Don Draper is classy, Virginia Johnson or Cameron Howe look quite chic without effort, but the question here is, who is the coolest?, and, of course, what does cool mean in the TV context? It’s not just about wearing elegant suits, drinking Old-Fashions, being funny, charismatic or kicking asses all around, when a character (or a whole TV show) is cool everything in and around him need to share that feeling, the series must be self-conscious about this.
These deep ontological questions showed up in my mind after finishing up Peaky Blinders, the BBC2 historical drama about Birmingham gangsters in the 20s. Thinking about the British shows I’ve seen until now, I found out that they (not your turn this time U.S.A.) have the ultimate secret of TV coolness and Utopia, Peaky Blinders and Sherlock are the living proofs of it.
Jessica Hyde isn’t just behind bars, she is also looking at a color that floods Utopia: the bright yellow. In an interview with Wired one of the directors tells that they always manipulate magenta, cyan and yellow in postproduction in order to create the peculiar palette that defines the identity of the series. Utopia is not alone, Peaky Blinders is also full of color, but the dark and dirty streets and pubs of Birmingham are flooded with brown, black and golden.
Beside aesthetics, camera movements, mise en scène and special effects are other tools these wicked TV programs use to create something unique. For example, the slow-motion scenes in
Kill Bill vol.1 Peaky Blinders, the wide and static shots of Utopia, or those amazing traveling shots and transitions of Sherlock (and don’t forget the typography!) allows us to recognize, without any doubts, which show we are watching in a couple of seconds.
Desinging the visual part of the show is the first step in the way of coolness.
Check out any playlist of one of these series in Spotify or Youtube and you’ll unravel the second one: their music selection. That electro-minimal miracle composed by Cristobal Tapia de Vee that is the OST of Utopia is as important as every yellow bag, probably more. On the other hand, Peaky Blinders doesn’t try to achieve a historical accurate soundtrack instead, the melodies of Nick & Cave and The Bad Seeds, The White Stripes, etc. create a particular mood that somehow fits perfectly with the gangster lifestyle. Step numer two: music.
We have talked about colors, shots, (fashion deserve a huge and specific post so I won’t talk about that here) and soundtracks, but there is something else: that moment in which Sherlock puts on his “Sherlock cap”, or Tommy Shelby and his gang walking in slow motion through a filthy street with the music of Nick Cave; An excess that make us SEE in capital letters, the plot becomes just an excuse for a visual parade.
We have all seen The Wire, The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, we know what is a show with well-written character development and realistic plots, but sometimes our eyes need something else, a little yellow candy, a haircut to copy, a catchy phrase. Because nothing in a boring Sunday evening can, as Wilde said, “cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”
The Homecoming Queen