Widening Horizons: Artistic Director Chris Haydon talks television

by Chris Haydon

As the artistic director of the Rose, my job, in normal circumstances, would be to decide which shows to produce to ensure a thrilling year-round programme. However, as this lockdown progresses, I, like everyone else, am having to scour evermore obscure corners of the internet for entertainment – looking for new things to watch, listen to and enjoy. So whilst I am not currently able to fill our stage with brilliant stories and extraordinary performances, I am launching this regular blog to suggest things you can enjoy at home – films, television, podcasts and anything else that I feel passionately about.  

Let’s start with television.

I have been a sucker for the longform, immersive storytelling that TV can provide ever since I was a student obsessed with Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Created by Joss Whedon (who went on to be one of the key brains behind the Marvel superhero movie franchise), Buffy is the story of your average Californian teenager whose high school just so happens to be situated on top of a ‘hellmouth’ – a portal to various demonic dimensions from which all manner of nightmarish creatures pour forth. It’s a pulpy and fantastical premise (though no more so than A Midsummer Night’s Dream with its fairies and love spells), but it shapes up to be a truly witty and, at times, profoundly emotional exploration of growing up. Made in the mid-90s, it is often credited (alongside shows like ER and The West Wing) with having laid the groundwork for the golden age of American TV drama we see today. 

Speaking of which – The West Wing is another all-time favourite of mine. Aaron Sorkin’s drama tells the story of US president Josiah Bartlett and his White House staff as they deal with the day-to-day challenges of being a global superpower. The show is defined by a liberal idealism that feels worlds away from the Trumpocalypse currently unfolding on Pennsylvania Avenue. However, in a way this makes the show feel all the more urgent. Whenever I rewatch it I am instilled with a profound sense of hope – vital in this present age. The show is also masterfully written and shot. Sorkin is famous for his dextrous dialogue and this is matched by real visual flair in the directing. The programme became famous for its ‘walk and talk’ shots, where characters would navigate their way deftly through the corridors of the White House whilst firing off rapid dialogue. If you decide to embark on a journey through this world then you might also want to listen to one of my favourite podcasts alongside it: The West Wing Weekly. This is presented by superfan Hrishkesh Hirway and actor Josh Molina (who plays Will Bailey in the latter series of the show). They provide a commentary on every episode and interview everyone involved on both sides of the camera, as well as many political pundits. If you are a politics geek or drama nerd (and I am both) then it is the perfect podcast for you!

Of course, if you haven’t yet watched Breaking Bad or The Wire, now is definitely the time to sit down and switch on. Breaking Bad is as addictive as the crystal meth that chemistry teacher-turned-drug Kingpin, Walter White, makes and sells. And while The Wire, a tale of drug dealers and police fighting it out on the brutal backstreets of Baltimore, is a slower burn (I nearly gave up on Season One when I first gave it a try) it grows to be a truly operatic portrait of a city fighting to survive. 

If sci-fi is your thing, then Battlestar Galactica is a must. Not the high-camp 70s’ version, but its more recent remake starring Edward James Olmos. It’s the story of humanity’s fight to survive in the face of an onslaught from human-created but now murderously rebellious cylons (robots in human form), and it is insanely compelling – gritty, thrilling and morally complex in equal measure. It is also an acting masterclass with the cast giving viscerally physical performances.  

If all that sounds a bit heavy and comedy is more your thing, then let me steer you in the direction of 30 Rock. Tina Fey’s manic masterpiece about the wildly inept TV writers trying to save their live Saturday night comedy show from being cancelled by their suavely cynical boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is a truly joyous thing. Equally fun is Brooklyn 99, which documents a group of detectives working in the 99th police precinct of Brooklyn. This show combines rapid fire gags with genuinely intriguing weekly mysteries. It was created by Michael Schur who also had a recent hit with The Good Place – a high concept sitcom set in the afterlife. All these shows embody an open-minded progressive liberalism which, like The West Wing, feels especially vital in the face of rising right-wing populism. 

There are of course many other shows I could recommend (for instance make sure you watch the TV miniseries Chernobyl if you haven’t already!) so perhaps I will suggest more on my next blog. But hopefully some of these will keep you and your family fully entertained for now!

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters | Unsplash


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