The things you take for granted.
Like the vast slew of hard-hitting, boundary-pushing streaming TV shows that manage to both hook you along for an escapist journey that also makes you think of the world you’re living in, RIGHT NOW, for all that you live on a tiny speck of island in the middle of the Mediterranean and said shows would be conceived and shot oceans away.
(Though the latter may not always be true — some would be filmed closer to home, in jurisdictions with comparatively weaker film unions, but that’s a story for another day. Or is it?)
Shows like Beef, Dead Ringers and The Bear: a powerful but eclectic bunch (I know I’m late on the last one) and an example of the kind of stuff we’ve learned to yes, take as a god(s)-given gift without questioning its provenance.
But the currently-ongoing writers’ strike puts what we take for granted into real perspective.
When I posted to my socials about how much I was enjoying BOTH Beef and Dead Ringers, the enthusiasm came thick and fast for the former: a zippy-snappy comedy-drama forged by the joint behemoths of Netflix and A24; a charged melange of commercially friendly adrenaline-hit episodes and an arthouse-boosted satirical, observational backbone (that one of its two main leads is a professional stand-up comedian by day surely helped channel some that energy).
But few seemed to be aware of Dead Ringers, despite its starring the quasi-generation hopping, quasi-household name of Rachel Weisz (multiplied by two, no less). Here’s a show that seems to be playing all its cards right: like FX’s Fargo, it is a legacy reboot of a cult classic film — in this case, David Cronenberg’s 1988 surgical fever dream opera, conducted by Jeremy Irons times-two — and, again, it stars an actress we’ve had a chance to fall in love with over and over again in projects which range from award-baiting costume dramas to prestige espionage thrillers and endlessly rewatchable action-adventure capers. And this is hardly about Weisz taking a swing to give a newbie a chance: the show is penned by Alice Birch, a regular scribe for a little show by the name of Succession.
But just like Variety‘s article on the matter states, the gold rush for shows has led to a saturation point that’s created an absurd scenario, where even projects with the marquee-est of marquee actors struggle to find elbow room in this crowded space: “Do you remember the Julia Roberts series on Starz last year? What was it called? How about Samuel L. Jackson’s series on Apple TV+? And they were good shows.”
Dead Ringers is also a good show. Not as easy to watch as Beef, certainly — for all the moral wincing Beef pinches at, DR squeezes the corkscrew in far deeper while cackling at your pain — but to me, at least, it brought back memories of another favourite yet hard-done-by programme: NBC’s (or should we say most emphatically above all, Bryan Fuller’s) Hannibal, once again starring a couple of Hollywood primed behemoth thespians in roles of a lifetime.
Both DR and Hannibal are pointedly indulgent programmes, more in terms of tasteful production design than anything requiring a surfeit of digital effects (though I’m sure its painterly bouts of bodily violence did require some tinkering in that regard). It’s the kind of stuff that gets made when both literal and figurative stars are aligned.
But they’re also the shows that risk getting buried under the avalanche of material that the streamers have insisted on churning out to appease the gods of growth. A malaise that has infiltrated many areas of our life, for sure, but that’s how it’s manifesting itself here, among the very shows that we settle down to watch after our own daily reckoning with what’s asked of us by late capitalism.
It may not be as baroquely pretty as DR or Hannibal, and neither does it attempt to chase the zeitgeist like Beef, but The Bear — whose characters traffic in literal beef! — may serve as the best compounded allegory for this mess.
Just like we tend to forget about the writers who toil away to conceive of the avalanche of shows we not only take for granted, but that we are actually spoilt for choice over, so would a (largely off-screen) clientele fail to consider the full extent of the sacrifices made by the chefs delivering up signature beef sandwiches in The Bear.
It’s not so much about stoking a dormant guilt in us. That would defeat the purpose, and even be counter-productive. It’s also not about some passive idea of ‘awareness’; of simply paying tribute and showing appreciation and then flipping back into default mode a second or two later.
But it may be about remembering that we watch these shows primarily because they explore the things that make us people… as stylistically exaggerated and/or excessively zoomed-in as they may be. And if the people making them are sidelined — either through dismal pay conditions or by defaulting to AI solutions — well, that deflates the whole point of watching these shows in the first place, don’t you think?