None of us need an excuse to watch more shows on Netflix, right?
But what if I gave you three awesome reasons why you as a writer should be watching more shows on Netflix?
What if I told you those three reasons will help you:
A) Master organic dialogue
B) Create stronger character identities and relationships
C) Value the importance of excellent research
D) Build powerful scenes that resonate
No doubt you’re eager to share some quality time with your couch now, right?So what are those three shows you should be watching right now on Netflix?
1. Freaks and Geeks
2. The West Wing
3. Stranger Things
So, why these three shows? Well, I could go on for a full century as to why we as writers must watch these shows, but I promise I’ll try to rein it in. Let’s start with Freaks and Geeks.
Freaks and Geeks is an American teen comedy-drama television series, created by Paul Feig (The Office), with Judd Apatow as executive producer. It aired on NBC during the 1999–2000 television season.
Set in the year 1980, a group of misfits and burnouts are just trying to survive high school while finding out who they are, and who they really want to be.
Now, I’ve seen this same idea for a show almost a hundred times. So why doesFreaks and Geeks stand head and shoulders above the rest? Because it’s the only show that (if I didn’t know any better) seems to be completely unscripted. The dialogue is so realistic, the characters so true to life, that I swear I myself went to high school with kids just like Nick Andopolis, Daniel DiSario, Lindsay Weir, and Bill Haverchuck.
There are many “surviving high school” adaptations that seem a little out of touch with what actually happens in high school. And I think that’s because writers of “high school drama” shows write what they think kids today will relate with. So it feels forced, cheesy, out of touch, and unrealistic.
Freaks and Geeks, however, focuses on real experiences. The writers set the show during the period they themselves went to high school. So, there was no straining to figure out what the “whippersnappers” today are into. They made personal connections from their own high school experiences and they were honest about the characters undergoing those experiences. (Honestly, it’s like the writers wrote the show just for themselves- which is awesome!)
Every time I watch Freaks and Geeks, I learn something new about character development and organic dialogue. As I said before, the show, to me, feels completely unscripted. Every interaction sounds like real kids having real conversations. Not a single string of dialogue– whether it’s an uptight parent, a guidance counselor, a gym teacher, a pot head student, or a dungeons and dragons game master- ever feels forced or unnatural. And that takes some seriously excellent writing!Characters like Kim Kelly- a hot-headed, short-tempered, strong-willed girl- always, always reacts to every problem like a raw nerve doused in lemon juice. We all knew someone like that in high school, didn’t we? And that’s the point: the writers created characters inspired by their own life experiences. Therefore Kim Kelly’s character resonates with the audience because she has a realistic personality.
Creating strong character identities which elicit organic dialogue is something writers absolutely must perfect the art of, and Freaks and Geeks does it impeccably. Not to mention, I’d buy the show’s soundtrack in a second- can never have enough classic rock in my collection!
The West Wing, however, holds an entirely different setting for its audience, yet is just as powerful as series.
The West Wing is an American serial political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1999, to May 14, 2006. The series is set primarily in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and offices of presidential senior staff are located, during the fictitious Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen).
This fast-paced series delves into serious issues facing the American people, while simultaneously mastering a realistic representation of the everyday life of presidential staff members. It truly is an artful weaving of world issues with private lives.
The West Wing is another prime example of air-tight dialogue. What impresses me even more about this fact, though, is how incredibly well-researched the writing is. It baffles me, honestly, how often I feel like I’m getting a real behind-the-scenes glimpse into an actual day-to-day at the White House.
Time and again I’ve said that it feels like Aaron Sorkin must have sat on a couch in the middle of the Oval Office for twelve years in preparation for writing this show because it feels so unscripted and so incredibly realistic.
The writers of The West Wing have taught me the importance of balancing unique character identities and personal lives with a widely encompassing external influence.
The characters are so unique and realistic- they love their jobs while simultaneously balancing spurts of hatred for it. There is passion, intensity, and courage behind every decision. Yet there is frailty, honesty, and human imperfection often fluctuating crucial decisions as well.
Writers must learn the importance of well-researched writing if we are creating historical fiction novels, contemporary novels, or even science fiction novels. If we fully immerse ourselves in an experience meant to influence our writing, we will achieve more powerful results.
The West Wing certainly drives that point home with a powerful cast of unique characters all bent on balancing their lives around the greater good.
Last but certainly not least is Stranger Things. This recent, instant cult classic blew us all away for many reasons, but for writers, the story resonates with us for far more important reasons.Stranger Things is an American science fiction-horror web television series created by the Duffer Brothers. It is written and directed by Matt and Ross Duffer and executive-produced by Shawn Levy.
On November 6, 1983, in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, 12-year-old Will Byers vanishes mysteriously. Will’s frantic mother, Joyce, searches for him while Police Chief Jim Hopper launches his own investigation. Will’s friends Dustin, Mike, and Lucas discover a psychokinetic girl who claims to know Will’s location. As they uncover the truth, a sinister government agency tries to cover it up, while a more insidious force lurks below the surface.
The show pays homage to ’80s pop culture, inspired and aesthetically informed by the works of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King, Robert Zemeckis, and George Lucas, among others.
What makes this incredible sci-fi thriller stand out amongst the countless 80’s inspired horrors are the powerful scenes, time period/setting accuracy, and (yes, again!) realistic dialogue.
A running theme exists in all of these shows- excellent dialogue. Realistic, true-to-life interchanges between friends with air-tight execution. And Stranger Things is no exception. The boys take on their own strong identities which get challenged when their best friend Will goes missing, and they soon thereafter meet a lost girl in a hospital gown named “Eleven” who turns their idea of reality “upside down“. The relationships within the friendship and family circles are severely tested as the horrors unfold, creating excellent tension and character arcs both unexpected and satisfying.
Not only this, but the story truly is an excellent homage to the setting it plays out in- the 80’s. Everything from food items on the local grocer’s shelves to the hairstyles, clothing styles, and hit songs of the day are all masterfully executed. It’s like the creators grew up in the 80’s or something! *wink* *wink*.Clearly, there are benefits to be gained from creating stories influenced by personal experience!
Stranger Things also teaches writers the artful use of foreshadowing and flashbacks. If used clumsily, both writing tools can make our stories seem messy, predictable, and immature. Yet Stranger Things gives us writers one more reason to not just sit back and enjoy the thrill of the hunt, but also take diligent notes when it comes to our own stories!
As writers, we never just watch a t.v. show or movie. We dissect it. So, here are three more shows to add to your list tonight and start dissecting immediately! Your craft will thank you for it!
Have another show you think all writers could learn a thing a two from? Write in the comments section below what shows have influenced your writing style. I’d love to hear what shows I should add to my Netflix queue next!