Tag Archives: TV Shows

Understanding And Appreciating The Work Ethic Of Hank Hill

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As kids, we don’t always appreciate the deeper messages of certain TV shows, movies, or songs. I imagine most kids who saw “Jurassic Park” in 1993 didn’t care that much about the larger points Ian Malcom made about tampering with nature. They just loved seeing dinosaurs eat cowardly lawyers off toilets.

That’s why re-watching shows you loved in your youth can be insightful. Sometimes, it can be a little distressing, seeing themes that aren’t quite in line with today’s taboos and social norms. However, I don’t want to focus on those unpleasant instances. Instead, I want to focus on insights that we appreciate more as adults than we do as kids.

This brings me to a show that, even by today’s standards, has uncanny appeal. That show is “King of the Hill,” a show I’ve already singled out as home to Hank Hill, a strong example of noble masculinity. After rediscovering the show, thanks to Hulu, I’ve found myself appreciating the less obvious messages of the show.

One clear message that seems to come up several times over the course of the show’s 13 seasons is the value of a work ethic, especially when contrasted to those who have none. It’s a value few kids and teenagers appreciate. That’s understandable because in the innocence of youth, most go out of their way to avoid hard work or laborious tasks.

What makes “King of the Hill” stand out, more so to adults than to kids, is how it portrays work and the way people go about it. One of Hank Hill’s core traits is his dedication to his job. Among his most memorable and oft-repeated quotes is that he sells propane and propane accessories. That’s not just his job, though. It’s part of his identity.

Hank, unlike many male protagonists in animated sitcoms, actually loves his job. It’s not just something he does to pay the bills and provide for his family. He genuinely loves selling propane and propane accessories. That love is played up in plenty of comedic ways. In one episode, “Hank’s Back,” even doctors had a hard time believing that anyone would avoid a worker’s comp settlement.

What makes that comedy work is the common expectation that few people actually like their jobs. If they do, it’s only because they’re rich and it affords them all sorts of fancy perks. However, Hank is not rich. One episode even goes out of its way to show that, even by middle class standards, he’s not that well off. He’s no Al Bundy, but he’s not Charlie Harper, either.

That doesn’t matter to Hank because his is not entirely about money or even the opportunity to make more money. It’s about doing something he loves and deriving real meaning from it. His job selling propane and propane accessories gives him a unique sense of fulfillment that can’t be quantified with money.

This sort of approach to work isn’t just unique among sitcom dads. It reflects an approach to work that is rarely emphasized, even in a world where work is changing due to automation. Growing up, the nature of work and careers is presented in a certain way. It’s not always through the media or movies like “Office Space,” either.

When kids and teenagers are encouraged to think about future careers, it’s almost always framed as a means to an end. First and foremost, a career provides money and resources with which to build a life, whether it’s a family or just a home in general. It’s part of a much larger process of becoming a productive member of society.

Most counselors and teachers will encourage kids to find a career they actually like. That’s the ideal. However, it’s a poorly-kept secret that few people ever land their “dream job.” Just as few people end up working jobs that are related to their college major. On top of that, many of these people who graduate college are underemployed, which put them in a similar position to Hank.

To some extent, Hank Hill is in an ideal career because he’s doing something he loves and he’s getting paid for it. That alone sets him apart from many career-seekers, both in the real and fictional world. However, the love he has for his work and his career actually runs deeper than that.

To him, his job isn’t just a means to an end. It is the end. The work itself is the reward. The money he makes is only ever secondary. For Hank Hill, the best moment of his job isn’t when he gets his paycheck. It’s when he sees the look on a satisfied customer’s face when he sells them a new grill or helps them refill their propane tank.

That kind of fulfillment isn’t just rare in an animated sitcom that includes a self-professed conspiracy theorist who never realizes that his wife cheated on him for years. It’s a rare and unique state of being, having a job in which the work feels so rewarding. Even in the real world, this sort of mindset is rare, which is part of what helps set Hank Hill apart.

For most of human history, people didn’t have careers. They just had things they had to do to survive another day, whether it involved hunting and gathering or growing crops. In modern times, a new host of jobs gave people a variety of ways to earn a living, but the nature of the work was rarely fulfilling and often laborious.

The idea of having a job that you actually like and feeling fulfilled in the work you do is akin to a modern nirvana, of sorts. It takes the very idea of work and turns it into something other than that stuff people have to do in order to make money. Hank isn’t just lucky in that he has that kind of job. He’s got the perfect attitude for it.

That attitude of seeing work as something inherently fulfilling often puts him at odds with other characters and sub-plots throughout the show. On many occasions, Hank’s approach to work often clashes with other characters who go out of their way to avoid hard work or seek to make as much money as they can for as little effort as possible.

His son, Bobby Hill, often embodies that sentiment and not just because he’s terrible in gym class. In multiple episodes, Bobby’s fondness of laziness is not very subtle. When faced with the prospect of having to work hard, he usually does what he can to avoid it. More often than not, trying to avoid the work backfires or ends up being more laborious than the work itself.

He’s not the only one who harbors this attitude. Hank’s loud-mouthed neighbor, Kahn Souphanousinphone, attempts more than one get-rich-quick-scheme throughout the show. To him, work is always a means to an end. Even though his job affords him more money and better material assets, or so he claims, he rarely comes off as fulfilled as Hank.

Even when money isn’t the endgame, others still approach work with a different end in mind. Hank’s wife, Peggy, approaches her job as a substitute teacher with more passion and purpose than most. For her, though, the work she does is less about the money and more about feeding her inflated ego. In some cases, it borders on outright narcissism.

Regardless of intent or goal, “King of the Hill” often comes back to the same theme with respect to work. Hank, for all his faults and shortcomings, has the right attitude when it comes to work. It’s not just about having your dream job and doing what you love for a living. It’s about seeing work as inherently fulfilling, regardless of money or material aspirations.

At a time when the future of work will likely change what it means to have a career, Hank Hill may very well be ahead of his time. Even in the current work climate, his has major value. It’s a perspective that most kids and teenagers don’t appreciate. For some, it may not even be an idea they’ve ever contemplated, the notion that a job could be so inherently fulfilling.

It may still seem like an impossible ideal for many, but Hank Hill shows that it’s not that impossible. Selling propane and propane accessories isn’t one of those jobs that requires a rare set of skills or talents. It requires only basic people skills, salesmanship, and a working knowledge of propane.

Hank didn’t go to college and he didn’t go through some rigorous training to achieve what he achieved. He simply took a simple job selling propane and propane accessories and made it part of his passion. Even in an animated world where impossible things can happen, Hank makes his approach to his job feel attainable, even in the real world.

Appreciating Hank’s work ethic was not the first thing that appealed to me when I watched “King of the Hill” when it was still on the air. However, as I get older and see people wrestle with their careers, I see more and more merit to Hank’s approach to work.

I don’t deny that hard work can be tedious, at times. I also don’t deny that every job, even so-called dream jobs, have bad days every now and then. Even Hank has a few bad days at Strickland Propane throughout the course of the show. That still never discourages him from doing his job as well as he does it and getting genuine fulfillment from it.

There are plenty of lesson in “King of the Hill” that are as relevant now as they were when the show first aired. It’s possible for people of all ages to appreciate those lessons and the comedy that comes with it. That’s part of what made the show so successful for so many years.

When it comes to work ethic and approaching a career, Hank Hill stands out more than most. He sells propane and propane accessories better than anyone has or probably ever will, but that’s not the point. For him, the work itself is the greatest reward. Whether you appreciate his many other quirks or not, that’s a sentiment worth respecting.

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Why “F Is For Family” Is The Perfect Satire Of The American Dream

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What would you say about a man who constantly yells, curses like a sailor on crack, and constantly threatens to put his kids through a wall? On the surface, it sounds like this guy has some serious anger issues. You would probably suspect there’s something wrong with him and that he needs help from a competent therapist.

Then, after you find out that man’s name is Frank Murphy from the animated show, “F is for Family,” you quickly realize that even the best therapist in the world couldn’t do squat for this man. His anger, cursing, and threats of intentional property damage are entirely understandable. In fact, he would need a therapist if he didn’t exhibit some level of anger.

That’s because Frank Murphy, along with every other major theme in “F is for Family,” is the personification of the disillusion of the American Dream. Take everything you think you know about what it means to work hard, get ahead, and achieve your goals in life. Then, kick it in the gut, spit on it, and throw it through a brick wall. That’s Frank Murphy’s life. That’s what “F is for Family” is all about.

I only recently discovered this show while browsing Netflix and I’m glad I did. “F is for Family” is one of those shows that takes an overdone concept, like a dysfunctional cartoon family, and injects it with some overdue nuance. This isn’t a show about a bumbling dad, a nagging mom, or mischievous kids. The issues and themes in “F is for Family” feel genuinely relevant to the current state of the world.

For a show that takes place in the 1970s, that’s quite an accomplishment. At the same time, it makes sense for this show to take place during that particular time period in America because that’s when the hopes, dreams, and optimism of the post-World War II economic boom began to falter. They just faltered a lot faster for Frank Murphy and his family.

In many respects, Frank’s short-tempered persona is a byproduct of that decline. Throughout the show, it’s clear that Frank underwent a significant transformation. He wasn’t always this rage-filled working stiff who jumps at any chance to cuss out anyone in close proximity. He was once an upbeat, optimistic man who reflected the spirit of his time and his country. This is even reflected in the show’s opening theme.

He starts off as an idealistic youth. Born in 1931, he enters adulthood just as his country returns victorious from World War II. Like others before him, he serves his country after getting drafted in the Korean War. He returns home somewhat scarred, but still optimistic about his future. In 1958, he has dreams of flying airplanes and marrying Sue, a young woman in college at the time.

By all accounts, Frank plays by the rules. He works hard and carries out his duty as well as anyone can expect. He’s not some thick-headed dope like Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin. He’s also not some misanthropic underachiever like Al Bundy. He can speak in complete sentences, form coherent thoughts, and demonstrate an average level of competence.

He is, for the most part, an appropriate representation of a working class man trying to provide for his family. The problem, and the frequent source of his anger, is that his efforts often go unrewarded and unappreciated. In some cases, he gets completely screwed over, both by forces beyond his control and by unexpected consequences from his behavior.

In the first season, he works hard and sucks up to his asshole boss, Lance Dunbarton, to get a promotion at the airport he works at as a baggage handler. He even manages to avert a strike on Christmas Eve. Rather than get rewarded for this effort, he gets fired.

In the second season, he gets a chance to return to work, but the way he confronts his former supervisor, Bob Pogo, ends up making his situation worse.

Along the way, Frank also attempts to deal with the constant dysfunction of his family, which includes a rebellious teenage son, a wimpy pre-teen son who gets bullied at every turn, and a young daughter who refuses to conform to traditional gender norms. On top of all that, his wife is dissatisfied with just being a housewife and her efforts to achieve her own dreams cause plenty of marital strife.

At every level, Frank Murphy’s life is not the at all consistent with what the American dream had promised. Instead of the white picket fence with a content wife and well-behaved kids, his life is a constantly-devolving mess. No matter how hard he works or how much he plays by the rules, nothing seems to improve. Things only ever get more frustrating. After only a few episodes, it’s easy to understand why Frank is so angry.

To some extent, Frank Murphy is a fitting personification of Murphy’s Law. That’s not to say that everything goes wrong for him all the time, but through three eventful seasons, his attempts to improve his lot in life never works out. For every step forward he takes, he suffers a major setback.

He finally gets his job back at the airport where he hopes to pursue his dream as a pilot. Then, he gets his wife pregnant and they have to put their dreams on hold again.

He tries to improve things with Sue by taking his wife out for a romantic evening on their anniversary, but ends up getting into a major fight that makes everything worse.

Even his family isn’t immune to this regressive trap. While Frank struggles to find a stable job, Sue attempts to enter the working world, only to have her dreams crushed when the company she works for steals her invention. On top of that, she works in an office where she’s constantly belittled, harassed, and demeaned by co-workers whose conduct makes Don Draper look like a hippie.

His rebellious son also has dreams of becoming a rock star, but ends up getting kicked out of his band after a breakdown involving his drug-loving neighbor’s busty girlfriend. In season 3, he tries to reinvent himself and he tries to find a sense of belonging with a new group of friends. The end result is him getting arrested and spending a night in jail.

His youngest son, Bill Murphy, learns these harsh lessons even earlier than his father. He also tries to work hard and play by the rules. He tries to stand up for himself and confront the bully who torments him. Like his father, though, he ends up making things worse. I won’t get too deep into spoilers, but I will note that there’s some heavy arson and awkward boners involved.

Even his brainy daughter, Maureen, isn’t immune from it. Being a young girl in the early 1970s, her dreams are limited. Even when she aims low, like winning a ring toss contest on kids show, it still fails and through no fault of her own. Like her parents and brothers, the world seems determined to deny her any semblance of success.

If the essence of satire is to offer scathing criticism of a particular social construct, as those who edit Wikipedia imply, then “F is for Family” is a direct attack on the ideals and assumptions we associate with the American Dream. It never gets overly-nihilistic like “Rick and Morty” or “Bojack Horseman.” With every episode and sub-plot, it chips away at the foundation on which that dream is built.

It’s established throughout the show Frank and Sue were both in a position to achieve that dream. They were on a promising path with Sue being in college and Frank wanting to become a pilot. Even when they faced a major obstacle, namely Sue getting pregnant, they tried to do the right thing. They sacrificed for each other and their family.

That’s NOT red paint.

In any other narrative, their responsible behavior would be rewarded. By the standards of the American Dream, they did the right thing. They got married and tried to provide for their family. However, despite those sacrifices, they’re repeatedly denied their dreams. At the end of the day, doing the right thing and playing by the rules just doesn’t cut it.

Frank watches as his obese, slob of a boss screws him over on Christmas Eve. Sue watches as the company that made her so miserable steals her idea and profits from it. Their kids watch as the world around them rewards and punishes those who don’t deserve it. The only ones who ever seem to benefit are those strong enough to skirt the rules or well-connected enough to bend them.

In that context, it’s fitting that “F is for Family” takes place in the 1970s. That marked the end of the post-World War II economic boom and the beginning of major economic decline from which working class people never recovered. The well-paying, blue-collar jobs that once allowed a man like Frank Murphy to support his family are long gone thanks to the rise of automation and globalization.

While the show never dives too deep into the complexities of this decline, it provides a great deal of crude tongue-in-cheek humor that reveals just how flawed the American Dream had become at that point. There are not-too-subtle jokes about women, minorities, family life, politics, and the media that highlight just how flawed the system is. Frank Murphy is just the guy who gets screwed more than most.

In the end, though, that’s what makes “F is for Family” the ultimate satire for the idealized narrative we associate with the American Dream. It shows that this notion that a hard-working, self-sacrificing working man who plays by the rules will achieve his dream is nothing more than a bad fairy tale. Frank does everything society expects a working class man to do and rewards him with jack squat.

Given everything he endures, from abandoning his dreams of becoming a pilot so he could provide for a family that rarely shows him any gratitude, I’ll rephrase the question I asked earlier. What would you say about a man like Frank Murphy, who played by the rules and bought into the American Dream, only to see it screw him over at every turn? Can you really blame him for being so angry?

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Walter White Vs. Saul Goodman: A Tale Of Two Villains

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If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to villainy has many paths with similar landmarks. Well-developed villains can be every bit as compelling as their heroic counterparts, if not more so. Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker stole the show and an Oscar in “The Dark Knight,” great villains aren’t just a complement to the heroes. They’re a journey unto themselves.

At the moment, Walter White from “Breaking Bad” is the ultimate embodiment of this journey. His path to villainy made for some of the greatest moments in modern television and Bryan Cranston has the Emmy trophies to prove it. Since then, it seems as though everyone is just struggle to keep up.

However, there’s one journey that comes very close and is remarkably similar. Fittingly enough, it spins right out of the world of “Breaking Bad.” I’m talking, of course, about “Better Call Saul,” the prequel/spin-off that tells the story of how an aspiring lawyer named James McGill became the morally bankrupt legal guru, Saul Goodman.

I’ve been watching this show closely for a while now. I was originally planning to wait until the conclusion of Season 4 to write about it, but after re-watching the Season 3 finale, I feel like there’s too much to work with. After seeing that episode, I feel like I saw a turning point in the ongoing transformation of James McGill to Saul Goodman. I also saw some important parallels with Walter White that are worth discussing.

At its core, “Breaking Bad” is a story about how a law-biding man goes from an underpaid chemistry teacher to a blood-thirsty drug kingpin. Creator Vince Gilligan nicely summed up Walt’s transformation as going from Mr. Chips to Scarface. That journey, and the story behind it, took an initially unassuming character and turned them into someone they never thought they could be.

The essence of “Better Call Saul” is very different. James McGill is not the same as Walter White. From the very first episode, we can see traces of the unscrupulous con man manifesting in a many ways. The show establishes in Season 1 that James McGill is not some clean-cut straight-arrow like Walt was. His soul was tainted before he ever applied to law school.

James “Slipping Jimmy” McGill is someone who always seems inclined to cut corners, break rules, and cheat to get ahead. That’s something his older brother, Charles “Chuck” McGill, constantly points out over the course of the first three seasons. Every time Jimmy had a chance to do the right thing, he compromised. Just doing the right thing wasn’t enough for him.

Walter White’s decision-making process was similar. In the early seasons of “Breaking Bad,” he showed a reluctance to cross certain lines and go too far. He often found himself pushed or tempted, sometimes by forces beyond his control and sometimes by the consequences of actions. At the end of the day, though, he still didn’t get off that path.

That’s a common thread for many villains in their journey. They find themselves on that path and they see opportunities to leave it, but they choose not to. They don’t seek redemption like a hero would. They just keep making excuses, willfully entering a brutal cycle of corruption and compromise.

Whereas Walt succumbed to that cycle, though, James McGill steadily embraces it. Moreover, he isn’t drawn into that path by tragedy or bad luck. He gravitates towards it. He’s even excited by it. James is at his most animated and charismatic when he’s pulling a con, putting on a show, or crafting a lie. It’s not a necessity like it was for Walt. It’s a thrill.

If James is tempted by anything, it’s the lure of walking the honorable path like his older brother. In fact, Chuck might have been the only positive influence that kept Jimmy from becoming something worse than a sleazy con-man. He and a host of other influence, especially Kim Wexler and Howard Hamlin, play the part of a reverse temptress, trying to keep him off that villainous path.

Early on, there’s a sense that James genuinely wants to be a decent, upstanding lawyer. There are situations where he does the right thing. Some of the causes he takes on, such as a case against an elder care facility that was stealing money from its residents, are objectively noble. In the end, though, doing the right thing isn’t enough for him. The end of Season 1 really cements that.

Walt goes through a similar process early on. Like the “refusal of the call” that heroes experience, Walt attempts to escape the villainous path. However, a combination of circumstances and choices put Walt back on the road towards becoming Heisenberg. By the end of Season 1, there’s a sense that there’s no going back.

Where Walt and James diverge, as villains, it’s how and why they make their choices. Walt becomes Heisenberg because he think he has to, first for his family and later for selfish reasons. James becomes Saul Goodman because he wants to. He tried to be the upstanding lawyer his brother and friends wanted. It just didn’t work for him. Being James McGill just wasn’t enough.

There’s plenty of conflict surrounding those choices. Part of why I love “Better Call Saul” is how it reveals the steady progression from James McGill to Saul Goodman. It doesn’t happen all at once. It doesn’t even happen in a steady, linear narrative. James fluctuates on his journey to becoming Saul. He even hesitates a few times. He still doesn’t avoid it in the end.

That ending, as revealed through the finale of “Breaking Bad” and the flash-forward sequences of “Better Call Saul,” shows one other key distinction between Walt and Jimmy. While both men complete their villainous journey, they both end up in very different places. Walt is dead or at least close to it, as some fan theories predict. However, Saul Goodman’s fate might actually be worse.

In the first minutes of the first episode of “Better Call Saul,” we see what came of James McGill/Saul Goodman after the events of “Breaking Bad.” Gone are the days where he shows up in flashy commercials and hatches elaborate cons on unsuspecting people. Instead, he lives an unexciting, mundane life in Omaha, Nebraska managing a Cinnabon.

Some might argue this is Saul’s personal Hell, trapped in a such a sad and unassuming life. I would say it’s more like his purgatory. In this world, he can’t embrace that villainous persona that gave him so many thrills. Even if he wanted to be that villainous character again, he can’t because it means losing what little he has left.

Just as he frequently did in the early seasons of “Better Call Saul,” James McGill takes the easy way out. Walt tried that too in the last few episodes of “Breaking Bad,” but that didn’t last. He eventually chose to confront the byproduct of his villainous choices. James ran and didn’t look back. The easiest path, in the journey of a villain, is often a coward’s path.

Whether or not James McGill escapes his purgatory or continues wallowing in obscurity remains to be seen. The fact he ends up in this state after undergoing this transformation into Saul Goodman reveals another critical component to the villain’s journey. While the hero ultimately triumphs, the villain eventually loses. It doesn’t always end with them going to jail, but they often endure a less-than-desirable fate.

Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” are both great shows that set a new standard for depicting the evolution of a character into a villain. I won’t claim that “Better Call Saul” is superior to its predecessor, if only because the story isn’t finished. It does, however, accomplish something every bit as remarkable as the story of Walter White.

The process of becoming a villain is a steady, inconsistent journey full of many complications and tough choices. Walter White and James McGill began that journey under different circumstances and ended up in different places. Ultimately, they both crossed lines that sealed their respective fates. It’s tragic in some ways, but it makes for some damn good television.

 

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Five Things I Want From The “Daria” Reboot

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Last year, I wrote an article about how the classic 90s MTV show, “Daria,” is more relevant today than it was back when it debuted in 1997. That special brand of misanthropic monotone conveyed a harsh, uncompromising honesty of the world in a way that felt both genuine and endearing.

Well, it appears I’m not the only one who felt that way because according to The Hollywood Reporter, the newly-minted MTV Studios is looking to reboot the show as part of a push to reinvigorate the MTV brand that seemed to fade along with the appeal of boy bands. While I’m skeptical that MTV can ever become relevant again, I couldn’t be more thrilled at the prospect of Daria returning to TV.

I think I speak for many who watched that show back in the late 90s when I say that this world needs her. Specifically, it needs her critical insights into a world awash in fake news, alternative facts, and political correctness. There’s an entire generation emerging whose reality is shaped by their news feed on social media. It feels as though no one is even capable of seeking the truth anymore.

Daria doesn’t just tell the truth like she sees it. She says it in a way that is apolitical, unbiased, and relatable. She doesn’t criticize. She doesn’t have an agenda, either. She sees something she thinks is a farce and she points it out. At a time when every character needs to be an icon for something or someone, that’s nothing short of refreshing. For a character from the late 90s, that says a lot about our current state of affairs.

There’s a lot more I could say about “Daria,” both as a character and as a TV show. For now, I want to create a wish list, of sorts, for what I’d like to see in a “Daria” reboot. I know that’s a bit premature since MTV Studios is in the very early stages of making this happen, but I think the prospect of more “Daria” at this particular point in our history is exciting.

I know excitement is the last trait anyone would associate with Daria Morgendorffer, but I’m willing channel my inner Quinn to entertain the possibilities. What follows are five things I want from a new “Daria” show. I know any rebooted show is subject to reinvention, sometimes for the worse, but I believe if the new “Daria” delivers on these critical elements, it’ll be a success. It might even get Daria herself to crack a smile.


Wish #1: Build Daria’s Agenda Around Exposing Other Agendas

Let’s face it. Today, everyone seems to have an agenda and social media has given people a platform to pursue that agenda, even when they’re dangerous, damaging, and downright hurtful. In the late 90s, media outlets like MTV got a lot of flak for pushing bloated consumerism around bubblegum pop music and reality shows. Today, social media has created countless outlets for countless agendas of varying absurdity.

Daria Morgendorffer can set herself apart in this chaotic landscape by building her agenda around exposing other agendas. She could see right-wing talking points as just excuses to pay fewer taxes and be a dick to poor people. She could see left-wing talking points as utopian fantasies mixed with a pathological need to be outraged over something. With Daria, no agenda is safe.

In any show that would have her take part in the current climate, it needs to give her opportunities to see all this social masquerading for what it really is. As I’ve noted before, people have a frustrating tendency to believe they’re the hero of their own story. In Daria’s world, there are no heroes. There are no villains. There are just people.

That’s a harsh reality, but one Daria refuses to ignore. Her reminding people of that reality in any show would be both refreshing and cathartic, especially to anyone who is sick of people building their agendas around professional trolling.


Wish #2: Continue Daria’s (Unique) Growth From The Show

Throughout five memorable seasons and two made-for-TV movies, Daria’s character remained remarkably consistent. However, she did undergo her share of growth during that time. It was subtle, much more so than that of characters like Jane, Quinn, Helen, and Tom. However, that’s exactly what made it meaningful.

At the beginning of the show, Daria is already her anti-social, misanthropic self. She’s a teenager and a high school student, though. Teenagers go through changes. Even Daria isn’t immune to that. She developed her first crush, had her first serious boyfriend, and even improved her relationship with Quinn, a character who might have been the least likable person on the show.

The show ended with Daria graduating high school and going to college, culminating in one of the most memorable graduation speeches ever made. However, college is rarely the endpoint for anyone who survived high school, even someone as jaded as Daria. Any new show that expands her story should also follow that evolution.

Whether it takes place in college or shortly after, Daria always expressed a desire to get out of Lawndale and do something with her life that she wouldn’t hate. That’s a process a lot of people go through, but few could endure it with the same attitude or crass as Daria. That’s exactly why that story is worth telling.


Wish #3: Keep Her Apolitical And Unbiased

No matter how much she grew over the course of the show or what she encountered, Daria Morgendorffer may very well be the only character in the show, or in real life, who can call themselves truly unbiased. She doesn’t have a political affiliation. She doesn’t identify with one group or the other. She’s just Daria. Her opinions and leanings are her own.

That’s an important facet to preserve in any new “Daria” show. That may prove challenging, though. If you go by current stereotypes, Daria’s age and education levels put her in line with the kind of left-leaning archetypes that Fox News whines about every half-second. However, in terms of her overall worldview, Daria would be just as cynical about the MSNBC crowd.

The core of Daria’s politics is that all politics are stupid. Politics is just one big exercise in people gathering around others who think like they do so that they can rely on someone else to do the thinking for them. That is not Daria’s style. She believes in thinking for herself. Anything beyond that is a waste of time.

Moreover, her worldview is as simple as it is plain. The real world doesn’t care about your beliefs, your principles, or how hard you fight for them. The real world is harsh and whining about it doesn’t change anything. That would put her at odds with liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between. The idea of her getting into debates with some of the politically-minded trolls in the world would certainly be worth watching.


Wish #4: Give Her Supporting Cast A Chance To Support Her

Like any great character, animated or otherwise, a big part of what made “Daria” such a great show was its diverse cast of colorful characters. From her annoying younger sister to her uptight mother to her charismatic classmates, Daria was surrounded by a lot of memorable individuals who helped highlight just what a unique persona she was.

Daria’s closest relationships were with her friend, Jane Lane, and her family that could never understand her. To maximize the strength of her persona, those relationships should definitely be part of a new show. There can also be room for new relationships that put her in entirely new situations.

That may already be in the works. Within the announcement surrounding the possible reboot of the show, there’s a mention of giving Jodie Landon a significant role in the show. That has a lot of potential because Jodie was a great character who didn’t get a chance to develop until the last two seasons of the show. A new show could give both her and Daria new opportunities in a world full of new controversies.

Within the existing cast, there’s also potential for Daria to forge connections with characters other than Jane. There’s also potential to form new romantic entanglements. She does have the capacity for affection, despite what her demeanor may imply. In an age where romantic entanglements are fraught with complications, that could bring out the best in her and the worst in everyone else.


Wish #5: Put Her In The Middle Of Controversial Issues (And Let Her Work Her Magic)

The original “Daria” was a great show in that it didn’t take sides in a controversy or preach to the audience. In fact, those kinds of public service announcements would’ve been antithetical to Daria’s persona. She doesn’t think that it’s the job of other people, be they animated or otherwise, to tell you how to feel about an issue. That’s something you’re supposed to figure out for yourself.

At the same time, however, I felt as though “Daria” avoided too many major issues that could’ve helped make the show even more relevant. While it lightly touched on issues of teen sex and out-of-control consumerism, it didn’t get too deep into the kinds of topics that inspire hashtags and hate mail.

I think that worked well for “Daria” in the late 90s. I don’t think it’ll work as well in today’s hyper-political climate where a new outrage is just a click away. A new “Daria” show won’t succeed if it avoids hot-button issues like the anti-harassment movement, gender inequality, and an emerging generation that may end up being the most nihilistic of all time.

I’m not saying the show has to be built around those kinds of serious topics every other episode. Shows like “South Park” already do that. The biggest appeal to this show would be Daria offering her misanthropic take on those issues to help expose them for what they are.

I believe that there’s definitely a market for that kind of nuance in our current political climate. I also think there’s a growing need for a voice who can sift through the endless shit storms that get kicked up every day for one reason or another. Whether it’s something the President tweets or some dumb comment a celebrity makes, we all need a harsh, but sincere voice to speak the honest truth.


Daria can be that voice. I would still argue we need that voice now more than we did in the late 90s and early 2000s. I hope that this show, assuming it gets made, provides that voice. “Daria” was ahead of its time, as a how and as a character. It’s time we finally catch up with one another.

Daria” was a great show in that it didn’t take sides in a controversy or preach to the audience. In fact, those kinds of public service announcements would’ve been antithetical to Daria’s persona. She doesn’t think that it’s the job of other people, be they animated or otherwise, to tell you how to feel about an issue. That’s something you’re supposed to figure out for yourself.

At the same time, however, I felt as though

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How And Why It Became Trendy To Hate “The Big Bang Theory”

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There was once a time in the mid-90s when Hootie and the Blowfish was the hottest band in the world. They’re music was everywhere. You couldn’t listen to the radio for more than five minutes without hearing one of their songs. I didn’t consider myself a huge fan, but I found plenty of their songs catchy and fun. I still have “Hold My Hand” on my phone.

Then, for reasons I still don’t quite understand, it became cool to hate them. Suddenly, admitting that you enjoyed your music was akin to admitting that you did shots of paint thinner to win a five-dollar bet. It got to the point when even “The Simpsonsmade a joke about them in an episode.

The same thing happened to Nickelback in the 2000s. They went through an early period of intense success. Their fourth album, “The Long Road,” sold over five million copies. That’s success that most artists only ever dream of. I even admit I have that album and I love it. Their song, “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good,” is on my workout playlist.

Then, for reasons that I’d rather not speculate on, it became cool to hate them too. While that hasn’t stopped them from selling over 50 million albums and becoming one of the most successful acts of a decade, it’s still trendy to despise them as everything wrong with music. It doesn’t seem to matter how successful they are. For some strange, esoteric reason, they embody everything wrong with the world.

If I would write that with more sarcasm, I would. However, this piece isn’t about Hootie and the Blowfish or Nickelback. I reference them because they’ve already gone through what’s happening to “The Big Bang Theory” seems to be enduring right now. They’ve risen to the top, defying the odds to achieve a level of success that most can only dream of. Then, it becomes cool to hate them for any number of reasons.

Now, I know I’ve criticized “The Big Bang Theory” before. I’ve cited it as the show that contains one of the worst romances in all of fiction. I don’t deny that it’s brand of humor and reliance on nerdy, socially inept men can be dry at times. That said, I do consider myself a fan of the show.

I watch it regularly. I even laugh at it. It has flaws, but I think the things it does well do plenty to overshadow those flaws. Sheldon is eccentric, but funny. Amy is quirky, but endearing. Howard, while creepy in the early seasons, has really grown up in all the right ways over the years. I would even go so far as to say that the show is worth watching just for Raj Koothrappali.

It’s not the best show on television, but like Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish, there’s no denying its success. It’s been syndicated and regularly ranks as one of the highest rated prime-time shows. Then, somewhere along the way, it became cool to hate the show as much as Nickelback.

You don’t have to look far to find articles of people whining about the show. Even Cracked, a site I often reference, once wrote a scathing article that flat out insulted anyone who dared enjoy the show. This is a direct quote.

Who are you people? The people watching The Big Bang Theory, I mean. Show yourselves. The world demands explanation. I mean that, too. In every way, shape, and form, this is the Justin Bieber of television shows.

I know the internet is full of this kind of trolling, but we’re not talking about snuff films and public crucifixion here. It’s a goddamn TV sitcom. It tries to be funny and entertaining. It doesn’t always work for everyone, but it still works for some. Are those people, which I guess includes me, somehow damaged just for liking this show?

I could probably ask the same of those who enjoy music from Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish. I could even offer a partial answer if I only use the basis of personal taste. That is, after all, what the consumption of all media is, be it music, movies, or TV. You tend to consume what you like. It’s that simple.

However, for an issue like this, there are added complications when something becomes cool to hate. Suddenly, it’s no longer a matter of just liking something different. It’s a matter of having some inherent personal flaw for liking something that has a vocal contingent of critics.

Call those critics whatever you want. Call them hipsters, trolls, or any number of other names that would warrant fines from the FCC. They’re still driven by the same focused outrage that dominates politics, religious disputes, and Overwatch tournaments. The only real question is why a show like “The Big Bang Theory” gets singled out.

It’s a hard question to answer and I’m not qualified to answer it completely. However, I do think something strange happens to movie, TV show, or band when they get so successful and so acclaimed that those who don’t like the show just can’t stop at not watching it.

It’s rare for any show to achieve the kind of success “The Big Bang Theory” has garnered. Success makes a show a bigger target. If shows like “South Park” or “The Simpsons” weren’t so successful, nobody would care how bad some of their jokes were or how controversial a certain character might be.

Some of that might be out of envy. There’s only so much success to go around. The fact “The Big Bang Theory” is so successful means, in the eyes of those who hate it, that it’s robbing success from shows that might be funnier or more worthy of it. Never mind the fact that the humor and worthiness of a show is completely subjective. Fans of that show will see “The Big Bang Theory” as a thief and a fraud.

Like it or not, envy can be a pretty powerful source of emotion. It’s underrated compared to outrage and hate, but still potent in its own right. However, I don’t think that’s the sole reason why “The Big Bang Theory” gets more hate than most prime-time shows that don’t involve CSI spin-offs.

I suspect there’s a deeper reason driving the hatred towards “The Big Bang Theory” that even Nickelback doesn’t have to deal with. I think part of that reason has to do with the archetypes the show uses. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the combination of nerdy, socially awkward young men and a cute ditzy blonde conjures some heated emotional reactions, to say the least.

There’s no doubt that combination is contrived and relies heavily on old stereotypes. Then again, you could say that about a lot of other shows. The fact this one uses nerds and cute blondes, though, just makes it seem more overt. It makes every joke, every plot, and every gag seem cheap or forced.

It makes some of the resentment to the show understandable, but I think that resentment is even more compounded by trends in political correctness. Chief among those trends is a growing aversion to stereotypes. Characters and archetypes once considered inoffensive are now controversial. Jokes that were once just in poor taste are now the source of intense outrage.

Since its inception, “The Big Bang Theory” has relied a lot on stereotypes for its characters and its humor. Like all shows, it exaggerates certain personas. Sheldon Cooper, alone, is a testament to a character whose quirks are taken to a ridiculous extreme.

By relying on these stereotypes, though, it makes itself an even bigger target. Laughing at the show, in the eyes of some, means accepting some of these stereotypes and having the audacity to find them funny. That appears to be the undertone of the Cracked article I cited earlier. It seems to be the undertone of a lot of the hatred the show gets.

Now, I don’t deny that “The Big Bang Theory” can go overboard with cliches and stereotypes. There are a number of episodes in “The Big Bang Theory” that even I find bland. However, for the most part, I still laugh. I still find myself enjoying the story. Even when I can apply some of those stereotypes to myself, I still laugh.

At the end of the day, “The Big Bang Theory” is still just a TV show in the same way Nickelback is just a band. Nobody forces anyone to watch it. It’s easy to just change the channel and watch something else. However, when a show becomes so successful while relying on a premise that is getting more politically incorrect with each passing year, it’s bound to attract criticism and not just from the hipster crowd.

I still enjoy the show and I intend to keep watching it. I also intend to keep all the songs by Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish on my phone for the foreseeable future. If that makes me uncool in the eyes of some, then so be it. To me, it doesn’t matter if something is cool to hate. Petty hate is still petty hate.

I also expect to see plenty more hatred directed at the show for how it treats nerds, women, minorities, and humor. It’s just too successful and too big a target to avoid that kind of scrutiny. In that situation though, as with Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish, sometimes the best you can do is just laugh and enjoy it on your own terms. Bazinga!

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Why We Should Be Excited (And Worried) About A “Y: The Last Man” TV Show

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There are certain announcements that certain kinds of comic book fans have been waiting to hear for years. Most people who don’t have boxes and bookshelves full of comics probably won’t appreciate the importance of those announcements when they finally arrive. Ideally, everyone eventually comes to acknowledge how important it is in the long run.

Just recently, one of those announcements hit the entertainment wire and comic book fans like myself are still trying to catch their breath from the excitement. It has to do with a series called “Y: The Last Man,” one of the most critically acclaimed comic book series of the past 20 years. According to The Hollywood Reporter, FX has officially ordered a pilot for a TV series based on this comic.

I know that may not sound like ground-breaking news in an era when TV shows based on comic books account for a sizable chunk of programming. There are shows featuring famous superheroes like “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” and “Daredevil.” There are also shows based on non-superhero comics like “Preacher” and “The Walking Dead.” Why is adding yet another show to that list such a big deal?

Well, as someone who has thoroughly read and deeply enjoyed Y: The Last Man, I can attest that this is one of those comics that is special for all the right reasons. It’s compelling, dramatic, mysterious, and emotional on so many levels. It doesn’t just tell a great story. It builds an entirely new world around a truly catastrophic event.

The premise of Y: The Last Man is simple in concept, but grandiose in implications. One day, all the men in the world just die. They don’t get sick first. There’s no mass pandemic. They all just start bleeding from their mouth and eyes before they keel over and die. It’s not just human men either. Everything with a Y-chromosome just dies.

It happens so suddenly and so quickly. It’s not the flashiest apocalypse, but it’s every bit as brutal and traumatic as it sounds. In the midst of this massive gendercide, only one man survives for mysterious reasons. His name is Yorick Brown, an amateur escape artist who also happens to have a male pet monkey, who also survives.

The story about how he survives in this post-apocalyptic world, while also trying to uncover the mysteries of the plague that killed all the men, is full of intrigue, sorrow, hope, and drama. The fact that it manages to achieve all this without zombies or superheroes makes it all the more remarkable.

Add on top quality writing from by acclaimed comic writer Brian K. Vaughan and top-notch art from Pia Guerra and it’s easy to see why this series received multiple awards, including the coveted Eisner Award back in 2008. The fact that Y: The Last Man wasn’t made into a movie or TV show earlier is both shocking and outrageous.

To be fair, there have been multiple attempts to make a movie based on the series, all of which failed for a wide variety of reasons. Given the scope and nature of the story, though, a TV series is probably more suited and there has been interest in making one since 2010.

Now that there’s finally a pilot in the works on FX, a network that is less inclined to water down the harsher elements of the series, there’s are plenty of reasons for comic fans and fans of apocalyptic dramas to be excited. At the same time, however, there are also a plenty of reasons to worry.

Had this been announced five years ago, I don’t think those worries would’ve been major. Then, gender politics began getting exceedingly heated. From scandals born from video games to new concerns about female representation in movies to the anti-harassment movement, things have gotten a lot more hostile between genders.

This is an era where every action between men and women are subject to greater scrutiny. It’s an era where attempts at rational discussion are overshadowed by ever-present outrage. Buzzwords like mansplaining, social justice warrior, soy boy, and toxic masculinity are now part of our lexicon. I’ve expressed my dismay over such terms and why they’re empty in meaning, but I don’t expect them to disappear anytime soon.

It’s because of these ongoing trends in gender politics that I’m concerned about what form Y: The Last Man will take in this era. I don’t expect a perfect, panel-for-panel recreation of the 60-issue comic series. That’s not always necessary, as the success of “The Walking Dead” has proven.

However, I do worry that the greater meaning and dramatic impacts of the story will get lost, somehow, under the weight of ongoing gender politics. Some of those concerns are even articulated in the Hollywood Report’s announcement. Mr. Vaughan is even quoted as saying this when he met with potential show-runner, Michael Green.

“When [Green] first pitched his take on it to Nina Jacobson and me a long time ago, he came in saying he wanted to do something about toxic masculinity. It felt very relevant, and unfortunately, I think it’s only become more relevant with each passing day. His take on it was really brave and very different, but exciting as well. I really admire how audacious he’s been with his translation.”

It’s the bolded part that really has me worried. I’m not entirely surprised that producers of the show would want to tap into ongoing debates about toxic masculinity, no matter how asinine a term that might be. Like it or not, it is a relevant issue and for a premise that involves killing nearly all the men on the planet, it’s going to influence the story.

It’s just a matter of how different those involved want to make the narrative in Y: The Last Man. What matters most, however, is keeping with the overall theme of the story. Y: The Last Man is not just about an apocalypse involving gendercide. It’s part of a much larger world full of colorful and, at times, eccentric characters.

What happens to these characters is downright traumatic, as is to be expected in the face of a global apocalypse. The world, as they know it, is shattered. Their sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers are all dead. The pain, the loss, the sorrow, and the anger surrounding that trauma is what helps drive the story.

That’s especially true of the lone male survivor, Yorick Brown. In the comic, he’s not a superhero or even a multi-talented super-genius. In fact, he’s painfully human and downright inept at times, especially compared to some of his supporting cast. However, he never comes off as a whiny beta male or a brutish meathead. He’s the kind of character we see in real men throughout the real world.

Any effort to subvert that by turning him into some sort of superhero or some beta male weakling will remove a core aspect of Yorick’s appeal, not to mention the appeal of the overall story. It’s not just Yorick’s story either. The female characters in this story are every bit as rich and diverse, but as we saw with the female characters in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” that can be badly mishandled.

There are no Mary Sues in Y: The Last Man. There are no Lara Crofts or Wonder Womans either. These characters, especially Yorick’s sister, Hero Brown, and his bodyguard and traveling companion, Agent 355, are all as human as he is. They fight, struggle, fail, and suffer like real people navigating a traumatic apocalypse.

That’s not to say there aren’t some elements of gender politics in Y: The Last Man. There are aspects of the story that lend plenty of fodder to the radical feminist part of the political spectrum. There are a few characters who go so far as to celebrate the death of all men. The fact that some women in the real world have advocated killing all men shows that this sentiment is very present.

At the same time, there are parts of Y: The Last Man that will appeal to the men’s rights crowd, as well. The way society collapses with the death of all the men will give plenty of credence to those seeking to highlight men’s role in society. As with the radical feminists, though, it might be tempting to take it too far.

The story is not defined exclusively by toxic masculinity or radical feminism. It’s a story that puts men, women, and society in an extreme situation that brings out the best and worst in them. That would be the ultimate failure for a show like this and an egregious insult for a series as celebrated as Y: The Last Man. If it becomes driven by gender politics and not the spirit of the actual story, then that’s tragedy for all genders.

 

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A Better Way To Promote Diversity

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How do you encourage meaningful change in media, culture, and social attitudes? That’s a reasonable and relevant question to ask these days. It seems everyone is either trying to push for greater diversity or whining about the lack thereof. More often than not, however, those efforts aren’t mutually exclusive.

Even if nobody has a definitive answer to the question of how, that hasn’t stopped many from trying. There have been major diversity pushes in every form of media from video games to comics to movies to TV shows. Not all of them have been successful. In some cases, they backfired horribly and cost people money.

I don’t want to belabor the specifics of those failures, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that they also have the effect of angering and/or insulting the audience. For franchises that have a huge fan base, that can be pretty detrimental. Some franchises never recover.

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It certainly doesn’t help that there are those who push for diversity for all the wrong reasons. There’s a very vocal contingent of critics/professional trolls who go out of their way to bemoan the lack of diversity in a certain piece of media. Whether it’s a video game having too many people of the same race or a lack of strong female characters, these people will whine about it as loud as the internet will allow.

For the most part, I don’t think anyone should give much attention to such whining. We’ve all dealt with whiny children at some point in our lives. Most people learn, often the hard way, that arguing with them rarely works out. Most people just give up to stop the whining. I’ve pointed out before why this can lead to bigger problems down the line.

It quickly becomes a brutal cycle. The more attention you give to these whiny children, the more incentive they have to whine so they can get what they want. The same applies to these “critics” who keep whining about diversity. It’s not enough for them that “Black Panther” is doing so well with a diverse cast. Some will still whine that it had no LGBT characters.

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It’s inescapable. You simply cannot win against a whiny child. No matter how much you go out of your way for them, they’ll find another reason to whine and so long as they keep getting their way, they’ll keep doing it. In the long run, though, that’s still a terrible way to promote diversity.

Ideally, producers of media will pursue diversity because they want to appeal to a broader audience. They want to make money and money doesn’t care about race, religion, or genital configuration. However, when critics/trolls rely on whining to get their way, then those efforts become less about diversity and more about stopping the whining.

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I believe there is a better way to promote diversity and it does not involve any whining. It doesn’t require some radical rethinking of how we go about producing, consume, or discussing media. It doesn’t even require some major protest, a new law, or diversity quotas. It’s just a simple change in approach that anyone can do for free and without that much effort.

That change can be summed up in two words: positive reinforcement. If you’ve taken a basic psychology class at any point in your education, you already know what this means. Even if you haven’t taken any classes and just deal with a lot of annoying people/children/whiners, you probably know the idea.

Rather than complaining about what is so bad about something, positive reinforcements involve focusing on the good. Rather than whine about what isn’t there, you celebrate what is there. Most importantly, though, you turn that outrage once reserved for those bad things into apathy. Most forms of media can survive outrage. They cannot survive apathy.

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To illustrate this approach, consider the following scenario that tends to play out whenever someone criticizes a movie, TV show, video game, etc. for a lack of diversity.

“Just look at this terrible affront to women, minorities, and LGBTQ people! It’s so racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic! It sends a terrible message and appeals to an audience that wants to cling to their regressive attitudes. It’s perpetuating a destructive, unhealthy mindset that directly impacts our culture. This affront should be censored, changed, or condemned endlessly until the world changes!”

Chances are, you’ve heard something like this over the past few years. Sometimes it involves a female character that doesn’t check the right boxes. Sometimes it involves a story that tries to check too many boxes. In any case, the whiners I mentioned earlier will find a reason to get upset about it. Moreover, they’ll demand some sort of change, coupled with condemnation over anyone who disagrees.

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That’s not going to promote diversity. If anything, that’s going to give people one too many reasons to resent pushes for diversity. Some media companies are already learning that the hard way, with Marvel being the most recent example. Ideally, you want someone to promote diversity because they want to and not because they’re afraid of a backlash.

With that in mind, here’s a second scenario that shows how positive reinforcement can further that effort.

“That thing some claim is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? I don’t really care for that. Let me tell you about this other thing that I just think is amazing! I love it. It’s so much fun and it sends such a good message to men, women, and minorities of all kinds. I want more of this. I’m willing to pay for more of this. Please make more of this!”

It may come off as some peppy kid who is way too excited about something. Then again, wouldn’t you rather be around that kid instead of the one that whines to get what they want? When someone is happy and excited about something, it’s kind of infectious. It makes us want to share in that feeling.

Throw money into the mix and suddenly, the same producers that make all the media that regressive types whine about actually have a good incentive to promote diversity beyond just placating whiners. Instead of just avoiding controversy, they actually want to do diversity and do it right.

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The key is focusing on instances where it is done right. They are there. There have been plenty of examples of the media actually getting diversity right. They just don’t make the news because outrage is louder and garners more attention. Even so, excitement and praise can be just as loud.

Instead of complaining about Rey being a Mary Sue in “Star Wars,” focus on how great Princess Leia was in the first trilogy or how great Ahsoka Tano is in “Star Wars: Clone Wars.”

Instead of complaining about Lara Croft being too sexy, focus on how great Samus Aran is in the Metriod games.

Instead of complaining about the lack of diversity on shows like “Seinfeld,” focus on how great the minority characters are in shows like “Fresh Off The Boat” or “House.”

It may not sound as vocal or satisfying as venting outrage about a flaw, but it sends the kind of message that others are more likely to want to get behind. Whereas positive feelings can have many benefits to yourself and those around you, venting outrage can be very unhealthy.

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In the long run, getting others to want to promote diversity is the best way to further it. Whining about it isn’t going to accomplish that. It’s just going to make others want to stop the whining. That may work for kids, but not functioning adults.

Movie producers, TV executives, comic book writers, and video game programmers alike are all still human at the end of the day. Human beings respond positively to positive feelings. Channel those feelings into promoting diversity and you won’t just get more of it. You’ll get people who are actually excited about producing it.

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