Week 9: ‘Mad Men’ – Episode 13, Opening Sequence

Having majored in cinema studies in my time at RMIT, I’m no stranger to the close textual analysis of audiovisual forms. That said, I’ve never approached a television program in this way. An open homage to the visual style of classic film, AMC’s Mad Men (2007-) seems an appropriate place to start.

Set in the 1960s, a decade of great political and social change in the USA, Mad Men explores the personal and professional lives of men and women employed by advertising giant Sterling Cooper. At its centre is ad executive and master manipulator Donald Draper (Jon Hamm).

An iconic still from the Mad Men opening title sequence.

The reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) in the show’s animated opening credits, specifically the symbolism of a falling man, is too perfect not to mention first up.

On initial viewing, with little knowledge of the show, I immediately read this image as symbolic of crumbling patriarchy. Having reached the halfway point of season one, the opening credits are richer with meaning for me. They infer mystery (particularly Don’s enigmatic character), suggest the growing power of women during the 1960s and critique capitalism and consumerism. I could go on and on, but let’s save that for my group presentation with Paul and Blake.

In this week’s lecture Brian screened “The Wheel”, the thirteenth and final episode of Mad Men‘s first season. Instead of examining the unknowable Don Draper, however tempting that may be, I’d like to take a closer look at the episode’s opening sequence.

The sequence depicts two simultaneous conversations – one between Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and his father-in-law Tom Vogel (Joe O’Connor), the other between Pete’s wife Trudy (Alison Brie) and her mother Jeannie Vogel (Sheila Shaw). Smart, neat clothing abounds. Perhaps surprisingly there’s not a cigarette in sight. But there is alcohol, it wouldn’t be Mad Men without it.

Subtle brass music plays throughout the sequence but it never escapes background status, encouraging viewers to concentrate on the dialogue.

Naturalistically lit, the sequence begins with an extreme close-up of a fabric pattern propped up on a dining table – a vivid lime green number with colourful bubbles and “powder-room” items printed on it. A pull back reveals Trudy and Jeannie keenly assessing the pattern.

Without a cut, the camera tracks right to show Tom talking to Pete about “man stuff”, namely sports and politics, in an adjoining sitting area, before pulling back to show all four characters in the frame. The women are in the background and out of focus and their speech is inaudible. It’s clear who we are meant to be looking at and listening to. Hint: it’s not the women.

The separation of the men and women in the sequence’s staging highlights the gender division that’s a common theme throughout Mad Men. Think of the Sterling Cooper work environment, with female secretaries working in an open-plan space for men in offices. It is interesting that Tom takes it upon himself to tell Pete about Trudy’s feelings, reiterating what she has told Pete herself during season one.

Having established the setting and locations of the characters within it, the camera then cuts away to a mid-shot of Pete. This is the establishing shot in the shot-reverse shot pattern that follows, an editing choice used to signal an abrupt change of direction in the men’s conversation. This new trajectory is categorically marked by Tom clearing his throat, moving from politics to the business of baby-making.

The latter topic seems to be in direct opposition to the “secret men’s business” vibe of the men’s exchange, but is neatly positioned in the ideological construct that is “The American Dream” – financial independence, nuclear families, white picket fences, traditional values…the works.

Notably, the subject of work (Pete’s promotion opportunity and Tom’s own business expansion) proves tempting for Tom. It’s a hurdle he gradually overcomes in order to discuss the issue of starting a family – something he believes he should, but is not necessarily keen, to address.

By this stage Jeannie and Trudy are no longer able to remain unresponsive to the men’s conversation. Upon hearing the word “child”, the ladies join the men in the sitting area. Jeannie sits next to her husband on the couch and Trudy stands behind her parents. This staging creates a “Wall of Vogels” effect that screams “CONCEPTION!” –  it’s three against one. All Pete can do is smile and nod in awkward silence as the sequence comes to a close.

One thought on casting. No matter how much I watch Mad Men, I can’t see Alison Brie as anyone other than Annie from Community. It can be truly bizarre, almost as though Brie is playing Annie playing Trudy. I expect to get over that at some point…but maybe not for a while. 

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Week 8: ‘Big Love’, It’s Mighty Hard to Classify

Phwoar! Imagine having three (or even four) wives, all of which know about and accept the existence of each other. That foreign concept alone was enough to capture my curiosity about HBO drama Big Love (2006-2011).

For a show that is widely regarded as complex narrative television, Big Love relies on many of the conventions commonly associated with melodrama-rich soap operas. These include, but are not limited to: a focus on a network of interconnected relationships, moments of sentimentality and melodrama and narrative seriality.

The characters in Big Love are about as interconnected as characters get. In the pilot, Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives, Barb Henrickson (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicolette Grant (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene Heffman (Ginnifer Goodwin), are in one big, four-pronged relationship. The opening episode contains numerous highs and lows and sets up narrative and character conflicts. It contains moments, both brief and prolonged, that encapsulate a variety of established genres – drama, romance, tragedy, comedy and soap opera to name a few. Multiplicity of genre is a feature of narratively complex television, as outlined by Jason Mittell.

It’s impossible to nail down a narratively complex show as being this or that with regards to genre. In the case of Big Love it would be possible to find evidence to back up a plethora of claims: “It’s a soap”, “It’s quality TV”, “It’s a tragedy”, “It’s a dark comedy”, “It’s a political piece about the Mormon existence in modern day America” – the list goes on and on. I think the reality is that it is all of these things, and more. That’s what I like about “high-end” programming. There’s something there for most people.

Being asked to classify Big Love for this blog post has transported me back to my primary school days, when I would come home after school, prepare afternoon tea and sit down in front of Passions. This pattern went on for about a year, maybe it was grade four or five. The trials and tribulations of Timmy (the creepy doll that comes to life) and Tabitha (the evil witch in hiding) was my favourite aspect of this soapiest of soaps, the only program of its type I’ve ever watched more than once.

After my first viewing of Big Love and being asked to consider its relationship to the soap opera, I saw some likeness between it and Passions. It is curious that soaps, so often mocked and written off as “bad TV” without a second thought, appear to share some common ground with one of HBO’s glorified, “super-TV” texts.

For scholar Michael Kackman, the crossover that exists between narratively complex television (such as Big Love) and the daytime soap opera suggests a very direct relationship between the two. He reads it as an indication that soap operas inform and influence the “quality TV” dramas that form what some have heralded as “television’s new golden age of aesthetic quality”.

In his article, ‘Flow Favorites: Quality Television, Melodrama, and Cultural Complexity”, Kackman uses Lost to illustrate his point. Specifically, he asserts that a sappy, melodramatic exchange between characters Jack and Kate is “…a shameless wallow in weak-kneed, bodice-ripping melodrama”. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to describe the sequence that follows – a flash-forward of Jack driving a Mustang blaring Nirvana and contemplating one of the narratives many mysteries. Kackman sees it as similarly soapy in its melodramatic excess, just in a less traditional, more “masculine” way.

Kackman’s provocative and contentious argument paints recent primetime dramas, like Big Love, as current manifestations of the soap opera – the next stop along TV’s evolutionary path, rather than as an entirely new televisual form.

Standing in opposition to Kackman, Jason Mittell sees primetime narratively complex television as influenced not by daytime soaps, but by comic books and 19th Century literature. I haven’t read an e-mail interview as assigned material for a university course before, but I like the appearance of honesty fostered by Mittell’s first-person responses.

Mittell believes the only real commonality between soaps and narrative complexity is their “…connections to 1970s and 1980s primetime serials”. Both Kackman and Mittell have compelling arguments, but I can’t help but sit on the fence.

Personally, I think the presence of “soap opera-esque” moments and themes in narratively complex programs can sometimes be explained by the fact that writers often fall into writing “melodramatically” by accident. It can be easy, but it’s not necessarily a cop out. Because it’s such well-covered territory, writing in a soapy fashion is sometimes the most effective way of getting information across – those two characters love each other, there’s tension in the air etc..

As Mittell says, it’s hard to dip in and out of narratively complex programs, which tend to progress a lot faster than soap operas. Maybe it’s time I dip back into Passions, if just for old time’s sake.

Patch Adams (Dir. Tom Shadyac, 1998)

Viewing/listening context: Laptop (From File)

Don’t get me wrong, I love Patch Adams (Tom Shadyac, 1998), but while watching this Robin Williams classic last week I just about hit the roof when the mellow synths descended following the tragic death of a character. It’s supposed to be sad. I get it.

In class this semester there have been a number of discussions about prescriptive film soundtracks – prescriptive in that they encourage (nay, demand) viewers to feel a particular way at a particular moment. It’s a technique often applied heavy handedly and one that is standard practice in Hollywood.

Patch Adams hears the bad news

In Patch Adams, the death of Carin (Monica Potter) is revealed in a “death knock” style, with Patch (Robin Williams) called to the office of his medical college Dean (Harve Presnell). In the moment after the Dean informs Patch of the tragic news, quiet synth music permeates a beat of shocked silence.

The shot remains a medium close-up of Patch’s shattered expression as the music begins to increase in volume. A fast, outward breath of anguish from Patch acts as the trigger point for the beginning of a slow fade to an establishing shot at Carin’s funeral. I have become very conscious of this as a common function of sound in film, whereby filmmakers employ sound FX and music as “sonic transitions”.

The tone and timbre of Dean Anderson’s speech should also be noted. He has a very deep and resonant voice reflecting his position of authority and connoting a degree of wisdom. His words take on an almost “God-like” quality when they come from off-camera after the camera has locked off on Patch. Aside from a few mumbled greetings, Patch is rendered “speechless” and sits in silence for much of the sequence.

Establishing shot of Carin’s funeral

As was mentioned in our first class, the importance of sound in film is often trumped by an obsession with visuals. If there is one thing I’ve learnt during this class it is that, when examining a soundtrack, one must always consider the relationship between sound and image.

In the aforementioned moment,  a change in the music accompanies the visual transition (slow fade) between shots, with soft piano introduced to underscore the solemn voice of the priest delivering his final blessing. The density of the soundtrack increases in accordance with the number of people featured onscreen. Bird tweets and murmurs and cries from Carin’s family and friends are heard underneath the subtle woodwind part that builds the music for a brief time. Carin’s family and friends are seen vacating the cemetery in cars and on foot. As they do so, the piano and woodwind in the tune disappear, encouraging viewers to concentrate on Patch’s dialogue as he speaks to Carin at her grave site.

For me, the music is a little too much – a bit too cheesy for a substantial duration. The moments of silence between dialogue in the Dean’s office prior to the music kicking were heart-rending. Silence is empowering.

An absence of sound can have a variety of effects on a viewer (or should this be “listener”?). Most importantly, I think, it promotes thought. Even if it’s just at a subconscious level, silence always asks something of me: “How do you feel during this moment?”

Being herded along with the mood of a cookie cutter instrumental piece is getting old, fast. Sometimes I like being given a choice by silence.

Week 7: The Problems With “Quality TV” and Emergence of Narrative Complexity

The term “Quality TV” was destined to be contentious. It is used by some to describe a distinct form of television storytelling that has emerged in the last 20 or so years. Specifically, it refers to those long-form programs presented in series structure which bring narrative complexity and innovation to the fore and present an alternative to traditional episodic and serial storytelling. Commonly cited examples include The SopranosThe Wire and Breaking Bad.

“Quality TV” is a problematic term because it sounds like a value judgement, apparently positioning one of television’s many branches as superior to the others. At their simplest, value judgements manifest as notions of what is “good” or “bad” and are subjective by nature. There are widely held views on certain things, but just because a lot of people hated Garfield 2 (Tim Hill, 2006) doesn’t mean everyone hated Garfield 2. Come on, the animation is pretty cool.

This is the primary reason why I prefer the way Jason Mittell describes this relatively new breed of programming: “narratively complex” TV. As Mittell points out in his article, ‘Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television’: “Complexity and value are not mutually guaranteed.” He goes on to explore some of the key aspects of complex narrative television.

…we thrill both at the stories being told and at the way in which their telling breaks television conventions” (Jason Mittell, 2006, p.36).

It’s hard to define narratively complex television for the simple reason that it is not nearly so formula-driven as typical episodic (e.g. The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men) or serial programming (e.g. Neighbours, Home and Away, General Hospital). Instead, Mittel says, narrative complexity challenges these television norms, while simultaneously employing the two. He proclaims that this “…interplay between the demands of episodic and serial storytelling” is one of the key identifying factors of narrative complexity. It is “non-discrete” episodic TV that promotes the sense of ongoing and multi-faceted narratives spanning a variety of established genres.

This multi-focal approach – with both story arcs across both episodes and seasons – immediately reminds me of Showtime’s Dexter. Mittell describes The X-Files as having a “monster-of-the-week” focus while proliferating the longer-term narrative arc of the show’s own “mythology”. Similarly, episodes of Dexter mostly feature a “kill of the week” – a bad guy that Dexter (Michael C. Hall) researches, stalks and idiosyncratically whacks for their crimes. These weekly tales occur within season-long narrative frameworks similar to those Mittell associates with Buffy. Each season of Dexter has a primary “villain”: The Ice Truck Killer (Season 1), Bay Harbor Butcher (Season 2), Miguel Prado (Season 3), The Trinity Killer (Season 4), and so on. It is a mix of cop show, thriller, mystery, romance and black comedy and the show’s numerous episodic and season-long story arcs reflect this.

But there is also an over-arching narrative arc that runs for the show’s entirety. Dexter finds himself  unable to meaningfully connect with human feelings and emotions. By remembering more and more from his past (which take the form of flashbacks), he is forever trying to discover himself and his humanity. Dexter’s voiceover narration is an amazing storytelling device. It offers insights into his state of mind, reveals where he is at in his quest for self-discovery and frequently contradicts what his face and body language is outwardly telling other characters. It can be funny, frightening and strange. I can’t see this plot arc ever reaching any kind of genuine resolution – Dexter’s character is too foreign, layered and unknowable.

Season 10: Dexter remembers everything from his troubled past, suddenly feels true emotions and IT ALL MAKES SENSE. I don’t see this happening. It had better not!

Mittell also points out that episodes of narratively complex programs rarely have neatly packaged endings. This encourages viewers to watch the next installment, which will then propel or colour the narrative further. “Cliffhangers” immediately spring to mind – moments that have you demanding to know what happens next. The Game of Thrones pilot ends in this fashion, with one character pushed out of a window by another – will they live, or will they perish?

Sometimes it is an entire season of a narratively complex program that ends with a cliffhanger, like the Twin Peaks season one finale, which concludes as Agent Cooper is gunned down, his fate unknown. Being forced to wait until the release of a new episode or season can be frustrating, but also exciting.

Mittell goes as far as to say that narrative mechanics, the way a complicated story is written and constructed, can be a source of viewer pleasure in itself – “narrative special effects”. He connects this to the “operational aesthetic” audiences revel in while watching the work of elaborate physical/stunt comedies like those of Buster Keaton, or more recently Frank Woodley. Mittell says the viewer satisfaction and wonder derived from many complex comedies as coming from asking “how did they do that?” as opposed to “what will happen next?”.

Seinfeld is the perfect example of the remarkable tying together of several seemingly unrelated storylines through cleverly orchestrated “coincidence” and “chance”. That’s why Mittell cites it. HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (also created by Seinfeld‘s Larry David) is also mentioned, but not given nearly enough time.

Littered with self-referentiality, Curb is sometimes so beautifully cringeworthy that it’s hard to watch. But it’s also impossible to look away – I blame the artful writing. At its centre is the painfully inflammatory “Larry David” (Larry David). No matter how hard he tries, Larry cannot escape conflict. Sometimes it looks like he’ll escape condemnation, ridicule, attack, physical violence or some or all of the above. That’s just what the creators want you to think. But he never does. The show’s writing creates the equivalent effect of an on-screen explosion. It never fails to amaze me.

It seems appropriate to finish this post with a nod to this week’s timely edition of The Age‘s greenguide, the front cover of which reads: “The A-List: We choose the best 25 shows from the last 25 years.” You can probably take a guess at which shows are on the list. No prizes.

Week 6: Fantasy Furore – The Reception of HBO’s ‘Game Of Thrones’

I can’t profess to having delved extensively into the fantasy genre. Aside from recognising some of its dominant tropes – which include magic, sword battles, supernatural creatures and sorcerers – my knowledge is relatively limited.

There are fantasy texts widely considered to be classics. The first that come to mind, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, are originally book series that have subsequently been adapted into films. Loved for their elaborate plot lines, fantastical settings and  iconic characters, both have a loyal fan following*.

If recent talk is anything to go by, Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-) is destined to earn the “classic” tag in the future. The screening of the pilot in week six was my first look at television’s latest craze.

“Dude, have you seen Game of Thrones?” 

That’s a question I’m often asked, both inside and outside the context of this subject. Usually I answer truthfully with a cautious: “No, but I’m planning on it.” Which I am. Not since the emergence of a certain boy wizard have I felt this much pressure to be more than just familiar with a cultural product.

For me, reading the early reviews Game of Thrones was thus akin to examining the thoughts of The Age‘s Philippa Hawker or Jake Wilson before going to see a newly released movie.

I not only found myself using reviewers’ words to build my knowledge of the show’s premise, but also to gain an idea of its likely audience. One thing was immediately apparent – some loved it and some hated it.

Reviewing can be a dangerous game. As Myles McNutt points out in his blog post ‘Questions of Taste: Dissecting the Dissection of Early Reviews’, things get even dicier when reviews start getting reviewed. The spat that broke out within the reviewing world regarding Game of Thrones was enough to rival any showdown between the Fellowship and the orcs. At its proverbial heart is Ginia Bellafante’s New York Times piece, ‘A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms’.

The key point of contention is Bellafante’s assertion that overt eroticism is included in the show as “…something for ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.” I’m quite new to media studies, but that sounds like a wild generalisation to me. However, I can see how Bellafante arrived at this point of view…

As David Barnett says in his Guardian article Game of Thrones: Girls want to play too”, it is common, but wrong to assume that the fantasy genre is nothing more than “boy fiction”.

Critics of Bellafante’s piece accuse her of ignoring the existence of female fantasy fans, patronising her female readers and blatant inaccuracy. Her proclamation that illicitness is something that has been “…tossed in” implies that it is unfounded and removed from, or even irrelevant to narrative. This is simply not the case according to Barnett, who excitedly mentions that “…the source material has plenty of bonking”.

Maybe it’s my RMIT-induced tendency to “question everything”, but while watching the pilot I cringed at the portrayal of women – the submissive wife, the daughter with only marriage on her mind, the “wenches” and forced marriages.

Admittedly, I have only seen one episode and am expecting one or two woman-to-warrior scenarios. It must also be said that the show’s “mediaeval-esque” setting demands a patriarchal setup.

Having heard what seems like hundreds of positive testimonies about Game of Thrones from friends and family, I’m wondering how many of them even knew this “review war” was going on. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say no. Even if they did, I’m not sure how much of a difference it would make, if any, to their experience and enjoyment of the show.

This is a sign of the times. We are constantly bombarded by the opinions of every Tom, Dick and Harriet via social media. The opinions of even the most influential and respected reviewers now carry almost equal weight to those of, for example, my mate Geoff on Facebook who says: “GAME OF THRONES ROCKS! SO ADDICTED!!”. Are the readers of reviews the same people who are likely to want to check out a given show? I’m not so sure anymore.

* Online hubs for Lord of the Rings and Narnia fans include: Narnia Web (narniaweb.com) and the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Network (lordotrings.com).

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001)

Viewing/Listening Context: Television (DVD)

Having been brought up by two India-philes, I am not unaccustomed to a little taste of Bollywood in the Harvey household.

Lagaan is my favourite Bollywood film by a stretch, partly because of its cricket-rich subject matter and partly because of its masterful score, which is composed by Indian musical icon A.R. Rahman.

Amir Khan leads a motley crew of poor villagers in a do-or-die cricket battle

I would go so far as to say that the film’s soundtrack is so evocative of its time and place that you need only see the film once. Thereafter, the soundtrack brings everything rushing back in a torrent of sonic associations.

It is actually an emotional experience to listen to the score. I’ve done it so many times that I can now sing along to some of the songs in hindi.

A unique aspect of the Bollywood industry is that the film musical is the dominant form. In line with the typical Bollywood process, the songs in Lagaan are recorded by established artists and dubbed over the onscreen action. Actors mime and dance along to these songs using a technique not unlike the recording of a standard music video. The difference is that their miming skills are next to flawless. At more than three hours in length, the film contains 13 individual tracks and numerous “overture” style instrumentals.

The sound of the sitar, although a feature of the soundtrack, takes a back seat to powerful (often group) vocals. It’s hard to single out one song as best evoking the Lagaan experience. This one, “Ghanon Ghanon” is one my personal favourites. It is a serenade of gratitude to the Hindu gods for bringing dense, grey rain clouds to a drought-ridden desert environment:

No words can quite describe it. I don’t need the visuals to get enthused. I’m not quite sure how to put it in words but the sonic quality of this song has a positive “dryness” to it. It’s not saturated with constant sound and the heavy percussion element creates distinct “gaps” and a “sparseness” that connects with the state of the open and arid landscape where the film is set.

Like “Ghanon Ghanon”, “Chale Chalo” is a song that artfully establishes a mood using an elongated gradual build up to create an ethereal effect. Essentially, it is Bollywood’s answer to the “pump up” song, used to great motivational effect by the village cricket team.

In the video below, the track begins at about the two-minute mark. Enjoy:

Already a fan of the film, I was lucky enough to see A.R. Rahman and his orchestra play the soundtrack live at Rod Laver Arena when they toured in 2005. I have not been to a concert like it since.

Week 5: An Awkwardly Anglocentric Admission

To kick off this post I’d like to include a brief history of my favourite television programs from over the years. I did this in my head at the start of this semester and it was very revealing…

Local highlights from my childhood include Round the Twist and SeaChange. My teenage years were all about Channel Ten’s American exports The O.C. and House. More recently, I’ve taken to The Walking Dead, Offspring and Twin Peaks.

      

One thing is immediately noticeable – the distinct lack of anything even vaguely “non-Western”. How disconcerting.

With the exceptions of the odd Bollywood movie and piece of Hong Kong cinema screened in RMIT’s cinema strand, my film and television viewing habits have revolved almost exclusively around “texts” of “Western” origins.

The U.S.A., the United Kingdom and Australia are the collective epicentre of my television activities. Boring? Maybe. Something I want to change? Definitely.

Occasionally friends or family members have mentioned to me the virtues of Japanese manga. International mega hit Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) aside, I haven’t yet delved into much of what this popular segment of Japanese culture has to offer.

What I have witnessed, though, is my brother absorbing episode after episode of manga television shows, including NarutoCowboy Bebop and Fullmetal Alchemist. But, cartoons have never really been my thing.

Cue my thoughts on Brian’s lecture from last week, specifically the sections we were shown from three popular East Asian television programs. These tastes of Tokyo Love Story (Japan), Long Vacation (Japan) and Winter’s Sonata (Korea), as you can probably guess, were my first experiences of non-English language TV drama.

Prior to screening the excerpts, Brian quoted the words of media and cultural studies theorists Ien Ang and Jon Stratton as utilised by Koichi Iwabuchi.

In “Discrepant Intimacy: Popular Culture Flows in East Asia” (2005), Iwabuchi notes Ang and Stratton’s identification of the roles of urbanisation and modernisation in the creation of a world “…where familiar difference and bizarre sameness are simultaneously articulated in multiple ways…”.

Cultural products, including television shows, are one way in which the similarities and differences between cultures are revealed.

These ideas of familiar difference and bizarre sameness were apparent in Brian’s juxtaposition of American super sitcom Friends and Tokyo Love Story. I was surprised to find that, for me, the similarities between the two programs were just as easy to see as the differences. I did not think I would be able to move past the differences. I was wrong.

The most overt “familiar difference”  was the simple fact that the dialogue in Tokyo Love Story is in Japanese. This meant that, in order to understand the narrative, I had to read English subtitles.

Reading subtitles has never been a problem for me, but no matter how hard I try the process always takes something away from my immersion in a storyworld. The reflexive nature of subtitling constantly reminds me that what I’m watching is constructed. The suspension of my disbelief dwindles.

The other immediately noticeable difference was just as expected: the presence of Japanese actors dramatising the action. Without wanting to engage in borderline racist pseudo-science, the fact that I don’t look or sound like the people I was seeing onscreen did not affect my enjoyment.

Instead, I was drawn in and intrigued by the “foreignness” of Tokyo Love Story. Yes, I do live in a multicultural city. Yes, I do have Japanese friends. But no, as I said earlier, I had never seen anything like this aside from the odd clip on YouTube. My history of consuming largely “Western” cultural texts made watching this popular Japanese drama a completely new experience. It was a breath of fresh air. And I loved it.

The similarities between Friends and Tokyo Love Story that resonated with me most were largely related to storytelling and narrative. I remember one student remarking after the lecture that Tokyo Love Story was “just Friends in Japanese”. Personally I wouldn’t go that far, but I was shocked at how easily some of the dominant themes could easily be transferred from one show to the other.

For example, if Monica echoed the famous words of Rika in Tokyo Love Story: “Chandler, let’s have sex,” I wouldn’t blink twice.

They are both stories of young people living in modern cities that symbolically represent the pursuits of the everyday. Characters dream of romance, have fun and attempt to resolve both internal and external frustrations.

With the globalisation of communication technologies, migration of people and growing transience of traditional geographic boundaries, much success seems to be derived from concentrating on these increasingly universal aspects of the human condition.

I hope that targeting transnational success is going to become a more readily achievable feature of television production in the near future.