Dark fiction makes me feel like I’m being let in on a secret. Don’t we all sometimes wonder what lies beneath the surface of daily life? There is more to it than meets the eye. Dark stories show us what criminals think and how people manage emotional pain. There are unsettling moments that have a beautiful ring of truth to them. It’s the stuff that nobody wants to talk about in real life, so in a way, it’s a relief when someone talks about it — even if it’s expressed as fiction .
My idea of a good story is one that evokes a strong emotional reaction and leaves the viewer with something to think about. Here are my top five dark TV shows, in no particular order.
When straight-laced high school science teacher Walter White is diagnosed with lung cancer, he needs a way to financially provide for his family. Being a chemist, he decides the fastest way to do that is to cook and sell methamphetamine with his former student, Jesse Pinkman. Leading a double life isn’t easy, and his choices have consequences. He must keep his new profession a secret from everyone, but most especially from his brother-in-law, Hank, who works for the DEA. As Walter becomes more involved in the drug world, his personality darkens and his dangerous life threatens to destroy the family that he’s trying to protect.
What I like about it
The writers assume the audience is intelligent and treats us as such. Nothing is rammed down our throats. Instead, clues are carefully dropped, leaving us to read between the lines.
The character development is excellent with Walter’s transformation being the most extreme.
There are several emotionally charged scenes that are stunning to watch. Some examples include Jane’s mistake, Gale’s fate, and of course the inevitable scene where Jesse realizes What Walter Did — if you’ve watched the series already, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
There is an interesting relationship between Walter and Jesse. Many fans of the show believe that Jessie is the son that Walter never had. To a certain degree, this is true. However, there is more to it than that. Walter sees something of himself in Jesse — perhaps his under-achieving nature — and he keeps him around for that reason. He oscillates between helping Jesse and hurting him, giving us clues about the way he sees himself. Basically, Jessie acts as a foil to Walter.
There are some funny moments, especially those involving Lydia, the ultra high-strung and completely neurotic woman who supplies methylamine to Eisenberg’s operation. There’s a scene where Todd covers her eyes with his hands so she doesn’t have to see the dead bodies. Priceless.
There are non-linear story lines in season 2 and season 5 and they are pulled off beautifully, adding depth to the overall story.
There is an underlying message about leaving your dreams unfulfilled. Walter is largely motivated by his regrets, actions he never took, recognition he should have received but didn’t. It is an extreme example of what can happen to someone who plays it safe too many times in life.
Attack on Titan
The world is overrun by huge, mysterious beings called titans. Nobody knows where they came from. All anybody knows is that titans lack intelligence, like to eat humans, and are difficult to kill. The last city of humanity exists within three round concentric walls built tall enough to keep out the titans. For 100 years the city has survived without attack, until one day a massive titan appears and breaks a hole in the outer wall to allow the other titans entrance.
Humanity is in danger of extinction. Eren Yaeger and his friends Mikasa and Armin become soldiers and join the survey corps. As they fight alongside the survey corps, they begin to learn the truth about the titans and about their own history. There is more to their mission than just reclaiming territory. There is a secret about their past, and if they want to survive as a species, they must uncover it.
What I like about it
It’s weird. Take one look at those titans and you’ll see what I mean. They are caricatures, resembling humans but with grossly exaggerated features. They don’t even digest the people they eat; usually it comes back up as titan barf. It’s horrifying in a weirdly fascinating way.
The plot is intriguing. Where on earth did the titans come from? What did Eren’s father lock up in the basement? The author sets the story at a good pace, giving us just enough information to keep our interest while leaving us wanting more. This is a must watch for anyone who loves suspense stories.
Netflix currently has season 1 and plans to add season 2 when available. The manga is ongoing.
Doctor House is a medical genius. Together with his medical team he solves special cases, often using unorthodox methods.
What I like about it
The House and Wilson friendship is great. How could I not love their witty banter?
Wilson: “That smugness of yours really is an attractive quality.”
House: “Thank you. It was either that or get my hair highlighted. Smugness is easier to maintain.”
The medical aspect of the show is interesting. Not everything is completely accurate of course (for more details, check out The Polite Dissent blog,) but the audience learns the occasional tidbit of information. For example, it is possible to have a vitamin K deficiency, and if you want to poison someone, gold does the trick.
The Amber story line is fantastic. Her interactions with House give us insight to his thoughts and feelings.
There is an underlying theme that sometimes people don’t change. House is a deeply unhappy man. People around him try to help. Every now and then, he’ll start to make some changes and we get our hopes up, but ultimately he always returns to his former self.
High school student Light Yagami stumbles across a notebook called a Death Note which the shinigami, Ryuk, has dropped into the human world.The Death Note gives him the power to kill any human he wants simply by picturing their face in his mind while writing their name in the notebook. He quickly makes it his goal to create a new world where only good people live and in this world he is the God. To achieve this goal he secretly kills criminals; soon his actions are noticed by the community and he is labelled as Kira. However, having a special power does not make him invincible. Special detective L is on his trail. Equally matched in intelligence and wit, L and Kira play a cat and mouse game, each knowing that whoever loses will die.
What I like about it
Light is the type of villain that you’ll love to hate. He is arrogant and overly confident in himself, making it all the more hilarious to watch the moments in which L corners him.
Ryuk is funny. He has no emotional investment to the situation; watching and following Light is amusing for him. He admits that he dropped the Death Note into the human world simply because he was bored.
The story has plenty of twists and turns. It’s not easy to predict what will happen next.
The Walking Dead
The world is overrun by zombies. Rick Grimes and his group must survive and find a place for themselves. But as they soon discover, other humans are almost more dangerous than the dead.
Why I like it
It is different from zombie movies, which tend to focus on the intial outbreak of a virus or infection. The Walking Dead considers what may happen in the aftermath of such an event.
It’s an extreme survival show. Imagine camping outdoors with no shelter or food. Instead of coveting cell phones and designer clothing, people value weapons and food. If you don’t learn how to shoot a gun, you’re going to die pretty quickly. No matter where you are, you never feel completely safe. And if you trust the wrong person, you could end up worse than dead.
There is strong character development in this show. With the world changing, it would be impossible for anyone to not change with it. People are forced to question their values. Is it really wrong to kill other people? How do you make that judgement call? Characters who have made noticeable changes include:
- Carol, who starts out as a helpless abused housewife then turns into a gun-toting badass who saves everyone
- Darryl is originally angry and suspicious of others, but with Carol and Beth’s help he starts trusting others
- Morgan starts out sane enough, loses his mind, then finds it again
- Rick is an idealist at the start of the series and becomes increasingly cynical
The show is scary as hell. Okay, I know some fans will say they don’t find the zombies very scary, but the suspense kills me. The writers aren’t afraid to kill off characters, and some of the deaths are gruesome. I don’t even like the violence. I care too much about the characters to stop watching, and I can’t help but hope that somehow they will get through it all and find a cure, or at least create a better world for the next generation.
What dark TV shows do you enjoy most? Any recommendations?