Watching television is an easy way to completely escape reality and immerse yourself in a world other than yours. The power of TV shows lies in their seriality and that as an audience we get to witness character growth that mirrors our own. Even the lightest shows can hit heavily as they speak to us on a level we relate to. Here's a list of shows that’ll give you that will make you ponder life:
5. The Good Place
An arguably predictable show on this list but wonderful nonetheless, The Good Place gives a humorous outlook on the idea of death. Humans have centered many belief systems on the idea of an after life and this show explores all of those ideas, adding funny and thought-provoking messages to each scene. Despite the cheery and bright setting, every episode forces you to grapple with your own morality and the morals of existing as a human. It also brings into question the idea of "good people" and how easy it is to only cultivate an image of being good while not being good. In addition, every episode ends on a cliffhanger so it's a show that you want to keep watching, despite the several existential crises you have during it.
4. Avatar: The Last Airbender
Perhaps not the most standard “think about life” show on this list, Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) succeeds in being for both children and adults. This is accomplished through extensive world-building and complex characters. Unlike majority of cartoons, the show doesn’t cut corners in conflict resolution and often opts for an unrelated solution the audience wasn’t expecting.
The most impressive part of this show is its ability to transport adults to a world that they haven’t been to since they were children. Watching ATLA makes you feel like you’re a kid again, playing pretend with your friends. Whether it was your favourite show as a kid or you’re watching it for the first time because it’s streaming on Netflix, it carries a sense of nostalgia most shows don’t. This is what forces you to ponder your life: the disparity between your inner child and adult. When did you lose the ability to go into a fully imaginary world? Why was playing pretend as a child so fun? Why is your inner world not as bright as it used to be? ATLA’s immersive animation brings these questions (and potential answers) to light and allows us to reflect on the process of growing up.
3. Freaks and Geeks
While it may not seem as a show that should be watched for anything more than its entertainment value, Freaks and Geeks gives a different perspective to the coming-of-age narrative. It portrays a girl struggling to accept herself and her changing social status, which despite being a pretty normal storyline, is explored through different characters, including her parents. Initially a “geek”, the main character Lindsay becomes more alternative after the death of her grandmother, befriending the "freaks”. This leads to absolutely everyone questioning her sudden change of character, emphasizing that she’s not ‘acting like herself’. Lindsay's actions are erratic and can't always be explained even by her, which is something that happens to anyone facing major internal changes. This is a universal experience for anyone going through personal development and it’s comforting to see this reflected on screen.
2. Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul is the successor of beloved Breaking Bad and couldn’t be more different from it. The show is about a lawyer, Jimmy (better known as Saul), running a law practice out of the back of a nail salon while working as a public defendant to make ends meet. Jimmy’s conflicts are painfully realistic, a majority of them revolving around the fractured relationship with his older brother. All of the other characters are portrayed in a way that lets the audience believe these people actually exist. Nothing is over-dramatized for the purpose of entertainment and even the most far-fetched schemes feel grounded in reality. This ‘grounding’ is what makes Better Call Saul feel authentic. The audience gets so wrapped up in the mundaneness of every scene that we fail to realize the characters becoming more corrupt; just like we do with ourselves. This puts up a mirror to the audience forcing us to survey what it is that we are ignoring about our own lives and what problematic instincts we’re letting run rampant without realizing it. Life is unpredictable but the changes we never expect are the ones that occur over a long period of time. Better Call Saul shows how complacency can completely disrupt normality, which often causes major fallout.
1. Bojack Horseman
Ironically, the show that is most life-like is a colourful cartoon about anthropomorphic animals. When writing a show with real life actors, all the liberties taken are to “decorate” the real world in order to dramatize human experiences. There is no need to artistically enhance Bojack Horseman as it is already a creatively-charged premise. The challenge becomes making the characters as close to real life as possible, despite the ridiculous setting.
All the characters are initially presented as one-dimensional tropes we’ve seen countless times before. Bojack is an antihero we’re supposed to hate but end up rooting for; Princess Carolyn is the workaholic who works to avoid thinking about her personal life; Diane is the overly-critical, socially-conscious cynic; Mr. Peanutbutter is Bojack's foil; and Todd is the comic relief character. We initially relate to them based on the way we’re used to relating to other characters on television, picking out a few of their 'quirky' and fun traits and aligning ourselves with them. Over the course of the story these choices are put into question as we see our actual personal experiences reflected on screen (like the portrayal of depression, highly specific difficulties of motherhood, abusive friendships etc.). The problems presented are painfully human and their resolutions are as complex or simple as they are in real life. The pacing and storyline structure doesn’t allow for comfort since the characters often progress in their lives only to regress and then progress again, leaving the viewer not knowing what to expect: just like in reality. This is the biggest reason for the audience's reflection. The situations the characters are placed in force the audience to confront the ways they've been handling their own problems and to bring into question the things we've been taught to view as normal, making Bojack Horseman the No. 1 contender on this list.
TV can be used as a tool for escapism but it is just as advantageous when used to look at your own life critically. By watching shows that force you to question your life, you improve on yourself as a human being, which is the best way to justify binge-watching 20 episodes of a show in one sitting.