You probably think that when writers aren’t writing, we’re eating, sleeping or thinking about writing, or heck, even reading. But you know, we’re human. When our brains are done with output, we flip on the TV and veg just like everyone else. I bet some of us even binge on TV (because even an athlete has to dig into a bag of Cheetos every now and then).
We shouldn’t feel guilty for consuming the entire bag if what we’re watching can help us with our writing. There are some really good shows out there now. So good in fact, that I call them “literary TV.” (I should trademark that or something)
Here’s a list of what I consider to be some of the best shows for writers. Of course, I’ll admit I haven’t watched Game of Thrones yet (I know, I know!) and shows like The Wire and House of Cards have been on my list for a while.
So this flawed list is based on what I’ve seen because, you know, I can’t just watch TV all the time, I have to write. (Oh and there’s probably spoiler alerts)
The Americans (on FX)
There’s so many good things about this show that I could spend an entire blog just on that. But, I’ll hit the highlights on why you should watch it.
If you don’t know the premise, it’s the story of Elizabeth and Phillip, your average, everyday suburbans 80s couple who just happen to be Soviet spies. This show skews our perception of protagonist/antagonist because we’re seeing the story unfold from Elizabeth and Phillip’s eyes (mostly). It also shows all the different roles we play and how relationships evolve.
Breaking Bad (You can probably find this now on any streaming service)
You should watch Breaking Bad for many reasons, but possibly the best reason to watch it is the over-arching story arch. Through the five seasons of this show, we see a man, Walter White, who we really sympathize with in the beginning – as he’s literally fumbling his way into cooking meth, turn into a monster by the end. This show is a great study of character, of a man who starts off with the intention to provide for him family, but ends up ruining it all.
This is the story of the Gallaghers, a family from the southside of Chicago who just can’t seem to catch a break. What this show is a master of is letting the characters win some, but then lose even more. And, as much as we cheer for the Gallaghers to win, they really are their own worst enemies.
It’s said that writers are meant to create characters they love very, very much, only to get them stuck up a tree and then throw rocks at them. The writers of Shameless does that very well. We love each and every dysfunctional Gallagher and it tugs at our hearts when they mess up.
We also see the complex nature of character here. For example, as the oldest Fiona takes on the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings, but a night of bad judgement puts a younger brother in a life-and-death situation.
Mr. Robot (USA)
This semi-sleeper was a summer series in 2015. Watch Mr. Robot for its unreliable narrator, crazy twists and turns, red herrings and basically every other plot device done exceptionally well. Also, watch this to marvel at how Christian Slater appears to be the modern Dorian Gray. Seriously. He has not aged.
The Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
OK, so I might be cheating just a little bit here because this is actually a book, but the reason this made the list was the setting. If you don’t know the story, The Man in the High Castle is an alternate-reality story of America if the Axis powers had won World War II. Half of the country belongs to Nazi Germany, the other half Japan. When you’re watching this, pay attention to the colors, especially a particular scene when the characters get a glimpse into our reality – the difference here are noticeable.
The other reason I put this show on the list is to watch the character of John Smith, a high-ranking American-born Nazi. This man needs to win every award out there for one scene in particular – when he learns some devastating news about his son. I plan to go back and watch this scene just to take notes on his facial expressions and how he tries to speak, but words are failing him. Amazing.
I’m sure there’s many more shows out there that I’m missing or haven’t seen. The point of this is that sometimes we have to break outside of our medium to find inspiration, and that’s cool if you take that opportunity to pay attention to how the actors are processing the script – especially if they are good actors. This can be incredibly helpful in our own writing.
So, tell me, what shows am I missing that you think aid in writing?