"There’s Always the Seven Ways You can End it that You’ve Seen Before"

These are words uttered by (the always amazing) Conan O'Brien during his appearance on Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton. He continued to mention that he’s always looking for that left brain thinking of ending a sketch the way no one else has done before.

It is said that there are seven themes that are used in all
of literature. They are:

  1. [wo]man vs. nature
  2. [wo]man vs. man
  3. [wo]man vs. the environment
  4. [wo]man vs. machines/technology
  5. [wo]man vs. the supernatural
  6. [wo]man vs. self
  7. [wo]man vs. god/religion

However, there are some people who do fantastic versions of these themes, and some that do like to recycle stories from the past.

I’m going to go over four of the shows I believe that have used the “left side thinking” to create different types of television shows.

Dexter (2006 – present)

When talking about shows that are like absolutely nothing else on television, Dexter should always be on that list. This show seems to work on three of the topics on the list. Man vs. Self, Man vs. Man and Man vs. Environment. The protagonist is always one that is fighting against himself, to try and suppress and satisfy his need to kill. Through his “code” Dexter is trying to rid the world of people who hurt society. And he has to do all of this while working in a police station, where he must help and hinder to get his end result.

This show is fascinating to me, because by all accounts, this show shouldn’t be successful. This is the story of a guy who is a serial killer. You shouldn’t like this guy. Yet he’s the good guy! When the cops are close to catching him, you want him to not get caught. You want him to have the life that other people have, but somehow continue doing what he’s doing. Somehow the writers/actors/producers have clicked in on something where they have taken something familiar, but twisted it around itself. Thankfully, we have another two years of this!

(1990 – 1998)

You want to talk about a show that totally went against the grain. This was a show about nothing!
Actually, that’s not true. It was a good marketing ploy, but really it was a show about four very self centered people. And it was a sitcom to boot!

If you look at the main characters through TV sitcoms over the decades, they all had one thing in common. The characters were always kind hearted people. People you wanted to be, or people who represented you. Take Richie Cunningham from Happy Days, or Dr.Huxstable from The Cosby Show. Then you have this series where Jerry Seinfeld will dump a girl just because one part of her does not meet his liking. The characters were so reprehensible to people within its own universe that they were arrested at seasons end. But somehow, everyone involved managed to make the show one where every character was loveable in spite of each of their flaws. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The Simpsons (1990 – present)

What do you do when you take the Man vs. Environment concept, and make both of them absolutely insane?

You have the longest running programming of any kind of television – The Simpsons.

Before this genre changing show came on air, cartoons were for kids. They were also about crazy kids/pets, while their parents/owners reined them in. They didn’t have swearing, they didn’t have nudity, they were built around the concept that they were sitcoms for kids.

Then Homer lost his job, and lost his money on a dog race, and saved Christmas, and a phenomenon was born.

This show created the idea of a dysfunctional family.

The father is a drunk, lazy, working drone who wants to stay away from his kids. The son is a hell raiser. The mother is your 50’s housewife. The daughter is the smartest girl in town with a superiority complex, and the baby never utters a word. And yet, this show is the most real family on television.

And from there you have the re-genesis of primetime animation. Cue King of the Hill, Family Guy, American Dad and the soon to debut The Cleveland Show: shows built in the same mold as clueless father, but not quiet there yet. The beauty of the Simpsons has been that there has been a great supporting cast, as well as proper issues and stories built around it. The show that seems to learn the most from The Simpsons is
South Park. Hell, they even built an episode around the Simpsons, which proves to you how important this show really is.

Our attention deficit world has unfortunately caused the focus on story to falter a bit over the last couple of years, but the consistency and depth this show had for a good 7-9 years (or anything where Conan O’Brien was the writer) makes sure this series should be on the list.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Back in 1992, Joss Whedon wrote a film about a young girl accepting her fate as the Slayer of

vampires. The story was dark, witty and poked fun at the horror genre and gender stereotypes. Then someone else made it a movie, and made it the campiest thing you’ve ever seen.

Cut to 1997, and Joss was given the opportunity to remake his version of the script into a TV show. Thus began one of the most inspired shows for women in ages. Incase you haven’t noticed, this one is Woman vs. Supernatural.

I consider this show a classic, because of one simple thing. Buffy Summers was a real girl with real problems, and still managed to be strong. Previous to this, if you had a woman in a supernatural setting, she was either a damsel in distress, or she was a superpower who could solve anything.

Buffy was different. She could have been any girl in the world. She had her friends, she had her issues, and she dealt with them and she dealt with her supernatural responsibilities. She got help from her friends when she needed, and she sometimes struggled with her own self.

The show also had some groundbreaking episodes like ‘Hush’, ‘The Body’ and ‘Once More, with Feeling’. All three episodes feature something unique about them. ‘Hush’ had very little dialogue, ‘The Body’ had absolutely not background music and actually focuses on the lives of the characters without any supernatural elements, while ‘Once More, with Feeling’ was a complete musical episode. Considering the show was very dialogue driven and very much based in the supernatural genre, it was an amazing risk that the show managed to pull off.

These are the four that most come to mind for me. Of course, there are other shows that are “left brainers”. Lost and Six Feet Under seem to be two of those shows. I haven’t had the opportunity to see them, but hopefully by the time the 2010 season rolls around, I’ll be able to add them to this list.

Are there are any shows that you think take the seven basic ideas and mangle them, or just completely abandon them? Don’t agree with me about the shows above? Sound off in the comments below.



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