Into the belly of the beast

By Reyshimar Arguelles

Before the CoViD-19 pandemic forced us all to stay indoors, I had not been a Netflix subscriber. The idea of paying for a monthly subscription just so you could be with the “in-crowd” is insane. But then you have to do what is humanly necessary to keep yourself from dabbling in social media-brand politics.

The standard plan was worth it. I finally got to watch The Umbrella Academy and the new season of Rick and Morty. There was also Goodfellas, The Irishman, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I also got around to starting La Casa de Papel Money Heist for the cool kids — since people are suddenly into red jumpsuits and Salvador Dalí masks.

There are shows and movies that are unavailable for subscribers in the Philippines, which is a shame since I have been yearning to binge watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and get lost in the nihilistic hilarity of its characters. Despite that, the show has created a cult following among viewers who want more than just laugh tracks, cheap jokes tinged with innuendo, and awful dialogue and acting only Erik Matti could be proud of.

There are good shows, and there are bad shows, and there are shows that deserve a spot in the Olympus of living room entertainment. And it’s these shows that are often the most subversive, for the reason that they have gained mastery over their genres and, therefore, reserve the right to put these genres to the torch.

It’s Always Sunny… does so by mercilessly stripping the sitcom format of respectability; instead of token characters, we are given morally depraved individuals who can get away with just about anything just because they are ignorant, rude, and with no hope of redemption whatsoever. This formula has worked so well in providing a penetrating glance into the faux trope of character development.

Every season is an endless cycle of mishaps where people get maimed and corrupted, but we laugh anyway because we find ourselves just as morally bankrupt as Danny De Vito’s Frank Reynolds, whose impulse for crime has been the catalyst for many of the show’s notorious events.

At any rate, I just learned that It’s Always Sunny… is only available for Netflix users in the UK. It’s not clear when will the series be available for Philippine subscribers, but I’m keeping my hopes up.

The only thing that consoles me right now is that there’s a show with the same moral depthness and grit that characterize It’s Always Sunny…, only that it belongs to a genre — that happens to explore the dark, ugly side of the human condition.

Of course Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are exceptional in their own right, they find amongst themselves yet another television spectacle in the form of Peaky Blinders.

With the decrepit industrial background of 1920s Birmingham, Peaky Blinders is set in the underbelly of the beast where the Shelby family headed by the calculating second child Tommy (played by Cillian Murphy) fix races, burn down pubs, and put local police officers on their payroll. It’s a typical recipe for a gangster series with gratuitous amounts of nudity and violence. But it proves time and again that it is nothing average.

As the show progresses, it’s difficult to decide who you are going to root for because nearly everyone is tainted by sin, and yet you can agree with each one’s worldview. The ruthless Belfast-based law enforcer Chester Campbell, for instance, is tasked to bring the Shelby’s, along with communists and Irish revolutionaries, to justice using unjust means. Tommy Shelby, on the other hand, is a decorated veteran of the Great War, whose experiences in that conflict have molded him into a figure at once revered, respected, and feared.

Peaky Blinders could pass off as a show set in the inner bowels of Dante’s hell, but it’s a show worth watching, nonetheless, owing to the fact that it reminds us of our feeble nature and our propensity to act feral all while the tendency to do good is always within reach.

And even as this crisis passes, we need to expect in TV shows such complexities. We can’t blame K-dramas all the time when the real problem is the idea that people have general tastes. There are none and we have to force ourselves to live by it the same way the characters in It’s Always Sunny… and Peaky Blinders confront their realities. Unless we find a way out, we’ll keep running back to the belly every time.