shots.

At the time of writing this, there is an American version of Borgen in the works. I have mixed feelings about this. On one side, the American show will certainly get greater global visibility. However, in the current political context, an American remake is dangerously susceptible to sliding into a cynical and negative approach. Alternatively, if there could be a fourth season of the show, that would be great.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Two BBC Crime Dramas – Broadchurch and River

One of the pleasures of my research topic is that I get to watch Crime Dramas. A lot. While many of them can be quite predictable and poorly written, some shows have the capacity to stun you in their brilliance. Though I am a big fan, I would be the first to agree that even the best among American Crime dramas prioritize the crime factor more than the drama. Some of the more deliberate narratives like the first season of True Detective and the brilliant TV adaptation of Fargo (both are season-long anthologies), tend to linger on the characters rather than focus on the action. And yet, they too look at the stories for the length of the crime and the aftermath has little bearing on the viewers’ perception of the characters’ lives. It is as if the challenges faced by the characters simply cease to exist at the end of the season. This is one of the places where European shows fare better, with their intricate plotting never over-taking the depth of characterization. I would like to discuss this ability to build on past events and crimes in two recent shows from the UK, Broadchurch and River.

While I usually avoid spoilers, the following post may give away some broad strokes outline of the character arc – but you may read ahead without being robbed of the meaning and actions of the plot as I try to only reference to its method.

Broadchurch balances between the two genre modifiers of crime and drama the best among contemporary television shows. Set in a fictional coastal town in England, the first series features David Tennant and Olivia Coleman in leading roles as they try to solve the mysterious death of a ten-year old boy. This is the perfect setup for a whodunit with its finite set of characters each with their own dark secret that they want to hide. It is not to say that the show avoids that aspect, but it also transcends the simplicity of crime as a puzzle-solving that dominates many TV shows. Instead we are allowed to take a harrowing peek into the complex entanglements between the characters who are involved in the aftermath of the tragedy. It looks at the devastation of a single death and the implication of a killer to its ultimate conclusion. By resisting the tropes of inventive criminality and mind-numbingly escalating body-count other shows seem so easily susceptible to, Broadchurch seeks a crushing humanity as the basis of the viewers’ relationship with the characters. The solving of the crime is as devastating as the crime itself, as the consequences change the world of the characters permanently. In eight short episodes, Broadchurch showed how unique crime drama on TV could be.

And then the second series happened. It abandoned the format of the first series that most TV shows try and repeat. Instead, it examined a trial and its crucial elements by extending the case from the first series. This led to mixed results because the sense of closure provided in the first series seemed to be completely undone by the second. It felt like a cheap trick from a 90s Hollywood movie where an unplanned sequel forces the producers to remove the happy conclusion they had achieved. Although the second series was inarguably a natural extension of the first, it was undeniably inconsistent in quality. Like many other fans, I was not very impressed with the outcomes of the court proceedings. In my opinion, the near-perfect first series was ruined by an attempt to extend a show that should have been a limited series. Even at that stage, I would have been happy for the show to end on that note – with one remarkable series followed by a slightly underwhelming series, which was still better than many shows on air. And then the third series came, changing the way I think of a crime drama. I was never more delighted to be shown wrong when it rescued the flailing second series retroactively by presenting the greatest bit of character development between the second and third series. The characters who had suffered twice – first with the death of a child and second the failure of a justice-system – are used to make a more important point about trauma – recovery. Instead of using their tragedy as a plot point that leads them to irredeemable suffering, the show allows its characters to cope with the loss over time and return to their lives. Not only did Broadchurch provide one of the most satisfying conclusions in crime drama TV history, but it legitimized the need for the suffering inflicted by the second series. It explained why the events in the second series were important for the characters to explore their experiences.

Another show that blends a bleak aesthetic with a soul-searching character centrality is BBC’s 2015 crime drama River. Featuring Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker, critics often acknowledge the faux-Scandinavian look and feel of the show with its grey London-scapes and lingering sense of narrative development. I believe that beyond the appearance, the show borrows something far deeper from its Scandinavian counterpart – it values the feelings and thoughts of its characters and reflects the significance on the plot.

River begins with almost an eye-rolling conceit typical of any of the leading crime-solvers on mainstream TV— a special ability that allows the protagonist to see the case in a way that others simply cannot. Skarsgård’s titular hero can literally see the ghosts of his cases, allowing him to externalize his thoughts and grasp at the heart of the case, eventually solving it. This feels giddily like an overused generic trope at the beginning of the show, but within the first episode it goes off on a course that is surprising and refreshing. The important distinction between this show and others like it is in its treatment of this special ability. The protagonist is slowly revealed to be less gifted, and more burdened with persistently painful and difficult life. While it has its episodic procedural moments (especially in the first three episodes), the overarching plot takes over in the latter part of the series as the inspector is trying to solve the mystery of his partner’s death – leading to a whirlwind finish where there are real emotional and personal stakes for the protagonist in solving the case.

Unlike other crime shows, River earns its twists painstakingly and makes the characters pay dearly for each truth they wrestle out of the narrative. The audience are compelled to weigh the importance of those twists – each one with its palpable and lasting consequence make us ache for the characters who live with the outcomes they choose. The show’s protagonist is deeply involved in the thick of the plot in the most organic way – as the characters’ entanglements are used to examine the dangerous profession that they are in. Usually crime shows offer a degree of invulnerability to their protagonists, especially if they are cops – some of the most famous cop-shows have insular protagonists who are never under mortal threat simply because they must exist and be in an active relationship with the plot. This is where River reaches for a level above its contemporaries. The six episodes are concluded with a finality that scoffs at the idea of returning for a second series that would cash in on a well-built world of characters and relationships. Although the production details are ominously left dangling for a possible return, actors Stellan Skarsgård considers the show “a one-off piece” and hopefully that resolve remains.

To conclude, I find this impulse that desires for River’s finality a bit conflicting, because a show like Broadchurch proves that a one-off concept could be masterfully extended and redeemed even if it is botched in the process. We may never know if a second series of a show could exceed expectations if it is never made. And yet, the fans of a show are pulled in two opposing directions, hoping for an untouched legacy and a perfect memory as well as a hope to return to characters we have become acquainted with and deeply care for. TV history is full of shows that got better in a returning season, and there are just as many examples of near-perfect mini-series events. These two traditions bear their own modes of reception in the way they prepare the audience and the buzz they generate about their content. Ultimately, long-term seriality remains one of the most intriguing points of engagements with TV shows. The tension between our desire for more episodes and the dread for them being bad is the site where TV shows- both great and terrible- are made, remembered and forgotten.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Young Sheldon: The Big Bang Theory spin-off rant

This week CBS released trailers for it’s the upcoming slate of Fall shows (Read my side rant about the outdated Fall schedule here*), including Young Sheldon, a spin-off for one of the network’s biggest hits, The Big Bang Theory. The response to the five-minute preview seems to be generally positive, with most people being pleasantly surprised with the intimate portrayal of what promises to be a difficult childhood. I was very impressed with the promo too. However, I could not help but feel that the spin-off feels inconsistent within TBBT’s universe.

The biggest disconnect seems to be in the intimate portrayals of the characters and their relationships as opposed to the show that we are familiar with. The young Sheldon portrayed in the eponymous promo seems like a character primed to go through a learning curve and change to be a better adapted person. His relationship with his step-father and his sister are framed as very important to the titular character. However, these aspects are completely discordant with the stubborn and utterly selfish person we encounter as the adult Sheldon Cooper in TBBT. The adult Sheldon has not changed much over the nine years and is still as inconsiderate as he was at the beginning. The idea of a prequel spin-off becomes woefully frustrating when considering that either the character is going to evolve (and thus leading to a different point than the beginning of TBBT) or he is not going to evolve (rendering the whole project irrelevant). Let me be clear, I am not writing off a show even before its first full episode is out – I like the promo too. All I am saying is that this discrepancy is a direct result of networks trying to package a good idea (the relationships of a misadjusted boy) as a familiar idea (he is also Sheldon Cooper from TBBT), to keep things safe. It feels as if the new show was written as a spin-off only to cash in on TBBT’s popularity, rather than any organic need to extend it. Again, I am not against prequels – my favorite show on air currently is a prequel – Better Call Saul (and that show deserves an entire series of posts to talk about its conceptual brilliance). From Fraiser to Mork and Mindy, American TV is full of spin-offs, each of varying quality. The problem is not with the idea of a spin-off but with one that is clearly disjointed from its original premise.

I understand the intention of trying to update a series with a new aesthetic sensibility. Despite its success, TBBT’s critical reception has dwindled over the years, and especially amidst a growing number of TV comedies like Louie and Master of None that have challenged the limits of that term. Single-camera comedies like ABC’s Black-ish and Speechless continue to present socially-relevant comedy without the annoying laugter-track. Even more traditional sitcoms like Mom (from TBBT’s creator Chuck Lorre) have gone on to grapple important issues about sobriety and failure, whereas TBBT continues to harp on four mostly unlikeable men-children struggling in their fairly comfortable lives. In light of this, a Young Sheldon spin-off could go a long way in recuperating the image of the much-maligned show. But when a character as static and with a glacial development pace as Sheldon Cooper imprinted on the minds of the viewers, it is going to take a lot for the show to win over its audience.

* Now, my Fall Schedule Rant!

I am tired of the convention of shows taking a break over the summer and returning every fall. Cable shows have long since dispelled with the idea of a seasonal premiere, with shows taking as much time as they need to return with a compelling season. HBO’s ratings juggernaut Game of Thrones is ditching its usual March premiere in favor of July because they need more time to shoot. Shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead have all broken up seasons into two parts to write the shows to their satisfaction rather than being forced to deliver a poorly delivered season on-time. The change in these shows’ scheduling has not affected the fan-base. Online video streaming service Netflix has even taken an even more brazenly contrarian approach with many of its major shows (Orange is the New Black, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards and Narcos) returning this year over the summer. And the best thing about this scheduling is that it will not be the same next year. It does not have to be, because the quality of the programs control the audience and not some arbitrarily made up criteria of a TV season. A staggered year-long schedule where a show is on air only as long as it needs to before taking a break to prepare its next season would be better suited to attract today’s audiences.

The schedule also imposes a rigid and unnecessary imposition that a regular season should feature about 22-24 episodes. Cable and streaming shows demonstrate how the duration of the program’s availability is irrelevant when it comes to popularity and critical acclaim. The only important feature that remains common across all successful shows is that the shows tell a story that is sincere to its chosen mode. By forcing creators to stretch their material to a specific length, many shows have resulted in episodes of uneven quality (like the second and third seasons of Fresh Off the Boat) or in being prolonged for seemingly no reason (like the still delightful but meandering Modern Family). But networks don’t want to give up on a good thing – and a successful episode of a hit show will have the exact same ad spots to sell as a poorly reviewed one. As long as the network can lead its viewers with a show with promise of a better episode down the line, they can sell ad spots in bulk. Instead, would not multiple shows of differing lengths presented over a staggered schedule promote a more vibrant TV culture?

What are your thoughts on the Fall Schedule and TV Spin-Offs? Share your comments and views with through facebook or twitter.

SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Upstart Crow – Literary Fan Dream TV

If you are a literature student who wonders if there are any TV programs about literary figures and history, then Upstart Crow is the answer to that question. Upstart Crow was created by Ben Elton as a part of the 400th anniversary Shakespeare celebrations, featuring David Mitchell as the titular upstart crow. It is perhaps the most inventive and irreverent approach to a historical figure whose daily circumstances are still largely undocumented and obscure, if not shrouded in mystery. By evoking comedic tropes that feature in Shakespeare’s own narratives and building real-life parallels that echo the future significance of his works, Upstart Crow brilliantly constructs a world that is as clever as it is funny.

The writing makes you tear up with pride, because it is just that good. Every line feels clever without being annoying or grating – unless it is on purpose. You get a range of characters and motivations, from the chaotic good to stoic and solid. Where the show shines is in its treatment of 16th century social issues with a tongue firmly in the cheek, and somehow making it relevant to our own time and concerns. With a compelling cast of characters whose concerns mirror our own contemporary lives, Upstart Crow pulls off a comedy about daily life featuring a playwright whose works have become iconic if not archetypal in our view.

While each actor is worthy of mention, Gemma Whelan (who plays Asha Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) plays a magnificent supporting role as Shakespeare’s landlord’s daughter Kate, who aspires to be an actress on the Elizabethan stage. Her is repeatedly thwarted by scoffing men who tell her that to be an actor, you need to be a boy, with coconuts. However, she responds to these rejections with a determined optimism, working on her next attempt at breaking the barriers. These figures may be imaginary, however they open the possibility of thinking about Shakespeare as an artist situated in the community and taking inspiration from his immediate circumstances.

Other characters like Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe, help highlight the problem of class that still persists in many performance arts circles. By playing up Shakespeare’s need to ingratiate himself to his vapid and popular friend Marlowe, the show takes shots at the clout some artists enjoy simply by association and legacy. Yet, Marlowe’s turn is is played without malice and Shakespeare’s attempts to impress him come across as endearing. Most importantly, this show reverses some of the popular authorship theories and presents Shakespeare as having authored Marlowe’s plays for him. Fighting back against persistent shadows of doubt from conspiracy theorists disguised as literary historians, this show openly laughs at the snobbishness that questions the ability of someone from the common class to have written such delightful works.

The title of the show is an allusion to the comment made by Shakespeare’s critic and his contemporary playwright, Robert Greene, who warned his fellow university wits about the upstart crow who “beautified with our feathers… supposes he he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you.” While using the quote for the title would have been funny enough, Robert Green (played by Mark Heap) is featured as a riotous foil to Shakespeare, who makes fantastic plans and announces them to the audience in hilarious soliloquys. Playing him out as a literal mustache twirling villain creates a wonderful dynamic that adds a Shakespearean depth to the lives of the other characters that simply carry on with their lives.

Now, the obvious comparison that this show evokes is to the now legendary Black Adder, which managed to present outstanding episodes in its historic run. Only time will tell if this Upstart Crow will ever reach the same acclaim as the that show, but it is definitely headed in the right direction. Among the many TV encounters that have been shared on this site, if there is one show that exemplifies the phrase ‘must see TV’, then it is this show. Smart writing, brilliant acting and a rich world to draw interesting elements from – this show has them all. BBC has produced some of the best comedies in English through the years, and this show is a fine addition to that list. If you have the slightest doubt about the show, watch this preview of the first episode. And Wankington!

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Grey Is The New White – The World Of OITNB

In an age of narrative complexity in television (Jason Mittell), audiences are no strangers to moral complexity as the two often go hand in hand.  We have become familiar with characters who go from ‘good’ to ‘bad’, ones that seem capable of being both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and even those others who are inscrutably positioned between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. My need to use scare quotes here is just one indication that we are aware of how complicated a relationship with such characters can be. Yet we seek out these relationships nonetheless. Currently, I am engaged in just one such relationship with Orange is the New Black (OITNB).

Both as a fan and as an academic, one of the reasons I enjoy this series is its ability to skilfully span a great deal of time. Television’s temporality allows for a variety of potential narrative patterns to emerge; narratives that are not simply teleological, but those which move both forward and backward, and through cycles of repetition and revision. OITNB puts television’s “ebb and flow” (Amy Holdsworth 2011:3) to ideological use as its narrative cycles force questions about the morality of its characters, the prison system, and human nature in general. But instead of leading us toward one final answer, the series takes delight in forcing us to re-evaluate our conclusions. A good illustration of this is a comparison between the season three and four finales, in the analysis of which I am indebted to Seymour Chatman’s approach to character as a paradigm of traits, in his Story and Discourse (1978).

Breaking Bad-der

Season three ended with a telling (teasing?) reference. Piper Chapman, the closest thing that the show has to a traditional protagonist, brags to her brother about her growing illicit business and her white-ink prison tattoo which proclaims “Trust no bitch”. In response, her brother delivers these comical words of advice: “Okay Pipes, while I’m really proud of how evil prison has made you, I think you’re overestimating your villain index. You’re still transitioning. You’re not Walter White yet, you’re Walter White-ink.” The reference to Breaking Bad’s famous antihero immediately elicits the question – will Piper follow in his footsteps? The trajectory certainly seems to suggest so. The traits that defined Piper as a character slowly shift from season one to season three. Piper began her prison sentence scared, weak, innocent and polite. By the end of season three she has become more powerful, while also becoming more selfish, ruthless and arrogant. She still tries to be polite though, adding to humour to scenes in which Piper attempts to balance this trait with her newly acquired toughness. The transition to villain seems to be well on its way. But is it?

Piper Shows her tattoo to her brother

From the beginning, OITNB has been self-reflexive when it comes to the television medium, making a variety of references to other shows, and the way that it deals with Piper’s character arc further illustrates that the comparison with Breaking Bad should be taken with a knowing pinch of salt. Hardly five minutes into season four’s first episode and Piper’s dominance is comically undermined. “No one knows you’re gangsta with an ‘a’”, the typically silent prisoner Chang tells her. And sure enough, as the season progresses Piper’s newly acquired power gets stripped away from her as she becomes, once again, not the perpetrator but the victim of prison conspiracies. And as this happens, the ‘negative’ traits that define Piper’s personality begin to mellow out as well. Her selfish streak is softened as she begins to again display a concern for the fates of others. By the end of the season she and her on-again, off-again girlfriend Alex have decided to try live an “easy”, quiet life, staying away from the prison’s incendiary activities. Such a turn-around may be disappointing for those who hoped that Piper would become TV’s next super-villain, but OITNB seems to have more on its mind than such a metamorphosis.

Chang throwing shade

From the beginning, the series has been preoccupied with questions about how prison life affects the individual. Are these people who they are because they are in prison, or are they in prison because of who they are? One of the first pieces of advice that Piper receives is to think of her time in prison as a mandala made out of sand: something you work hard to make meaningful but, when it’s over, it gets wiped away. But by episode ten of the first season, Piper comes to a different conclusion: speaking to a teen from the Scared Straight programme, Piper tells her that the scariest part of prison is coming face to face with who you truly are. So is this time temporary, or is it a reflection of one’s true self?  The show’s flashback structure leads us further away from arriving at any definite conclusions. Some flashbacks show us characters committing crimes that seem to warrant their prison sentence, while others reveal aspects of their personality that remain deeply buried in their prison lives. But buried does not mean forgotten. This is why a character like Piper can go through cycles where some traits become dominant while others shift to the background.

The Prison Families

In OITNB individual characters come together to form a community that is unique to this particular show. These communities are defined not only by the characters that people them, but also by the spaces they occupy and the rules and ideals they share. And just as we try to make out the traits that define characters, the community is also defined by particular traits. When Piper first enters Lichfield prison in the pilot, we see its community from her eyes: it is terrifying, imposing and unpredictable. But if we turn our attention back to season three’s finale, we can see that yet another shift has occurred. Where Piper is at her most cruel, setting up her lover Stella as punishment for stealing her money, the prison community as a whole is at its most selfless. The season ends with several miraculous coincidences – the repair of the prison’s fence, the guards going on strike – which allow the prisoners to escape through a gap in the fence onto the shores of a lake.

Breaking Boundaries

What follows is an extended sequence of pure joy in which friendships are forged, romances begun, alliances mended. But just as Piper’s tyranny doesn’t last long, neither does this emotional oasis. As the community is redefined in season four by the influx of new prisoners, new guards and new rules, the narrative moves toward a very different climax. Season four’s finale also ends with the prison community banding together, but this time not in joy but in violence, as suppressed anger and grief erupt. In a reversal of season three’s finale, miracles in this episode happen not in the present within the confines of the prison, but in the past as we witness, through flashback, a magical night prisoner Poussey had in New York shortly before her arrest. In the flashback people again display their capacity for kindness and selflessness, and these scenes are made all the more poignant due to Poussey’s death as a result of police brutality in the previous episode. The flashback also contrasts with many others in the series which show the outside world as harsh and selfish, frequently, if only partially, the cause of characters’ transgressions.

A Magical Retrospective in New York

Orange is the New Black sets up many binaries including good versus bad, inside versus outside, and criminals versus law enforcers. But these binaries are constantly blurred. Some characters become better people in prison, others worse.  However, the change need not be permanent. While the prison is a ruthless place, sometimes the outside world is even more so; and sometimes miracles happen, both inside and out of prison. This continual movement between binary extremes uses the serial format to its advantage, setting up expectations in one episode that are subverted in another. But the past is never forgotten as character and community traits, buried in memory, are recalled by new plotlines, making definitive classifications and moral judgements difficult to make. These paradigms of traits are always shifting, and as they do, a wonderful rhythm is created – both narratological and ideological – and as it moves through time the familiar extremes of black and white are whirled into ever-changing shades of grey.

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The contributing writer KRISTINA GRAOUR is a third-year PhD student at the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, where she also runs a seminar on television narrative. Her research interests include narratives in a variety of media, and her current PhD work examines narrative development in long-running television series.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – An Outstanding Comedy

Since it is the holiday season, I would like to share with you my thoughts on the most hopeful TV comedy that I watched this year – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, 2015-). This is anything but a timely piece – the two seasons have been around for a while now. However, the magic of end-of-year pieces is that you can pretty much get away with writing about anything from the year. Considering how heavy the year has been generally, Kimmy Schmidt might be the perfect throwback to a wonderful world of joy.

Unbreakably funny!

The precious few episodes of the second season lit up the screen this year, as Kimmy continues to come to terms with her past as well as negotiate living in a big city. If that sounds like every American sitcom premise ever, then you are not very wrong. There are plenty of nods, tributes and deconstructions of existing TV tropes in this well-written comedy. And yet, where some of the other attempts at self-reflexivity in comedy become cerebral and/or pretentious, Kimmy Schmidt remains intelligent without being overbearing. One of the ways in which this show stands out is the inventive method at which the titular character arrives at the sitcom premise – as cleverly explained in the opening credits before the show (yet another tongue in cheek reference to a TV sitcom tradition from the 70s and the 80s).

And while a little dated, the “songify” parody of the Bed Intruder song is a way of acknowledging the presence of the sitcom on the internet streaming portal – Netflix. But the songs only get better from here. Every well thought-out line and hidden joke adds to the rewatchability of this show, where every scene has references and intertextual links that challenge the viewer to be and become intelligent to enjoy the show even more. The rise of ridesharing app Uber, the neuroses nurtured by city living, the problem of fame, and the struggles of immigration are just some of the contemporary issues that the show engages with on a regular basis. Here are some of the posters from season 2 which again played with the conventions that have become commonplace online.

A few of the funny posters

Created by Tina Fey, the show often tempers a cynical world with hope for optimism. It is like watching that moment in a movie where the perpetually grumpy old man gives in and says, “you are okay this time, kid!” You can’t help but believe in the magic of TV a little bit. After the razor sharp wit of the consistently underrated 30 Rock, I could not believe that she seemed to aimlessly appear in Saturday Night Live skits and make movies with Amy Poehler, which despite the involvement of two of the most brilliant comedians of our times, were poorly written and barely watchable. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a refreshing follow-up to 30 Rock, which retains much of the self-reflexivity without being burdened with the pressure of playing characters which were versions of themselves (or other real people). Besides serving as a showrunner, Tina Fey has also appeared in brilliant cameos as two different characters in the two seasons, with each line funnier than the last. Talking about cameos, her long-time cameo-collaborator Jon Hamm does a fantastic turn as the despicable doomsday cult leader – he is funny and enraging at the same time.

Of course, Ellie Kemper’s ebullience plays a big part in shaping the naivety of the story-world; which she does an amazing job of – as she never allows her character to come across as stupid, regardless of how silly or simple she behaves. And that is the most telling point about Kimmy Schmidt, that this is not a comedy about a goofball who is out of place – it is literally the story of an innocent abroad. Snatched away from the world that she knows, the worst thing that could happen has already happened to her. When Kimmy willingly throws herself into a new city and a difficult learning experience, she is a conquering hero who nudges into possibility, things that have been cast beyond her reach. But she is not a self-obsessed ego-maniac. Unlike many other sitcom protagonists, whom we would not want to meet in our real lives, Kimmy is defined by her relationships with people that she cares for. She never looks at herself as a victim, as she exceeds her capacity to give. Balancing her enthusiasm is the hilarious Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon. His energy and comedic timing makes him the breakout star of this show. There is no end to his insanely funny lines – but here is a start.

It is not that the other characters and themes are not worth discussing here – but I would rather that you go watch an episode of the show instead.

A Strange Company

On a parting note, I would like to talk about a different movie that bears remarkable similarity with this fantastic show. Often, when two completely different programs/movies handle the exact same situation in completely different ways., it usually results in one of them succeeding, and the other vanishing without a trace. There are a few rare cases when both works are successful in their own right, and the similarities become less self-evident, as their originality trumps their genre markers. The same premise can be interpreted in two completely opposing ways, in completely different media, resulting in very impressive, but unrelated works. I enjoy viewing such works in view of the other, as it offers a richer enjoyment of the other. The uproariously funny and soulful comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt finds such company in the moving and hauntingly optimistic Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015). Both works are about abducted women who were stowed away in a dungeon for an extended period of time, but they cannot be further apart from each other in their tone. While the drama achieved greater recognition for evoking some of the bigger questions about the psychological impact of cruelty and isolation, the comedy allows itself to go to certain places that the drama cannot. The humor is used to sharpen the significance of the suffering as much as it is used to blunt the pain. Despite their differences, they both present an indomitable spirit in their protagonists, as both of them are remarkably Unbreakable.

Room (2015)

Which was your favorite comedy of the year? Share your comments and views with through facebook or twitter.

SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Distinguishing Escobar from Pablo on Narcos

Netflix’s Narcos has become a very popular show due to its ability to present a recent, but slightly obscure historical event in a gripping narrative, replete with compelling, albeit somewhat fictional, characters. The show has not won any major awards after an explosive first season and its fans are particularly incensed with Wagner Moura being overlooked for his riveting portrayal of Pablo Escobar. Despite being an actor who speaks very little Spanish, Moura lends a menacing gravitas to the role that makes him more interesting than the real Escobar at times. While that comment is a credit to his performance, it also brings us to one of the biggest problems of watching contemporary Television—how do we reconcile the charismatic protagonist with the historical truth of Escobar’s destructiveness?


Fictionalized drama always presents the possibility of a romantic view of its protagonists. Narcos seems to preempt this problem of representation that it creates as a result of tampering with history when it gets too boring for a TV drama, and invokes the magical cloak magical realism to justify its liberties. This move has been quite divisive as it has been critiqued for its gross misunderstanding of what magical realism is, while others see no evidence of its use other than the claim made in the show (Sepinwall). Regardless of the opinion about the narrative strategy, the notion of mythologizing Escobar seems to create a dangerous condition of engaging with the recent past while ignoring its political and historical significance. Perhaps the producers felt the need to justify their adaptation process while being sensitive to the ethical questions of representation; even if it causes further confusion in the reception of the show.

In my opinion, they need not have tried to position themselves in this ill-fitting manner, because Narcos performs a different move that stirs its audience from the illusion—use of documentary footage. The documentary footage is used in Narcos to contrast the reality of the image with the distortion of the fiction. Instead of trying to justify its fictionalization, the show performs an incisive critical function when it challenges its own fiction. Every moment of the show offers a fantastic possibility of escape where we can romanticize Pablo Escobar into a dense and inexplicable demi-god. But those moments are cut against the horrifying visuals of truth where Escobar’s actions and consequences are presented in grainy news footage from its day.

Escobar: Fiction vs. History
Escobar: Fiction vs. History

[SPOILER] This self-reflexive contrast between fact and fiction is felt intensely in the moment when Pablo Escobar is finally shot dead by the police. When the once-powerful drug-lord is finally gunned down by the Search bloc, they take a photo documenting the moment for evidence. The actor Boyd Holbrook who portrays DEA agent Steve Murphy who was present at the scene, portrays the moment in a brooding fashion, evoking the image of a classic American hero. This hero does not take pleasure in murdering anyone, even if it were the drug kingpin that terrorized Columbia for nearly a decade. After the photo is taken, Murphy walks away with a look of relief but also mixed with the exhaustion of recognizing the profundity of the historical moment when they finally got Escobar—a moment that would change Columbian history. Interestingly, the scene cuts away to the actual image of Steve Murphy holding Pablo Escobar’s body, and that moment could not be further away from what was portrayed on the show. The real Murphy wears the same shirt as seen on TV, but he looks as if he were holding a prize-animal that he and his peers had successfully hunted. There is no shadow of silent contemplation as suggested by the narrative in the show. There is just a smiling face for the camera – as if Murphy is a tourist in the worst photo spot ever. No remorse, or hesitation but a sense of accomplishment for ending a terrible force that had affected the world for a long time; or simply, the image of a man who did his job and completed his mission [SPOILER].

The photos of the scene described above are not featured in the blog due to their graphic content. Those who want to see the images side-by-side can check them out in this feature at Daily Mail.

Now, this moment is preceded and immediately followed by actions and words that are contrary to the image of the ‘real’ world that we had a quick glimpse into. The narrative is able to evoke doubt and critical distance about historical events in its viewing audience despite telling a completely different story about the fictional characters. This separation of fictionality and historical document is an achievement in itself, as it allows the text to function as a critique of itself. This strategy is used so frequently in the show that the viewers do not need a complex cue to understand the distinction. Over the course of the episodes the difference is suggested very subtly through the change of the aspect ratio from 16:9 (Widescreen HD) for the fiction, and 4:3 (pre-widescreen TV ratio).

Moura's Pablo is more likable than the historical Escobar
Moura’s Pablo is more likable than the historical Escobar

It is not to say that documentary footage cannot be used to construct fiction or manipulate its audience. Since all images are mediated, they tell the story that they are positioned to tell. Even Narcos uses the authenticity of visuals as a way of telling a fabrication. Besides, there is an indisputable truth that Muora’s Pablo is infinitely more likable than the historical figure. There does not even seem to be an attempt at hiding this manipulation as we see the story being compressed from well over a decade to the narrative span of a couple of years. However, the argument here is that by drawing attention to the nature of the image used, the show evokes different modes of viewing in its audience. Of course, when the lines between documentary and fiction are blurred, the very blending prompts the audience to separate history as it happened and as the characters want it to be. This blending of footage is done only once in a significant way, after the audience have become familiar with the show’s practice of shifting the aspect ratio. The show played with the significance by presenting fictional elements as if they were documentary evidence in the episode “Al Fin Cayo!” (2.10). The episode opens with Escobar’s face featured in posters in a grainy 4:3 frame. The surreal moment announces that Escobar is president of Columbia, and he will be arriving at the presidential palace. The black panels on the sides of screen slowly widens, revealing this moment to be a dream. But it is a dream which was close to a kind of reality that Escobar had struggled to attain throughout his life. In that moment, the show reveals his desire for recognition and legitimacy in a way that other documentary moments do not communicate. Of course, this is a trick, a manipulation of the viewing experience. But its use and the subsequent revealing of the use makes the audience look at the moment differently and appreciate the world that Pablo Escobar wanted to belong to.

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SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.