Television

The TV Club, 2019

Entry 7: The Good Fight, along with the rest of TV, has finally caught up to Donald Trump.

Christine Baranski, Delroy Lindo, Michael Boatman, and Audra McDonald in a scene from The Good Fight
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by CBS.

The 2019 TV Club features Slate’s Willa Paskin, Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff, Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk, and Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya.

Hello again fellow TV fandalorians!

Thank you for discussing Baby Yoda at length, Willa. My relationship with that beloved moppet will now forever feel slightly weird after accidentally stirring up a whole GIF-related situation that blew up more than I expected it to. Although that smoothed itself out eventually, it did make me feel like the giant corporate entities involved were closer in my field of vision than they usually are. I know they’re there, and the release of Disney+ this fall was an overwhelming avalanche of a reminder about just how much intellectual property Disney owns.

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Probably I’m just trying to soothe myself by clinging to meaningless markers in the grand scheme of things, but when I get too worried about the size of Disney, I do find it comforting to remember that The Mandalorian is the only original series on the platform that’s made any kind of dent so far. Has anyone even watched Marvel’s Hero Project? If a franchise tie-in series appears on a new streaming platform and no one tweets about it, did it even exist?

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Emily, I appreciate you throwing out “episodes should have their own stories” and “network TV can be good,” which are the most giant Kathryn-bait topics since—oh right, you also shouted the title Dickinson in your first entry! I am also really in the tank for CBS’s Evil, a show I should find too scary because I’m allergic to all horror content. Instead, it’s been this real gift on my TV viewing calendar, something I look forward to for its sense of humor and the way it filters huge, truly scary ideas (the internet is red-pilling our children!) through goofy premises. It’s a show that grips the contours of nightmare just tightly enough to feel the anxieties of it, to take it seriously, without also squeezing it to death.

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There is one perfect midpoint between “shows on streaming platforms that maybe no one watches” and “network TV can be good, especially when it’s allowed to get really weird as is the case of Evil,” and that point is The Good Fight.

Let me get my complaint out of the way first: The Good Fight doesn’t really know how to end a season. The CBS All Access show about lawyers in Chicago and, I guess, Life as It Is Right Now, is fantastically good at opening cans of worms. Each topic is more silly-grave-surreal-serious than the last. And this year, those topics included Roy Cohn, Michael Sheen high on LSD, whether it’s OK to punch Nazis, NDAs, and the entire concept of doing something bad if it will benefit the greater good. Of course the threads do not pull together at the end, and it’s unfortunate because the rhythms of the show almost demand it. The series barrels along at such a clip that it makes you long for the clean snap of a briefcase being closed with a decisive gesture, or whatever the plot equivalent of such a sound would be.

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But The Good Fight can’t deliver a clean ending, and although that saddens me, I really can’t fault it. The Good Fight can’t wrap up a clean season’s worth of story because it flies too close to unanswerable questions about the current moment, and any ending that tied everything neatly in a bow would betray its own argument about how impossible everything is. It’s on my Top 10 list of the year because the performances are wonderful, but also because I think Michelle and Robert King’s show comes closest to expressing my own alternating waves of giddiness and futility as I look at the world in 2019.

It’s a show I wish so many more people were watching. Not because I think if they did it would DESTROY TRUMP in that “Wow did you watch this clip from a late-night show where they destroy Trump!” kind of way, but because just as much as Evil or a really wackadoo show like The Magicians (here, too, I am with you Emily), The Good Fight plays with the boundaries of how goofy a TV show can be while also being almost unbearably dark. It’s the tone that’s felt most right to me, right now. Plus there are songs!

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While I very much sympathize with the TV crankiness this TV Club has been circling around, one thing I’ve appreciated about this year in television is that many of the prestige dramas have felt easier for me to embrace because they’ve also felt less separated from [gestures at world].
There was a long gap after 2016. Many shows scrambled to put relevant political material into their scripts as quickly as possible, but those efforts tended to feel like inadequate retrofits, TV programming shrugs in the shape of Roseanne. It’s taken a while for all the shows developed from scratch after the election to make it all the way to public release, and this year is the first one where much of what we were watching was always meant to exist in this era.

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Shows like When They See Us and Chernobyl were hard to watch in a way that I felt was important to experience, something lots of critics have written about this year. The way Watchmen was imagined and reimagined doesn’t seem like something that could have existed outside of this moment. Succession, my beloved show about horrible wealthy people, felt easier to love because watching it meant always accepting that its powerful media overlords are all bad people, like before you could enter into the show’s fictional space you had to kick the myth of Daddy Warbucks out a high window.

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And Lodge 49, a show I loved deeply this year, is something I very much worry I would’ve dismissed at an earlier moment. Yet its critique of capitalism is so perfectly hand-in-glove with Succession, and so beautifully fitting with all kinds of ideas in the ether right now (including Jenny Odell’s How to do Nothing), that it seems like Lodge 49 and Succession should play together in a single perfect TV programming block.

Remember when TV programming blocks were meaningful? Almost as nostalgic as the entire project of Stranger Things! But also everything I’ve laid out here, which is basically a TV diet for feeling connected to the zeitgeist, is completely, unsustainably exhausting? I’m very curious about any TV everyone has been watched this year that felt like it was charging your batteries rather than depleting them. (Sonia, please tell me it’s The Witcher.)

Yours in this beautiful post-capitalist avalanche together,
Kathryn

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