Strange Obsession

One thing that good movies and TV series have in common is this: obsessed characters who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Lately though, I think television has been the superior venue for stellar roles that actors would kill for. Look at Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad or my new fave thanks to Netflix streaming, Damages. Man, oh, man what great characters — especially for older actresses like Glenn Close (and younger ladies like Rose Byrne).

The male corporate villains in Damages are well written too. Actually, it’s hard to tell who’s the good guy or bad guy, which makes it even more fun and morally perplexing. Ditto for Breaking Bad. As a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, I was initially repulsed by the idea of making light of such a heavy topic: producing and selling crystal meth for profit. Oddly enough, my wife and I find ourselves sort of rooting for two drug dealers: the science teacher with cancer protag, and his young partner, a loser who becomes a sympathetic character as you get to know him better. As with Friday Night Lights, the acting in Damages and Breaking Bad is terrific throughout the cast, and even minor supporting roles become memorable thanks to great writing.

Of course, a TV series allows for much more character development and subplots than your basic 90-minute popcorn flick that has to make every second kinetic because time is money in the movie biz. They literally have to move customers through the theaters, churning them quickly in the hopes they get back in line for a repeat “ride” as if it were an amusement park or fast food place. Television, on the other hand, does best when it builds audiences and communities who want to keep coming back weekly for NEW shows and stories that expand the fictional universe these characters inhabit. In some ways, TV writing has to be even more compelling and hooky because you have to keep the viewer from flipping to another show during the commercial breaks or waits between new seasons. Not coincidentally, the other thing FNL, Breaking Bad and Damages have in common is they end each episode with a cliff-hanger moment that keeps you coming back for more.

Speaking of commercials, I also love Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings, which has been running on the IFC Channel. These guys are funny, smart and very creative. It’s a simple premise — find odd/interesting small businesses that need advertising help, then help them by producing low budget commercial spots that will get attention for being, well… goofy and funny. But in many ways, the commercials do everything you expect from slick ad agencies. They get your attention. They identify a problem that the product or service addresses. Then they ask for your business with the call to action. I’d love to see a parody or skit pitting the 60s Mad Men ad guys against Rhett and Link!

If you watch Commercial Kings, you’ll see that most of the business owners they feature are obsessed characters too. They really believe in what they’re doing, whether it’s daycare for pets, running roller skating rinks, or providing “green” coffins for eco-friendly burials.

It’s a clever idea for a TV show. By showing the “making of” the commercial stuff that goes into producing a 30-second spot they are promoting that business and, in effect, tricking you into watching a 30-minute commercial. In fact, I think I may try to do the same thing for one of our sponsors on my local TV show… but it’s not easy finding obsessed real life characters who are willing to expose themselves on television for all the world to see.

And that’s what makes series like Breaking Bad and Damages so entertaining to watch. When you think about it, the things we want so badly really won’t mean much when we’re dead and rotting away in an eco-friendly coffin we saw on Commercial Kings. But we go through life acting like everything we strive for is of the utmost importance. Then we tune into a TV series where people are so driven to protect their interests or reputations that they will lie, cheat, steal or kill to come out on top, and you realize that your comfortable little life isn’t so bad after all. At least you don’t have to worry about crazed meth dealers or ruthless lawyers knocking on your door in the middle of the night.

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2 Comments on “Strange Obsession”


  1. It’s not exactly along the same lines,and may be too dark for your tastes, but DEXTER is also about the character’s obsession. He’s a serial killer who kills serial killers, and I always anxiously await the next episode the minute one ends. Those who don’t like the show can’t see a serial killer as a hero, and those who do are rooting for him to get the nasty people who become his victims.

  2. richfigel Says:

    Dexter is one series I’ve been meaning to catch up on through Netflix too! But they took it off instant streaming for some reason, so it’s stuck in my DVD queue at the moment… That series was based on a book, wasn’t it? Which would make sense. TV series are more like novels with multiple subplots and films are usually more like short stories (as far as plot goes).


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