By Nihal Bambulkar Apr. 27, 2018
American TV portrays real, challenging careers as vague backdrops in the lives of their characters. Some of us fall for this mirage. Hank Moody’s effortless spewing of punchlines and black T-shirts has succeeded in convincing so many of us that writing is our true calling, that we must fashion ourselves as budding Bukowskis.
It’s a sunny day in California inside a local bar somewhere on Venice Beach. Our man, Hank Moody, is seated on a bar stool, sipping on his fifth glass of whisky neat. There’s a pretty girl across the bar, who keeps flashing Hank a sultry smile. According to the fantasy factory that is American television, this is business as usual for Hank, who is supposed to be a washed-up writer facing the creative block of a lifetime.
In Hank’s world, the smiling lady will invariably approach him and lead him to her bed, where Hank’s performance as a sexual being will peak. Once the act is over, Hank will get off the bed, light a cigarette and contemplate life until this episode of Californication gets its (ahem) happy ending. Over the course of seven seasons, we see Hank master everything including the art of day drinking, hurting the people he loves, and indulging in promiscuous relationships with countless women.
But we never see him actually dedicate some time to putting words on paper.
In fact, that’s where the real charm of the show lies. It slowly and steadily convinces you that being a professional writer is the most profound career that one could ever have: Because it involves a creative block – arising out of absolutely no work – and necessitates celebration with W&W: whisky and women.
Everyone wants the Vincent Chase lifestyle, riding in a shiny Rolls-Royce, smoking weed, and blowing money without caring about the next paycheck.
Like Californication, American TV shows have developed an uncanny knack for portraying real, challenging careers as vague backdrops for more interesting goings-on in the lives of their characters. This naturally creates a false perception that the job itself is easy. As some of us know, writing requires discipline, dedication, and spending hours glued to a chair punching out multiple drafts that may or may not yield something worth reading. But the mirage of Hank Moody’s effortless spewing of punchlines, facetious philosophy, and black T-shirts has succeeded in convincing so many of us that writing is our true calling, that we must fashion ourselves as budding Bukowskis.
This, my friends, is the charm of American TV.
For years now, characters like Don Draper, Harvey Specter, Barney Stinson, Robin Scherbatsky, Richard Castle, Charlie Harper, Dr Meredith Grey, Vincent Chase, and Ari Gold have influenced our perception of professions like medicine, journalism, law, advertising, and showbiz. According to the Careers on the Box report conducted by Fletchers Solicitors, 39 per cent of 18- 24-year-olds surveyed claimed that TV was a major influence on their chosen career path. The figures come from a new survey of 1,000 UK adults and reveals how UK viewers are fascinated by watching professionals work on TV dramas and reality shows.
Call us suckers in desperate need of a reality check, but this is who we are.
My case wasn’t too different. By the time I was old enough to have serious thoughts about my own career, I was taken with Don Draper, Hank Moody, and Vincent Chase. With their zeal for work, effortless wit, suave delivery of lines, and Casanova tendencies, they were gift-wrapping me an illusion of work being a wonderland through the TV screen. And I’ve been blindly lapping them up, just like my friends, letting famous TV characters have a say in our life decisions.
I’ve lost count of the number of millennials who chose the creative route only because their college years were heavily coloured by the professional ethic of Don Draper. In Mad Men, Draper’s adept copywriter shindig depended on swigging glasses of Old Fashioned and improvising his way through client meetings. But as my unlucky friends soon found out, advertising agencies in real life are hardly that alcohol-friendly.
Like me, I’m sure all of us know doctors who joined medicine because of Grey’s Anatomy and people who decided to become lawyers because they binged every season of Suits and The Practice. I’ve had women colleagues who looked upto Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation to an extent that they modelled their life after hers. As one friend told me,“Leslie is the universal Woman Crush Wednesday because she isn’t afraid of standing up to people. The way she handles Ron Swanson, or any man on the show for that matter is applause-worthy.” Believe it or not, she did go on to become an IFS officer.
While we remained busy basking in the comfort of being provided with cinematic professional goals, little did we know that reality was waiting around the bend to slap us in the face once our season finales aired.
My slap wasn’t far off.
A few months after college ended, a friend called me to enquire whether I’d like to help out with the production of a web-series and maybe even act in it. Dreams of being Vinny Chase were immediately rekindled and we got together hoping to pull off a lowkey Entourage. What could possibly go wrong?
Because working on a set is nothing like Entourage. In the show, the gang is always found messing around with other actors when Vinny is busy acting. In the real world, I was grappling with the strict hierarchy that governs a shoot. We were running around on different tasks with barely any time for any Entourage-style backslapping, while being chewed out by the director and his hit squad of ADs. By the end, we were so drained from working all day that there’s was no energy left for any Entourage-inspired partying right after.
It was then that I realised that despite television doing a great job with peddling careers, chasing a dream because your favourite character makes it look effortless is a ridiculous idea. Everyone wants the Vincent Chase lifestyle, riding in a shiny Rolls-Royce, smoking weed, and blowing money without caring about the next paycheck. But the catch is that real life doesn’t come with an aggressive Ari Gold who will solve all your problems and save you from yourself.
Call me crazy, but maybe our natural aptitude and skills should dictate our careers, rather than our TV remote. I, for one, know when to change the channel.