An excerpt from “Gilding the Small Screen: or, “Is it just me or did TV get good all of a sudden?” by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Most of the delinquent parents in this new master narrative are portrayed as inscrutably trying to reinvent themselves at the expense of their dependents.
If this seems a gross generalization, just Google the murderer’s row of the most iconic dramatic series of the Second Golden Age:
- The Sopranos (a mobster tries to reconcile the criminal lifestyle he loves with the family he begrudges).
- Sex and the City (abandoned by her father at the age of five, Carrie Bradshaw finds the perfect surrogate family in her friends even as she squanders years in an on-and-off relationship with a latter-day equivalent of Daddy Warbucks).
- Breaking Bad (a science teacher becomes a criminal to save his family and discovers that crime was always his true love).
- Mad Men (the abused child of a drunk and a prostitute grows up to be a narcissistic workaholic who neglects his family).
- Lost (every character is an abandoned child trying to remake him/herself in a deserted island where no one knows their true past).
- Orange Is the New Black (a catalogued exhibition of birth mothers extending their abusive pasts to their children and jailed abuse survivors seeking surrogate mothers behind bars).
- House M.D. (a brilliant but narcissistic drug addict abuses his surrogate wife and children in the workplace).
- Grey’s Anatomy (The narcissistic workaholic children of narcissistic workaholic parents wreak endless emotional havoc on one another while excelling in the workplace).
- True Detective (a philandering cop who neglects his family finds the platonic definition of love in a nihilistic, workaholic partner overcompensating for the tragic loss of his own wife and daughter).
- The Good Wife (a case study in the preservation of a marriage for the sake of appearances).
- Sons of Anarchy (Hamlet in a biker gang).
- Six Feet Under (a primer on the neglected children of children of abuse — one whose inciting event is the ultimate act of abandonment by a father).
- Orphan Black (in which not one but a whole gaggle of Tatiana Maslanys learn how dangerous it is to have been raised by strangers).
- The Shield (an amoral philandering cop excuses his ruthless pursuit of his evil moral code by convincing himself that it’s all to protect the family he chronically neglects).
- 24 (Jack Bauer tragically loses his family and can never love again for serving the stars-and-stripes — a vocation that eventually brings him into conflict with his own powerful but corrupt father and catamitic younger brother).
- Battlestar Galactica (the spurned children of humanity form a weird monotheistic cult and then come back to burn down their parents’ home with nuclear weapons).
- The Wire (a longitudinal study of an entire generation’s abandonment by an uncaring patriarchy).
Read the essay here.