The many flavors of ambition

December 05, 2018

I wrote yesterday about the value of storytelling in movies. Another thing I've learned watching movies is the many flavors of ambition.

I love The Americans. The show is a high-budget period drama set in the middle of the Cold War. Through six ruthlessly-written seasons, it depicts the height of the cold war, showing the evil of both sides, set against the intimacy of love, and family life. The writing is shocking: killing off main characters by shooting them in the head, open-eye tooth surgery, slow death by chemical weapons, forced suicide by pills.

Despite being the single darkest piece of entertainment I've ever watched—maybe because of it?—I'm not at all surprised they won a Golden Globe; everything about the show is top-shelf, from the writing, to the acting, down to the period detail—real 1980s cars, TVs, and currency—A+ production value.

But Caroline doesn't care about any of that; to her, it's just a really dark, depressing show, and "I don't need to come home from work and watch TV so I can feel dark and depressed."

She doesn't know what she's missing.

But anyway, she's got me watching Madam Secretary, pretty much the polar opposite: fluffy, linear, uplifting. Ugh. And when I first started watching it, I was like, "What is this crap?" The acting and writing of the Americans is in a whole different league.

But as I watched it, I realized they weren't going for high production value or Golden Globes. When they did the episode where Téa Leoni, as Secretary of State, stood side-by-side with (real-life) Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, and Madeline Albright, I realized I was watching an entirely different type of show. Madam Secretary is a network drama, watched by an audience maybe 10x that of the Americans.

And they're trying to remind Americans that we live in a great nation, that it's OK to have faith in your elected leaders, and that better government is possible. The show won't win a Golden Globe, but as the federal government shutdown—the longest in history—enters its 25th day, it's nice to be reminded that it wasn't always like this, and doesn't have to be.

I'm not sure whether the differences causing the shutdown are reconcilable. But I'll try to be mindful of peoples' differences; some want high-powered executive careers, others quiet family lives, still others, to make great art. And that's OK.

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