5 Lighthearted Shows That Absolutely Nail Serious Issues
It's easy to assume that the best portrayals of things will come from remarkably serious pieces of entertainment. If someone told you that the greatest depiction of human angst can be seen in Daniel Day-Lewis Stares Intensely Out A Window For Three Hours, you'd think "Yeah, sure, okay." Not so much if someone told you that the finest example of socioeconomic inequality came from Air Bud 9: Shuffleboard Dawgz. But it isn't always true. Silly shows and films can look silly but really be secretly smart and super un-silly. For instance ...
One Of The Greatest Portrayals Of Love Comes From ... Suicide Squad?
Oh boy, Suicide Squad. What a bad, bad movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities, right? Suicide Squad? More like ... Stupid Squat ... because it was stupid, and also a turd. Alright, fine, you've seen through my cunning ruse. I actually liked the movie. I found the story of Fresh Sniper of Bel-Air, Japanese Stereotype, Accurate Australian, and a few other supervillains being forced to serve as disposable government black-ops agents to be miles of stupid fun.
But to some, Suicide Squad was apparently a love story. After the movie came out, lots of people talked about how they wanted a relationship just like Jared Leto's Joker and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. As quickly as you can say "Acktchuallee," comic book geeks went to work explaining just how wrong those people were.
The Joker and Harley aren't in love, they'd say. Joker is a psychopath who brainwashed Harley and sees her as an expandable tool, which she doesn't realize because she has more Stockholm syndrome than the Swedish dub of The Incredibles. And that's all true. In the comics. In the actual goddamn movie, though? Mr. J and Harley are madly and FASCINATINGLY in love.
There's no doubt that Joker initially wooed Harley just to break out of Arkham, but there is a scene that I really love later on where Joker asks Harley to "live" for him and she willingly jumps into the vat of chemicals that first created him. We then see the Joker thinking of leaving her to die, but he ultimately jumps in after Harley and resuscitates her.
The Joker is basically pure id that only operates in the extremes and, to many Leto fangirls' disappointment, doesn't really go for shades of gray. Once he decided to save Harley, he essentially decided to love her with all of his sick mind. That's why he spends the entire movie trying to rescue her. It isn't part of some kind of master plan. He just wants to be back with the woman he loves.
That's what makes the "love" between these two nutjobs so terrifying. Their goal is simply to be together. Once they have that, NOTHING else matters, and they allow themselves to be crazy and psychotic together, like during that fantastic "You're ruining date night!" scene. Joker and Harley are so in tune in the malfunctioning brain spittoon that when he tells her she suddenly belongs to some gangster (who was making him tons of money btw), she knows instantly what he means. He wanted to mess with the poor schmuck's head before adding a sunroof to it, all because the guy called Harley Joker's "bitch."
The kind of love that we see in Suicide Squad is made out of pure passion that surprisingly never turns into abuse towards the other person. It's only lethal to those stupid enough to stand in its way. Does any other movie do something this fascinating? The answer: Yes, Natural Born Killers, but that movie's like 23 years old, and it's high time we got a new version of that story.
The Most Terrifying TV Psychopath Comes From ... It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
It's hard to describe to newcomers what It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia really is ... without then having to answer a bunch of uncomfortable follow-up questions like "Why would you ever watch that?" and "Am I allowed to leave? Why is the door locked?" Essentially, it's a show about five stock asshole characters: the megalomaniac, the oblivious fame-chaser, the rich pervert, the tough-guy wannabe, and the clueless, pigheaded idiot. If they all were raging alcoholics. Personally, I love it, but I realize the show's main appeal is making you realize that while you might be an asshole, but at least you aren't those assholes.
This sentiment is especially true with Dennis Reynolds, the show's resident megalomaniac. There is no question that Dennis is the worst character on the show, and the only thing fans argue about is what specifically has earned him that distinction: The decades of emotional abuse he's inflicted on his friends and family? His secretly recorded sex tapes? The sheer existence of the D.E.N.N.I.S. system?
However, the more you think about it, the more obvious it becomes that Dennis is more than just an asshole with a huge ego. He's a straight-up psychopath, one of the most terrifying TV psychos in history, in fact. Now, modern medicine doesn't really use the term "psychopathy" or "sociopathy," which are more like umbrella terms for many different personality disorders. Still, there are a few common traits between them, like an inflated self-esteem, lack of empathy, the need to manipulate/exploit people, lying, promiscuity etc. No matter what rubric you go with, Dennis Reynolds will almost always fit it.
He often refers to himself as a golden god and cannot accept rejection. He has had many sexual conquests by using deception and manipulation. He freely admits he doesn't have feelings. He secretly feeds his friend diet pills because the idea of the friend gaining weight offended HIS sensibilities. He exhibits no empathy, a manipulative mind, and an almost palpable desire to hurt/kill. And most importantly, he doesn't like dogs.
So this certainly proves that Dennis is a psychopath, but what makes him the most terrifying psycho of all? Well, it's the fact that It's Always Sunny is a comedy series where Dennis will never actually go out and kill.
What is the most terrifying part of any slasher/thriller with a psycho villain? The part where your parents catch you masturbating to the murder scenes. But right after that are the scenes where the killer is hiding in plain sight and passing as normal, which was basically the entire appeal of Hannibal. And with Dennis, this is what we get ALL the time. We get to witness a disturbing psychopath in a regular environment, the kind WE OURSELVES LIVE IN. We see him apply his sick mind to everyday problems, like finding someone's wallet. What does a psychopath do then? Pretend to be the wallet's owner, trying to literally become him, so that he can "get off." Every scene with Dennis reminds us that everyone around us might secretly be sick in the head, and that's just absolutely terrifying to consider. You'll never look at people who drink wine out of soda cans the same way again.
The Most Unflinching Portrayal Of Depression Comes From ... One Of The Worst Seasons Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer?
Buffy The Vampire Slayer is an amazing show but it definitely takes something of a nosedive in quality around Season 6. One character becomes "addicted" to magic in an extremely ham-fisted allusion to drug use. One of the season's main villains is a trio of occult nerds. Also, Buffy becomes a jerk who decides to start sleeping with the vampire Spike, which is completely out of character for her. Like, since when did Buffy have good taste in men?
The season is widely regarded as one of the show's worst, but I will always defend it because of how perfectly it portrays depression. See, at the beginning of Season 6, Buffy is brought back to life after dying during the previous finale. But it turns out that all that time, Buffy was actually in heaven, and for the first time in God knows how long, she was happy and felt at peace. And then suddenly she isn't. And it destroys her. As she says herself: "I was warm. And I was loved ... I was torn out of there ... Everything here is hard and bright and violent. This is Hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that. Knowing what I've lost."
This quote always hits me hard because I used to struggle with depression. Just woke up one day and felt completely empty and numb and, most importantly, robbed of my happiness. I remembered damn well how enthusiastic and fulfilled I'd been just a few days before, and suddenly all of that was taken from me by no fault of my own, just like with Buffy. The worst part, for me at least, was trying not to bring my wife down with my depression. I told her I was having problems, and I sought help, but I also didn't want her to worry, so I never let on just how badly this thing hit me. People with depression do that a lot. Buff did it too, like in the episode "Flooded" where she admits: "I just feel I'm spending all my time trying to be OK so they don't worry. It's exhausting."
Speaking of which, throughout the series, Buffy's friends try to cheer her up and fail, and it eventually causes a rift between them. Her friends mean well, I think, but they also sort of act like the magic of their friendship should snap Buffy out of her "funk," when that's not how depression works. Not even a little bit. And especially not in Buffy's case, because she has LOST HER HEAVEN. And I know I'm sort of patting myself on the back here, but I'm going to start using the phrase "lost their heaven" to explain to people how depression works. I'm positive that once I start doing that, my "punched in the face" ratio is going to skyrocket.
The best thing about Buffy's sixth season, though, is that it also tells you how to deal with depression. Buffy starts sleeping with Spike because she hopes that doing new things will help her feel SOMETHING again. However, she eventually realizes that she needs to start making healthier decisions and hope that her mind follows suit. Of course, in real life, you should always look for professional help when dealing with depression, but this "fake it till you make it" approach might actually give you the strength to take that crucial first step.
The Saddest Depiction Of Dementia Comes From ... Adventure Time?
Adventure Time is the silliest shit since Bozo The Clown died on the toilet after eating expired rainbow sprinkles. Wait, am I remembering something that didn't happen? No matter. Despite the whole thing being about the adventures of a little boy and his magical dog/brother (brogther?), it's still amazingly deep, and there's no better example of that than the Ice King, an ice-themed sorcerer who sort of looks like Gandalf's genitalia.
Good luck unseeing that anytime soon.
Ice King always had a pretty straightforward role in the show as the "wacky" villain obsessed with kidnapping fantasy princesses, sort of like if Elsa and Bowser made a baby (and I watched). Now, later on, we learn that before the events of the series, the character met and befriended a vampire girl named Marceline, which brings us to the excellent, tear-jerking episode "I Remember You."
It kicks off with Icey visiting Marceline so she can help him write a song, and when she sees him approaching, she utters a tiny "No," and asks him why he came over when she forbade him from doing so. Marceline ultimately mellows out when she sees how sad and pathetic Ice King is. But things go bad when he sings "Won't somebody tell me what's wrong with me." That's when Marceline snaps and gets all angry over Ice King acting "crazy." Then she cuts his fucking head off.
Well, no, she doesn't do that. Sorry, my imagination is getting a little dark today.
See, the Ice King used to be a regular dude named Simon who found a crown that granted him immortality, magical powers, and for some reason the power of a Penguin Lord. But in later episodes, it's revealed that before his brain goo went totally cuckoo, he was Marceline's protector and best friend. That's why she doesn't want to see him in his current state.
The crown has essentially killed the real Simon and Marceline can't deal with Ice King because to her, he's just a walking corpse of her old friend. Same body with none of the mind that once used to occupy it. Anyone who's ever cared for a person with dementia will instantly identify with Marceline, especially her outburst when Ice King seemingly acknowledges that he's ... off. To Marceline, it's like seeing glimpses of Simon's sanity coming back. When something like that happens, you sort of think "The person I know is still there. Maybe if they tried, they could break through and return to normal." But life doesn't work that way.
Marceline eventually comes to terms with this and says she wants to help Ice King but she can't. All she can do is be nice to him while he, as we learn, keeps forgetting and remembering her over and over, basically trapping the poor girl in a hell of her own emotions. In this context, the title of the episode, "I Remember You," becomes a cruel joke; a ray of false hope that only serves to remind us that a person doesn't need to physically die to be truly gone. And this existentialist message is brought to you by the makers of the "Gunter, why did you gunt my fries" song.
One Of The Most Authentic Vietnam Combat Scenes Comes From ... Forrest Gump?
You know why that "Is he smart or ... " scene -- when Forrest Gump asks about his son's mental condition -- is so emotionally shattering? Because that's when the joke ended. Although the movie had some sad moments, it was still overall a silly story about a mentally challenged guy hilariously tripping and falling face-first into history's greatest moments. Then at the end, all the comedy is yanked from underneath us as we learn that Forrest always knew that he was "special." It was the kind of mood shift the audience could never expect. Well, maybe except all the Vietnam vets watching the movie. They were probably ready for anything after Forrest freaking Gump of all things sat them through one of the most authentic depictions of Vietnam warfare in movie history. Check it out yourself.
I'm not here to argue whether the Vietnam War was justified/successful or not, but the fact that this question can even be raised (unlike with, say, World War II) says something about the entire conflict. At the very least, we can agree that a war where a shit-ton of officers were killed by their own, disillusioned men had to be a total, emotionally draining clusterfuck. Films like Platoon or Full Metal Jacket do a great job of showing just how dehumanizing that conflict was to U.S. servicemen, but Forrest Gump lets you FEEL just how bad it was.
During that FG scene, Forrest's troop endures months of rain and no action. Then, suddenly, the rain stops, and a character immediately walks into a bullet. They get to enjoy the sun for a total of three seconds, then pieces of lead start flying everywhere, shells explode all around, but, and this is the part that I liked the most, you never SEE any enemy soldiers. All the shots seem to come from all possible directions, which is also where everyone is shooting, hoping and praying that they're hitting their invisible enemy, like they're fighting a whole fraternity of Predators or something.
People right next to Forrest are killed by mortar fire, everybody is screaming, and there's absolutely no place for heroics. All they can do is run, and the really fucked-up thing is that the attack barely lasts one minute. It's an emotion-packed glimpse of hell in a world of wet suck, emphasized by the infinitesimally brief moment of sun right before the horror strikes. That's the essence of the Vietnam War, courtesy of Forrest Gump. And then he says something about chocolate or whatever. I forget the rest.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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