I realize that I sound like a grandma for writing this, but recently I realized that, as great as the new TV series are, binge-watching them is making me feel beat-up. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a tough Fall –by which I mean September through October, not that I’ve fallen–, but I can’t watch another show about a serial killer or a tortured detective. Even shows in which nothing violent happens are often written in such a way as to be emotionally disturbing. I binge-watched Transparent over the weekend and while I think it’s truly terrific, I also feel… soiled and tired. Watching people behave horribly and selfishly toward others might be part of being human. It’s reality, I know. But it can also be completely disheartening. Or am I too sensitive?
I’m getting tired of anti-heroes, in other words. Somewhere along the way we’ve all gotten the notion that good characters are boring because doing the right thing is the easy choice. Yet the older I get, the more I question that idea. In my experience, doing the right thing has been really hard (not that I’m a hardened criminal or anything, but still). Life is often confusing and the right thing is not always clear-cut. Often, the right thing to do is only clear in hindsight. And very often doing the right thing doesn’t lead to a good ending, but nor does it necessarily lead to disappointment. This is not to say that everything turns out well in the end; only that there have been times when I’ve had to make the tougher choice and it did not turn out well, yet the fact that I felt that I did the right thing also gave me a sense of peace –even if there was no traditional happy ending. I don’t know if I can explain that better, but looking back I can still say that those were the best decisions I’ve ever made, regardless of how it panned out. I’ve begun to think that what’s wrong with making a good character interesting is that the confusion and the difficulty of making the right choice are not often depicted well. I get the sense that there’s this idea that the darker part of our nature pops up when we least expect it, and while that’s true, the opposite is also true. Haven’t you ever found yourself doing something good or kind automatically and when you least expected it?
I’m not advocating the idea that we go back to a simplistic hero-worship. But I don’t think the anti-hero trend is a realistic depiction of reality either.
The series I’ve enjoyed most is Amazon’s Catastrophe and it’s precisely because the two main characters are recognizably human and flawed and yet they’re both doing their best to deal with whatever life throws them in a reasonably grown-up way — even if they can both act very badly from time to time. It helps that it’s hilarious and that they both genuinely like each other. But when’s the last time you saw a show or movie in which two partners like each other?