The slow but steady permeation of American and British TV into the lives of millennials and post-millennials has been raged at by living-room social scientists ever since Ross and Rachel found out that going back and forth in a relationship before marriage makes for good television. In response, millennials and post-millennials regularly lash back at these living-room social scientists, otherwise known as parents, by pointing out that they're not saints either, not with their imported-from-Kolkata TV shows where a single day can last half-a-year and characters often go to bed with a full ensemble of makeup, jewellery and other adornments. Amidst this struggle for cultural dominance, only a handful of people will recognise the true motivations behind people's preferences for a certain kind of TV as opposed to others.
For most teens and young adults, the golden age of the sitcom is over. The attraction of watching a bunch of friends slumming it in the big city, tackling the various pitfalls of life and relationships, finding the truths of life in an over-extended coming-of-age story has died down with the ungainly conclusions drawn by sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and the dragging on of the over-rated “comedy” pushed by the likes of The Big Bang Theory. Gone are the sets that'll incite irrational thoughts of moving to New York, even though you can't afford it and you're too old to make new friends anyway. Replacing them at the top of the popular pile are dark mysteries and shows that shed light on the intriguing but simple lives led by small-town folk, and their struggles at persevering against incredible odds.
Setting aside the fantastic abnormality in the TV show landscape that is Game of Thrones, most of the shows that have risen to astronomical popularity in recent years revolve around a rag-tag bunch of small town folk finding their inner strength to defeat the forces of evil. It's not anything new—cult classics like Twin Peaks cemented the genre of extended murder mysteries, which would later be picked up by shows like True Detective, which went to great lengths to explore the psyche of the small-town native and the effect of isolation on unstable minds. Shows like Mindhunter are delving even deeper and gaining audience approval to a great extent.
Perhaps no other show has captured the imagination of TV watchers in recent times like Stranger Things. A unique blend of themes like retro-nostalgia, classic horror, friendship and camaraderie in the ordeal of standing up to evil has made Stranger Things a must-watch for any TV buff. Set in the sleepy, wooded town of Hawkins, Indiana, the show follows a group of kids in the 80s as they search for a friend who has gone missing after biking home one night. Their motley crew is joined by a strange child who doesn't know her name, and is instead referred to as Eleven by the people who come into close contact with her, for the “011” tattooed on her arm. While searching for the missing kid, the town's sheriff, whose most demanding days at office were usually spent settling petty squabbles among farmers and neighbours, discovers a whole other world of supernatural proportions that'll test his ability to keep his wits about him. In fact, that is generally the underlying theme in Stranger Things—people apparently love watching the lives of plucky small-town folk change in the face of adversity. All of this character development over the season comes together in a final battle where each member of the cast has their own contributions in defeating the evil threat, not unlike the distinct heroes that make up a party in board games like Dungeons and Dragons. Now in its second season, Stranger Things seems to have lost some of the shine that made it a fantastic watch. The character development alone, however, makes it worth continuing.
Meanwhile, serialised depictions of city life have somehow become the forte of superhero shows like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Arrow and Luke Cage, all of which have a super-powered individual rising from the ranks of the “normal” to save an endangered city. When they do band together, the individuality of these characters is washed away, resulting in over-saturated garbage like Marvel's The Defenders. For all its worth, the city slickers seem to only do well in their own individual settings.
Is there a trend here? Does the hustle and bustle of city life make the residents of a constantly shifting landscape yearn for old-fashioned connections which they project onto the kind of TV shows they prefer watching? Perhaps not, but it would certainly explain why an older audience prefers mostly rural, simpler settings for the shows they watch, whether it originates in Kolkata or Los Angeles. The rejection of the typical city-centric sitcom or crime drama does indicate a yearning for community as well as the necessary space to think, be it in the disorganised teen or the laden-with-responsibility adult.
One thing is certain however—shows like Stranger Things, Mindhunter, Longmire, The Walking Dead and even mainstream trash like Riverdale have overcome the “rural purge” that occurred in American TV in the 70s and 80s and are responsible for making the rural setting popular again. The reasons for it are best left to social scientists, preferably not the living room ones.
Shaer Reaz is In-charge at Shift, the automobile publication of The Daily Star.