A horse, an Ad Exec, and a Prisoner Walk Into a Bar: Summer TV Recap


School is almost here again, and hopefully Trinity students were as productive as I was this summer “”that is, I hope they devoured as much media as I did. Before the workload crashes down, check out the new seasons of these three must-watch summer shows.

Mad Men

Mad Men has always embraced its status as a television drama. Each episode feels like a unique short story with a recurring cast of characters and an overarching plot. The show was always more about the characters’ reactions to situations than the situations themselves, with a focus on slow-burn character development rather than action.

Television shows generally accelerate plot development in the last season, but Mad Men kept chugging along at the same slow pace it always took. Some plotlines never connected. Some diverged in unexpected ways. The final few episodes held some surprising character resolutions. But a major theme of Mad Men is that people can change on a dime, for better and for worse. Some of these changes damage relationships beyond repair, and the damage that isn’t mended by the end of the show hangs in the air like the last drag of a cigarette, never resolved.

The finale left me feeling less like I had witnessed the end of something and more like the camera had just been turned off at a beautiful moment for these characters “”without us watching, it feels as though they continued their lives, scars and all. Each wore their experiences differently, but all showed that they had learned Robert Frost’s three word lesson describing life: “It goes on.”

Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman is an animated TV show about tragic characters and their attempts to escape their fates. This would make for a great live-action drama, but part of the appeal of Bojack is its bizarre premise: the world is inhabited both by humans and anthromorphic animal characters. The show never addresses this oddity, which makes otherwise straightforward plots much more entertaining “”it also makes for some understated punny moments: hammerhead shark construction workers nail boards together with their heads and Penguin Books is run entirely by penguins, for instance.

In the second season, the self-destructive and sometimes reprehensible Bojack explores the process of filmmaking and the politics that go along with it. Without spoiling anything, the show continues to pursue storylines that refuse to conform to a “happy ending,” instead following the natural consequences of the characters’ bad choices and sometimes despicable actions. The show explores the depth and complexity of sorrow, depression, and existential angst while still keeping a sharp wit and twisted humor that takes the edge off of the more morose moments. The show also satirizes Hollywood and celebrity culture in addition to new media, with pithy critiques on everything from broadcast news to the vapidity of BuzzFeed.

Moments of true connection, love and friendship were rare this season, but that made such moments all the more powerful. It was uniquely painful watching Bojack Horseman descend to darker and darker places, but the show’s dedication to honestly examining life and purpose keeps me coming back. Bojack may spend his life burning bridges, but I’ll be damned if the fire isn’t beautiful to watch.

Orange is the New Black

The third season of Jenji Kohan’s breakout hit struck a lot of the same chords as previous seasons “”developing a complex cast of characters and exploring their lives in the Litchfield Penitentiary “” but it was not as compelling or as fast-paced as the first two.

While the first season focused on Piper’s adjustment to and experiences in prison and the second season zeroed in on prison politics and power plays, the third season settled into a rhythm that occasionally fell into predictability and creative stagnation. There was no large plot arc to hold the action together, so the season felt a bit like a collection of character moments, some of which worked and some of which fell flat.

Season three decreased focus on Piper, the show’s de facto main character, choosing instead to devote more time to minor characters like the stoic Chang and neo-hippie Brook Soso. There were certainly filler episodes between the truly heart-wrenching and enlightening moments, but the strength of the characters held up wavering plotlines enough that I can still applaud the season as a whole.

I hope next season grows a stronger plot backbone””this would help drive a more nuanced examination of prison and life from the perspective of these multifaceted characters.