Talking about the past is always also a conversation about the present, and today there are many phenomena that it would be nice to analyze again. We talk about 10 series from the 2010s, in which the view of history is quite deep, and the social commentary on modernity sounds the most interesting.
The Crown (Netflix, 2016–present)
According to rough estimates, a grandiose project of Netflix, the cost of producing one season out of ten episodes exceeds 100 million pounds. At the helm here is Peter Morgan, a screenwriter who is brilliantly versed in the intricacies of British politics, especially in the part of it that remains behind closed doors (in his track record, there is more than one film on this topic). “The Crown” is swinging at restoring the entire political path of Elizabeth II, and, judging by the fact that the project has already reached the third season, it turns out quite successfully. This series, which began more as a costume drama and a copy of “Downton Abbey” in the scenery of Buckingham Palace, eventually turned into a parable about the essence of power, about the transformation of the family, and about the inexorable course of time. Summary at the moment: power changes people, turns them into someone else against their will, and creates a chasm in relationships between loved ones. Next season we will talk about the British 1980s and Margaret Thatcher – we should expect that a lot of caustic social criticism will be added to the main themes.
The Deuce (HBO, 2017–2019)
The creator of the great series “The Wire,” David Simon, has a unique talent: thanks to his journalistic experience, he creates compelling documentary prose. In “Deuce,” he worked together with his friend and co-author George Pelekanos, immersed in the story of another sin of America. So, it’s the early 1970s, and we’re in New York — the city of “Taxi Driver” and “Evil Streets” by Scorsese, “The French Messenger” by Friedkin, “Serpico” by Sidney Lumet. At the center of the story is the American sex industry, which is full of violence, cruelty, and injustice against women. For three seasons, during which it was not always obvious what can be called the essence of the series, Simon and Pelekanos created a whole series of compelling characters. Eventually, they told the story of the American “Outcasts” – people who do not fit into the mechanism of the capitalist machine and about whom you can do everything, taking advantage of their insecurity.
Show Me a Hero (HBO, 2015)
Another series from David Simon is another example of ruthless social criticism and how the pursuit of the American dream has led everyone to the wrong place. The late 1980s, a suburb of New York. It is restless – the authorities plan to build public housing for 200 African-American families. A small town predominantly populated by a white middle class is terrified. The protagonist – Mayor Nick Wasisco – unexpectedly, even for himself, turns out to be the main fighter for the project’s construction but faces opposition from the city council and citizens, federal politicians, and entrepreneurs. Another American tragedy that, at first glance, is not the fault of anyone — and at the same time, everyone is to blame.
A Very English Scandal (BBC, 2018)
If “The Crown” looks at British history through the prism of the British Queen and her difficult relationship with family and prime ministers, then the creator of “Extremely English Scandal” Russell T. Davies (the man who revived “Doctor Who” in the mid-2000s) decided to enter into a conversation about power and hypocrisy from the other side. We follow the life of the British politician of the 1960-the 1970s, Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant), who hides his sexual orientation from society – he was connected by a love relationship with a young groom Norman. The novel is over, but its consequences haunt Thorpe – in the end, the politicians are in the center of a grandiose scandal. In court, they discuss his orientation and the murder that he (allegedly?) was going to commit. Hypocrisy, the upper classes, violence, skeletons in the family closet, and a lot of jokes on the verge – it really came out very British.
The Americans (FX, 2013–2018)
The series started in 2013 – long before talk of comprehensive Russian interference in world politics, the maniacal search for Russian hackers, and the exchange of sanctions between Washington and Moscow. But it turned out to be extremely in tune with the times. “The Americans” is a story about Russian illegal spies who work in the United States at the height of the Cold War, and it turned out to be more useful than ever. The plot incorporates the oppressive political atmosphere of the 1980s, the looming nuclear apocalypse, and the exchanges of diplomatic notes between governments. Against the background of all this, the personal story of people fighting for their lives unfolds. The creator of the spy thriller Joe Weisberg knows what he is writing about – he himself was a CIA officer, and although he left the service, he did not lose interest in spy intrigues.
Vinyl (HBO, 2016)
And again the early 1970s, and again the United States, and again talking about the dark side of known phenomena — in this case, the music industry. But if in “Deuce” the conversation turned out to be frank and deep, then in the case of “Vinyl,” magic did not happen. The series, which was created by Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, and Terence Winter (screenwriter of 25 episodes of “The Sopranos”), seems to have included all the main signs of the study period: cocaine chic, unbridled fun, gangsters, cunning owners of recording studios and cunning dealers. But in a single and integral narrative, the series did not add up and even caused a storm of discontent among industry veterans and eyewitnesses. That still does not negate the importance of the series – even not the most successful things done by Martin Scorsese, you can watch endlessly.
Narcos (Netflix, 2015–present)
Colombia in the mass consciousness is a space of endless war, ruthless drug traffickers, and magical realism. The protagonist of the series – Pablo Escobar – is as if assembled from these traditional Colombian phenomena: an ordinary person from a poor village becomes an incredibly influential drug dealer, the war with him is not only the government, but also other countries, and he himself, although drowning in his own extravagance, is not going to give up. The creators got a complex narrative, filled with many different figures and jumping from one decade to another. Hard drugs and light neon frame this political drama about the secret threads that stretch from one country to another, from politician to politician these days.
American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, FX, 2016
The most scandalous trial of the 1990s, which was followed by the whole of America (and with it the whole world), is the trial of football player O. Jay Simpson, arrested for murdering his own wife and lover. This process ended with the unexpected acquittal of a man whose guilt was strongly divided: most African Americans were convinced that the charges were fabricated against the public’s favorite because he was black. Whites did not understand how to ignore the obvious evidence. Domestic violence, mystical fascination with the criminal, attractive lawyer Kardashian (David Schwimmer) and his constant confrontation with the prosecutor, numerous allusions to modernity – all these are components of a successful judicial procedure that you will want to reflect on after viewing.
Call the Midwife (BBC, 2012–present)
Another series that began as a costume drama but eventually became something more – a serious and profound statement about the emancipation of women in the second half of the XX century. Post-war London, women midwives working at the church – this setting allows talking about a lot. The series, succumbing to this context, does not consider any topic forbidden: abortion and same-sex relationships, racism, gender discrimination, poverty, and prostitution. Simple stories, which become the basis for the plots of the series, are much deeper, each time bringing to reflection on a particular social problem or stigma.
Chernobyl (HBO, 2019)
The main series of last year is most impressive even with an unviable depiction of Soviet life, not cruel brutalism in depicting the consequences of a nuclear explosion, not complex psychological battles between the two main characters – a scientist and a party functionary. It’s all there, and it’s all done brilliantly, but the nerve of the series goes elsewhere — in the space of talking about people and what makes them human. “What is the price of lying?” asks Professor Legasov at the very beginning of the series. In the next five hours, we find out that the price of lying is incredibly high: lying corrodes society from within, gnaws at load-bearing structures, and eventually leads to disaster. The exemplary docudrama, which did not fall into moralizing and empty philosophizing, proved possible to talk about the Soviet tragic past without tearing the shirt on the chest.