There are TV series that capture, as in the case of madmen, released over nearly a decade. There are series that overwhelm, like the irreverent Rick and Mortywhich has now become a cult, but also those that surprise, such as Better call Saul which, born as a prequel to Breaking Bad, then became a case in itself. In the end, What we do in the shadows, displaces the audience through the story of a community of bizarre vampires narrated with the device of the documentary. Whether you want to be passionate, entertained or entertained, the Christmas break is the ideal time to do it through TV series. And here you will find a careful selection.
Mad Men by Matthew Weiner – 2007-2015
Series like this are rare. Very rare. Long, intense vision yet in this relaxation nothing is out of place: each scene is masterfully orchestrated, second by second, pixel by pixel. On the other hand, this is also what the protagonists do, New Yorkers on Madison Avenue, the historic headquarters of the most important advertising agencies, where the market dresses up and wizards in pinstripes and fedoras give shape to the most ingenious advertisements of the future. In madmen meticulously follow the story of an agency in particular and of those who give life to it, men and women who cross a decade, enter the Sixties as glossy characters of old Hollywood, experience the fear of the bomb, the assassination of JFK, the moon landing and the election of Nixon arriving in the following decade with a mustache and longer hair, after many betrayals, children, parties, whiskey and cigarettes and, of course, the perfect images of advertising. Living, rather than looking, madmen one has the impression of learning many things: the obsessive precision in the composition of each image, of each story and of each face allows an immersion which is not only the perfect trap of another world, but a good trap, a machine without an end that we continue to plunder, a network of meaning to inhabit and explore, a cure for the eyes; the design of the interiors like that of the dress are striking at every shot and their arrangement goes hand in hand with the construction of the systems of meaning of this world, of the intertwining of lives and ultimately with the highly refined psychological painting of the characters who are all-round portraits, from the choice of cocktails to their deepest anguish. madmen thus he succeeds in a truly complex work of synthesis, capable of holding together the wide breadth of serial narratives with a cinematic rigor that makes it a real cure for the eyes.
Rick and Morty by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland – 2013 – ongoing
Ten years after their birth, the adventures of scientist Rick and his nephew Morty across the multiverses, among other versions of their world, bizarre creatures and ever new places to explore, never cease to entertain, provoke and activate thought. It is not simply a cartoon for adults but immediately reveals itself as a complex and stratified object, always capable of reflecting on itself, on its own internal dynamics and on its own essence as a television show. The journey between the various dimensions is just the pretext for a series that is always in excess, with an overabundance of references, quotations, narrative arcs that open and close through the seasons. What works by Rick and Morty it’s his chance to be anything, to take a thousand different directions managing to amaze and amuse every time; there is no limit to its potential for entertainment and meta-reflection. Over six seasons, the different nuances in the relationship between the two protagonists and between the members of the Smith family are explored, which is often included in the mad adventures of the scientist. Rick is an extreme character, an agent of chaos capable of continually moving beyond his own reality and, breaking the fourth wall, acting as a link between the series and the viewers who are watching it. Highly cynical and disillusioned, the most intelligent man in the multiverse (or so we are led to believe) is a genius who knows the meaning of life and that is that life has no meaning: a constant mantra of the series is in fact the idea of a non-significance of human life, which disappears in the face of the vastness and complexity of reality. By the sixth season, Rick and Morty does not let go and remains one of the most brilliant and innovative animated series (and not) ever made.
Better Call Saul by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould – 2015-2022
Last summer, as the conclusion of the Better Call Saul, a meme was circulating among fans in which – however painful the explanation of a meme may be – the attitude of those who approached the series with the promise of a brilliant comedy, were then found grappling with something very different. It’s just an example of how what could only be a prequel to breaking Bad has shown itself, over the years, capable of subverting many expectations and of carving out ample and very happy room for maneuver against the illustrious, cumbersome predecessor. The merit, of course, goes to the multifaceted and colorful protagonist, the unforgettable Saul Goodman who, in breaking Bad, represented with his moral ease an irresistible moment of comedy even in the heart of the drama; but – and here we return to the meme at the beginning – Better Call Saul he manages to distance himself decisively from this image, placing Saul, and to tell the truth everything breaking Bad, as an arrival point to be reached calmly, showing all the steps that from Jimmy McGill, a fraudulent but good-hearted lawyer, lead to the birth and triumph of his unpresentable alter ego. Along this path, the ingenious writing of screenwriters Gilligan and Gould proves capable not only of effectively resuming and updating the narco-western atmospheres that characterize the more strictly “criminal” vein of the series, but also of pushing towards completely new territories, experimenting with a genre like the legal drama or tackling themes like love and family through the lens of a polished black comedy. To hold all this together is a decisive directorial work, which compared to breaking Bad shows – as it should be – some sensible differences (many fixed shots, in general a more sedate image) but retains all its compositional and narrative intelligence unchanged, allowing Better Call Saul to greatly enrich an already fundamental chapter in the history of seriality.
What we do in the Shadows by Jemaine Clement – 2019 (ongoing)
In 2014, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement realize Vampire life, based on their short film of the same name from a few years earlier: the film shows the misadventures of a group of wacky vampires who live in the same mansion in New Zealand. In the wake of the success of Vita da vampiro, the TV series was created in 2019 What we do in the shadows, which follows a different group of vampires this time in the United States. The peculiarity that unites the film and the series is the fact that they are both fake documentaries: both, in fact, use the handheld camera and intersperse the scenes with interviews with the characters present, a ploy already used in other series such as The Office and Modern Family. The characters here are Nandor, the oldest and naive vampire of the group, his human familiar Guillermo, the eccentric couple formed by Laszlo and Nadia and the psychic vampire Colin Robinson who, unlike the others, feeds on human energy through boredom. The structure is that of a normal sitcom about a dysfunctional family in which, however, the domestic element is superimposed on the supernatural one, creating hilarious short circuits also thanks to the documentary structure. The union of two imaginaries is an intelligent intuition that Waititi had already exploited to ironize the representation of vampires in cinema but which here, moving to the television side, finds a fertile and extensive field that allows the idea to be further expanded. In each season to the episodes stand alone the larger narrative arcs cross over, managing to effectively exploit all the characters and fully explore their relationships. The conflictual and vaguely romantic relationship between Nandor and Guillermo, the passionate and bizarre one between Nadia and Laszlo but also that between Colin and the rest of the roommates are only the starting points for a more complex and nuanced discourse, which as it develops along the series touches on questions such as being normal in the contemporary world and what it means to be family. After four seasons, What we do in the shadows continues to prove hilarious and never dull thanks to a spot-on cast and always in top shape, and is definitely a must for both those who already love the genre and for those who don’t know it yet.