I found myself rewatching Breaking Bad this morning, starting at the beginning. It’s amazing how entertaining this show is given that this will be the third time I’ve seen this season. Also, as almost everyone knows, for a show this entertaining it sure was able to deal in some really heavy themes. I think that is what makes it so great, that it works on different levels, from base entertainment to American tragedy.
I finished Better Call Saul the other day. Seeing the whole season now has made me want to watch Season 2. There were several times in the first season that I wasn’t so sure about the show. The acting has always been excellent. I’m used to modern TV shows taking a little time to develop and find their voice. After the amazing ride of Breaking Bad I determined that I was going to give Vince Gilligan the benefit of the doubt, even when the show was slow. Several seasons of Mad Men have taken a little time to develop, only to pick up steam in the second half and be unbelievable. Modern TV, when its at its best, can have almost the detail of great literature. Mad Men definitely falls into that realm. I think what Better Call Saul ended up doing throughout the season was great, but it really took me the full season to become invested on an emotional level, where Breaking Bad had an opening episode that hooked you from the start.
I think that any kind of art form has to work on an emotional level first. If it can expand your mind, deliver big ideas, on top of that, all the better. I want to get something more than just being entertained out of something if possible. However, I think if a writer, musician, painter, can pull you in on some way that is emotional, especially if they have a big idea, it is going to have a far greater chance at affecting how people think. George Orwell is brilliant not only for his ideas, but for his clarity and readability too. Even if he is talking about something highly intellectual, I am always struck at how the way he writes pulls you along with him. It’s almost as if you are arriving at the conclusion with him.
That doesn’t mean that every moment of a book or TV show or whatever has to be easy. I like to be challenged. I like to hear that weird soundscape in the middle of an album of pop songs, for a show like Mad Men to take its time developing characters so the emotional payoff is bigger by the end, to see a play that has an act that sets the stage for later. Only fools need everything spoonfed to them.
I just got done reading Voltaire’s Candide. It was written in the 1700’s. There is a reason, beyond the big ideas contained within, that it has lasted several hundred years. It is highly entertaining as well as being highly intelligent.
One thing I realized is that one will never ever read every book that is ever written. One will never hear every piece of music ever created. One will never see every show that or movie that has ever been made. Therefore you must choose what you expose yourself. It’s fine to watch or listen to things that are escapist at times. The brain needs downtime if it is going to function on a higher level at other times. But one should seek things out that help to understand the world around you. If you are looking to understand something in a very specific technical way, then that is a different matter. However, if you are looking for some kind of broader understanding of the world, there is no reason that one can’t enjoy oneself while doing so. If you are interested in something, or some idea, or just looking for new ideas, the chances are there is someone that has communicated what you are looking for in a way that is enjoyable too. A great journalist, dramatist, or songwriter, can do more than one thing at a time.