TV for the mind: seeking out thought-provoking viewing

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Mix up the monotony with TV that gets you thinking. Entertainment editor Kayla Willson reviews two standouts from 2020's binge-fest.

Streaming services became a staple during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with binge-watching and couch marathons evolving into a “quarantine and chill” lifestyle.

By mid year, the idea that we had exhausted all our Netflix options became ironically popular. By the second lockdown, many Victorians were tuning in to some less-than-thrilling viewing – watching for the sake of watching.

“Quarantine and chill” was a big boost for streaming services. Throughout 2020, Netflix users watched an average of 3.2 hours per day of film or TV shows. Netflix gained an additional 15.77 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2020 alone. Billions of people quarantining around the globe led to millions of dollars in executives’ pockets.

The Midnight Gospel (2020)

Many 2000s babies out there will recognise the show Adventure Time, seen by most at least once in their childhood. The creator of the much-loved Finn and Jake series, Pendleton Ward, has since moved on to his latest project The Midnight Gospel, released early last year. It appeals to fans of his previous work while also acknowledging how they would have aged, consequently taking on a more mature twist.

The show revolves around Clancy, who uses his odd-looking machine to travel to other worlds, interviewing individuals and creatures for his interdimensional podcast. The majority of dialogue within the show is taken directly from Duncan Trussell’s podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour, which tackles issues such as accepting death and connecting with those close to you.

TV for the mind: seeking out thought-provoking viewing
Clancy’s adventures provide a plot that varies so much, repetitiveness is impossible. Image source: Netflix.

The Midnight Gospel’s trippy and colourful visuals contrast with the darker, more mature themes spoken about by Clancy (Trussell) and the podcast guests. Most notably, in the first episode, a miniature president is seen fighting off the zombie apocalypse while discussing the use and misuse of drugs within present-day society. The episode proposes that “there is no such thing as a bad drug”, an idea that few audiences or viewers of an animated show would have come across before.

Soul (2020)

Disney and Pixar’s latest release Soul was widely anticipated, and was critically acclaimed after its release in October last year.

The promotional material suggested more mature themes and ideas, bleaker than the studio’s usual talking toys. Tackling concepts of an afterlife and finding our purpose in life is just the tip of the iceberg for this film.

It’s unlikely material for a children’s movie. And it isn’t exactly that. Many who grew up watching Disney and Pixar films have found themselves returning to them as they get older, appreciating the hidden jokes and messages that went over their heads as young children.

Pixar and Disney continue to recognise the duality of their audiences, accommodating adults and children alike. Soul is another perfect example of this.

The artistic direction Pixar has taken with Soul paves the way for unique and visually engaging storytelling that has evolved immensely since their first major film, Toy Story (1995). Despite being a huge step forward for 3D animation and full-length animated films on the big screen, almost everyone can remember the blunders that were Toy Story’s dog and Sid.

TV for the mind: seeking out thought-provoking viewing
The studio’s evolution over the past 20 years is clearly evident in “Soul”. Credit: Disney+.

So, when looking for the next thing to watch, why not try something that will leave a lasting impact on you? Studios, and the individuals working for them, are more capable than ever of creating a genuinely beautiful and insightful story, from beginning to end.