…And The Rise of Streaming.
First and foremost,
Merry Christmas everyone!
Now let’s dive into the picking for the 5 best shows of 2016.
Martin Scorsese recently said that, ‘Cinema is gone.’ Movies do seem to be a dying art form.
The biggest driver of this death might be the economics. Ticket sales are flat, and:
“Profits among the seven biggest studios fell 17% during the first nine months of the year to about $3 billion, according to a recent research report by investment firm Cowen & Co. More than half those profits went to just one studio — Disney.” –LA Times
Originality and new stories also seem to be vanishing. In 2014, more than half of the highest 25 grossing films were all remakes. So if cinema is dying, will storytelling continue to evolve? Robert McKee articulates why it must:
“A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling. When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories, it degenerates. We need true satires and tragedies, dramas and comedies that shine a clean light into the dingy corners of the human psyche and society. If not, as Yeats warned, ‘the centre cannot hold.’” –Robert McKee
I’m not usually a fan of TV… but I dove into several streaming series this year and was shocked at the originality. The future of streaming and storytelling is bright.
So why do we need storytelling so badly? Is streaming and binge watching just the ultimate cop out from an insane world?
“Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality.” –Robert McKee
Intuitively, we know that we can break free of the anxiousness and pull of an insane world through good story. But in practice, it’s tempting to think of fiction or streaming series as a simple panacea. In reality, watching shows with story of the highest quality (and even binge watching) recharges us like few things can.
If you don’t have HBO or Amazon Prime to watch our top picks, you can grab a free trial here that gives you access to Prime videos AND HBO, all while helping support The Mission in the process! Stay tuned in this newsletter for details about how to win a year long subscription to Amazon Prime to stream until your heart’s content.
Here are the picks for 5 of the best series from 2016, with one surprise.
“Quality storytelling inspires quality dialogue.” –Robert McKee
Westworld has certainly fit the bill of inspiring quality dialogue online and in person. Originally written by Michael Crichton back in the early seventies, this HBO update and expansion is expertly written by Lisa Joy and her husband, Jonathan Nolan.
The series stars include Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Evan Wood, Ed Hariss, James Marsden, and Jeffrey Wright.
“The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced, Western-themed amusement park populated completely by synthetic androids dubbed “hosts”. Westworld caters to high-paying visitors dubbed “newcomers” (or just “guests”), who can do whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts.” –Source
Westworld is a corporate amusement park filled with androids (hosts) and their brutal visitors who come to explore and torment the hosts.
The show offers up a buffet of potential allegories and hidden topics. One is that it’s not really about Androids, but people who are exploring and raising their consciousness. In the process they become more human, encounter illusion after illusion, identify their controllers, and become more sentient. Another allegory is it’s a metaphor for how we’re raised in an unfree world, culture, and sick society.
The first characters we encounter in Westworld are Dolores (Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden). At first glance, Dolores is a simpleton who follows the same path each day where she is abused, exploited, and imprisoned. During her private, Groundhog Day-like hell, she chants mantras that everything is going to be alright as long as she keeps doing what she’s doing. How many of us have fallen asleep inside similar delusional routines? I know I have. What’s even more frightening is that often we only begin to wake up when a phrase, substance, or adversity perturbs our mental state and literally “changes our mind.” For the characters in Westworld, their consciousness begins to emerge and “bootstrap” when they encounter a line from Shakespeare.
“According to Bloom, Shakespeare-especially in his creation of Falstaff and Hamlet-so utterly altered human consciousness that after him the world was a different place and we were different creatures. In other words, Shakespeare re-created humanity.” –Boston Review
The origins of Westworld are as fascinating as the potential allegories running within it.
Michael Crichton wrote the original screenplay and barely got the green light to direct and shoot it.
“MGM only agreed to let Michael Crichton direct his movie if he could make it for 1.3 million dollars (which was a very small budget even back in 1973) and if shooting lasted only 30 days. Michael Crichton reluctantly agreed and shooting began in the Spring of 1973.” –MichaelCrichton.com
If you want to watch a series with the potential to bootstrap personal consciousness, Westworld is it.
2. The Man in the High Castle
“Whereas life separates meaning from emotion, art unites them. Story is an instrument by which you create such epiphanies at will, the phenomenon known as aesthetic emotion…Life on its own, without art to shape it, leaves you in confusion and chaos, but aesthetic emotion harmonizes what you know with what you feel to give you a heightened awareness and a sureness of your place in reality.” –Robert McKee
“It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war — and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.” The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Blurb, Mariner Books
This is an alternate history hallucination and world that sets the standards for all others. Born by the tormented, but perhaps genius, Philip K. Dick, TMITHC has been revitalized by Amazon Studios. Season 1 debuted in 2015 with 10 episodes, and Season 2 is back this year with another 10.
While the series doesn’t appear low budget, the studio has done a lot with a little. Despite the careful spending, Amazon Studios is proving to be a force to be reckoned with, snagging 16 Emmy nominations for 2016. You can watch for free with Prime, or get a free 30 day trial here.
3. Stranger Things
“Life on its own, without art to shape it, leaves you in confusion and chaos, but aesthetic emotion harmonizes what you know with what you feel to give you a heightened awareness and a sureness of your place in reality.” –Robert McKee
The story begins at night on November 6th, 1983 in Hawkins, Indiana.
Inside the halls of the U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory, lights flicker as a lone researcher races for the elevator. Out of breath, the researcher panics as the elevator doors finally slide shut. Inside the elevator there is a guttural sound, and a scream as the man realizes he’s not alone.
The story fades into an 80’s style mid-western American home complete with a basement and four best friends playing a role-playing game. As the boys bike home, one of the boys takes a shortcut on a road running alongside the U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory. Bad idea.
Thus begins the epic first season of Stranger Things.
The series is remarkable in it’s own right, and it contains trace hints of ET, Stand By Me, and Aliens (just to name a few). If you’re hungry for some eighties nostalgia, or a story about a group of underdog kids fighting a corrupt system… watch the eight episodes from season one. They come complete with an original soundtrack/score composed by Survive (Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein).
Perhaps the most strange thing about the show is the story behind it’s creation.
“To sell their new Netflix series Stranger Things, Matt and Ross Duffer [the creators/writers] cut together a fake trailer using images from approximately 26 movies.” AV Club
If you’re willing to be creative enough, there is always a way to sell your idea, and get the support you need.
Stranger Things represents a win for creators with an idea everywhere. Almost every storyteller has access to the same resources the Duffer brothers had. We live in exciting times.
If there is a project that you or your family member wants to start, start now. Stranger Things is proof that in today’s age of platforms and companies like Netflix that are open to new ideas and unafraid to put meaningful development dollars and resources behind them… anything is possible.
Stranger Things season two production has begun! So don’t be afraid to dive into season 1 🙂
4. Silicon Valley
Richard Hendricks is a nerdy, outcast software engineer who strikes out on his own to start a tech companies with his friends in Silicon Valley. This comedy is now in it’s third season, and funnier than ever.
The show is hilarious, but it could be even funnier with the right creative consultants and writers incorporating more stories and ridiculousness from the front lines of Silicon Valley. The truth is often stranger than fiction, and sometimes funnier.
Despite all it’s silliness, Silicon Valley is now driving and leading the entire global economy. It is the proverbial leader, and shows like Silicon Valley help ease public sentiment, poke fun, and in the process show just what is going on here.
If Silicon Valley (and all the emerging tech ecosystems and hubs that are modeled or inspired after it) will continue to be an engine and force for good, it’s crucial that we have good satire. Silicon Valley provides that welcome and helpful mirror. If you need a good laugh, seasons 1–3 (and the upcoming season 4) on HBO will provide just that.
5. What Do You Think?
What’s your vote for the best series of 2016? We want to hear what you think! Click respond and leave your pick for the best series, along with why you picked it.