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Le Monde, France

TV Series from the Obama Years

By Pierre Sérisier

Translated By Gillian Wright

5 November 2012

Edited by Peter L. McGuire

France - Le Monde - Original Article (French)

Barack Obama’s first term is over. Whether he will extend his term on Tuesday or Republican Mitt Romney will succeed him and move into the White House in January is unknown. His presidency has been marked by several anxiety-provoking TV series that are fairly symptomatic of the era. Here are several recurring themes that have been touched upon over the last four years.


“24” largely contributed to putting this phenomenon on the map. The struggle against terrorism and the effectiveness of defending oneself after Sept. 11 was highlighted in particular. The last few seasons have been overthrown by a sense of paranoia. First with the AMC series “Rubicon” that has not been renewed but that has left profound memories, then “Homeland,” from two former creators of “24” who have adapted an Israeli series for an American audience.

We have walked into a completely different dimension, one of surveillance and craziness based on a conspiracy theory. This remains constant through changes in time. We have also gone from post-Sept. 11 to post-bin Laden.

In this category, we could almost include “Dollhouse” by Joss Whedon.


Scenarios of this type are multiplying more and more rapidly without any suggestion of not finding material to last sustainably. In all the chaos, we could hold up “FlashForward,” then “The Event,” then “Terra Nova” and, this year, “Revolution” as examples. All are based on the idea that the world as we know it no longer exists and citizens must try to adapt, reinvent social relationships again and rebuild a new political structure. It is at the same time the fall of an empire and the hope of building something new.

For visitors, we could add the remake of “V” and “The Walking Dead” to this criterion, but the comic strip which inspired this series was created well and truly before Obama’s presidency and therefore the reference is slightly curtailed. However, the foreign “zombie” phenomenon has had a comeback during this period, along with monsters and creatures — e.g. “American Horror Story.”

The Economic Crisis

The counterpart of the above catastrophe but on an individual scale. This is the end of traditional markers, an obligation to adapt and rethink lifestyles — the confrontation with personal limits and triumph of the anti-hero/loser. “Breaking Bad” takes first place in this category. This series by Vince Gilligan has been summed up almost completely here. The other series is “Hung”; three seasons of dark comedy on the crisis of the middle-class white American victim of deindustrialization, the subprime crisis and the fear of seeing the American Way of Life disappear.

The Wild West

This theme, which is based on the myth of the creation of the U.S., has been well and truly present during this mandate. First with series like “Justified,” a sort of modern Western inspired by the works of Elmore Leonard. The reference is still more symptomatic than revealing. This is also true with “Southland,” an illustration of the urban Wild West on the streets of Los Angeles. We could equally add “Sons of Anarchy,” which appeared in September 2008 and has developed since — horses have been replaced by Harleys.

Added to these are productions like “Hell on Wheels,” an exaltation of the business spirit and conquest that founded the American dream and the settlers who passed on a tradition of builders capable of confronting the worst adversities in order to make their businesses successful.

The Political Crisis

Otherwise known as crisis of confidence in politics. It is illustrated to perfection by “Boss,” a Gus Van Sant drama broadcast by the TV channel Starz that reveals a perfect and fairly real cynicism through following the adventures of the mayor of Chicago, long considered as one of the American cities where administration was the most corrupt. A reference is clearly made to the former Mayor Richard Daley but the production brings a tragic dimension based on the works of Shakespeare: “Hamlet” and “Richard III.”

“Boardwalk Empire” also explores in its own way this political corruption during the creation of Atlantic City in the first years of the Prohibition. Produced by Martin Scorsese who directed the first episode, it is a new demonstration of the fascination Americans have for the underworld but also a reflection on power and the manner in which it is exercised outside of all the democratic circuits.

The Crisis of the Song

A lone category for Glee (the actors have entertained at the White House) and for the new habits of musical consumption. Gone is the era of vinyl discs and 12-song albums that we listened to constantly. The fashion is for “singles” and above all “remixes” or how to remake music which has already been done while trying to make listeners believe that it’s much better after and was less good before.

And you, what have you learned from these last four years?



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