By Charlie W. Starr
I use the phrase “almost wholesome” in my title in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Today’s TV writers are seldom going to give us a TV series which we will completely agree with, show after show. Their agendas will creep in, their ideas will be far from ours, and they may include attacks on Christianity, even if only brief ones. Still I’ve run across a few shows that I’ve liked for a certain charm and some friendliness to my general worldview. My kids are older, but I would’ve felt comfortable watching these shows with them when they were in high school and probably junior high as well.
Scorpion on ABC is a show about a group of geniuses who solve immediate threats to American safety when others can’t. But because they’re all geniuses, everyday, personal interactions and mundane activities most adults take for granted are beyond (or below) their abilities. For this reason, one of their team members is an “average” woman (with a young genius son) who keeps them grounded and delivers insights into people that they’d otherwise miss.
There’s a seriousness to the show, but there’s also a certain childlike innocence, even in the midst of real dangers, which never quite leaves the interaction among the main characters. That’s the refreshing part. And, at least so far, the good guys always win. I particularly like the insights the show gives me into ridiculously smart people. It’s fun to watch the strength of genius as well as the limitations.
The Librarians is a cable show on TNT. Over the last decade or so there have been three Librarian movies starring Noah Wylie (who also appears in the TV show), and these have led to this short run of TV episodes (and hopefully more to come). The whole concept is a throwback to a style of storytelling like the Indiana Jones movies. Even the episode titles communicate this idea (for example, The Librarians and The Loom of Fate).
The Librarians in the show are, themselves, super smart people who go on adventures in search of magical objects often connected to myth and archaeology. The head Librarian (Wylie’s character) is the kind of slightly naïve but nobly innocent Captain America-esque character I love to see in hero stories—the kind who always saves the day and never grows cynical in the face of evil. His new recruits to the Library (the mysterious place where all the magical artifacts are stored for safety), are flawed but always manage to do the right thing when push comes to shove.
The show is definitely modern, dealing with contemporary issues and not always the way I’d want it to, but the Indiana Jones feel adds the same element of nostalgia which George Lucas intended for that great film series: he wanted to hearken back to the childlike innocence of action serials in the ’30s and ’40s. There’s a little bit of that in this series.
Marvel’s Agent Carter
There’s even more serial nostalgia in Marvel’s Agent Carter. Marvel Comics has been producing a series of interconnected movies and television shows which started in 2008. Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) appeared in both Captain America movies. She helped Cap make his transformation to super soldier and then became a love interest who wasn’t to be (when Cap disappeared at the end of the first film).
In the TV series, World War II has ended and Agent Carter now works for a super secret American intelligence organization (kind of like the CIA). Ignored by the men she works with because she’s a woman in their 1940s world, Carter is asked to help Howard Stark (Iron Man’s dad) clear his name after a number of his high tech weapons are stolen and begin to appear in enemy hands. The sexism in the series is a bit heavy handed but also probably accurate. The show has all the charm of a 1940s action serial with only a little bit of objectionable material here and there. This is a really good example of the female action hero trend I wrote about a few months ago with some added advantages including modesty and a lead actress whose appearance communicates beauty without the unrealistic demand of a Barbie doll body type.
If you didn’t catch them when they first aired, it’s now common to be able to watch TV series on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or other Internet sources. If you can find any of these shows, they would be worth a look.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky (www.charliewstarr.com).