Hollywood has always loved a good monster. From the likes of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot to FX’s new show The Strain, the small screen has suffered and triumphed in the arms of the monsters of both reality and scripted entertainment. Most monsters come and go like fashion trends or A-List celebrities, yet television writers shamelessly press on, like Victor Frankensteins of the small screen, constantly churning out new gruesome creatures to throw at us. Still, it begs the question: what’s next? After decades of demons, serial killers, wolves, vampires, zombies, Walter Whites and more, television execs are pulling out all the stops to bring to life the next best thing.
Television has come a long way, thanks to cable and networks such as HBO, targeted at those of us late night viewers who don’t mind going to bed with a sour taste in our mouths (a.k.a. after any episode of Game of Thrones). TV has become increasingly unafraid of making us, well, afraid. We’ve gone from Don’t Look Under Your Bed and The X-Files (whose theme song, admittedly, used to give me nightmares, but is altogether pretty tame) to dismemberment (Breaking Bad, Dexter), disembowelment (True Blood, The Walking Dead), and now, disinfectant (The Strain). After every monstrous reboot or remake, however, everything is left a little more stale – the magic is gone – so what’s left for Hollywood to fill those big, gruesome shoes with?
Tried and true, the alien has its place, but it is definitely not in television right now. That’s not to say aliens aren’t great TV or aren’t on TV, rather, aliens have been so iconic, there’s no more room – at least not right now. To be more specific, the alien faces its toughest opponent: Doctor Who. Any show churned out by Hollywood execs featuring aliens is going to go up against the wrath and virile competition (via comparison) of this masterpiece, most notably from its fans. On the other hand, good writing, serialization, and a strong fan base have shown that aliens are still in demand. Look only to the woeful cries of Firefly fans, the immortality of the X-Files franchise, and the continued broadcasting of Star Trek: The Next Generation by BBC America to see that aliens are still holding their ground.
We all thought the vampire was going to die with Twilight, only, like the creatures themselves, they’ve continued to live on. Although True Blood may be coming to an end, The Vampire Diaries is still going strong (the CW knows how to hit that same spot reality television does – we just can’t stop watching…) In a recent interview with Details, Will Wheaton noted, “Vampire lore is based in seduction and sex, and we’re always going to have an appetite for that.”
As much as we admit to being sick of those blood-sucking creeps, we’re going to keep coming back for more. The future of vampires will probably be a little less True Blood, a little more Being Human UK, in which vampires are only one factor in a longer narrative, rather than sticking us with 45 minutes of fang-foreplay. FX is looking to update a certainly yawn-worth monster franchise with their new series, The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, giving a clinical, CSI feel to the vampire threat. Still, I think it may be time to let those hemo-gobblers sleep for a little while.
The wolf has consistently played the back-story, the side-kick who’s not quite as cool as the vampires or whoever else they’re hanging out with (see True Blood, Being Human UK, The Vampire Diaries, Grimm… I can keep going). MTV’s Teen Wolf has proven the trope wrong, but I have a feeling that the wolf may be a one-and-done affair. Teen Wolf is so hot right now, no Hollywood exec has the nerve to touch those lycanthropes. Dylan
O’Brien and Tyler Posey are the best things that have happened to MTV in the last decade. Right now, nothing can go up against the One Direction of television that is Teen Wolf, not necessarily because the wolf is great television (it’s not) but because its excellent first season writing and attractive cast have created the monster of TV-show franchises rather than the monster of monsters.
The zombie is so hot. After the success of the Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, based off of George Romero’s successful Living Dead series, zombies seemed like a product of the silver screen. The zombie narrative was short: “Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil [“Sorry!”], grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.” On the contrary, Robert Kirkman proved that there was something important yet to be examined in the zombie apocalypse: the human condition. His popular comic book series of the same name has sparked the AMC hit series, The Walking Dead, which currently holds the title for most-watched drama series telecast in basic cable history. The zombie is killing it.
Additionally, the zombies of BBC America’s In the Flesh are killing it for a completely different reason: protagonist Kieran Walker. Kieran Walker is the most important character on TV, as a gay teen who is never accused, accosted, labeled or defined as gay – easily one of the most progressive portrayals of a gay character in television history. In the Flesh flips the timeline. Rather than discussing the primal survival of the initial invasion, it explores what happens after we “wait for all of this to blow over” and scientists have discovered a cure.
Still, I agree with Wheaton, who, in the same interview, pointed out that “we’ve reached peak zombie at this point. We’re at the top of the bell curve for zombies.” I think zombies can make a comeback in a few decades with the same tenacity as The Walking Dead or Night of the Living Dead on the silver screen in the 60s, but for right now, no more zombies or flesh-eating monsters.
The Monster Within Us (Anti-Hero)
Better than the physical decay, us viewers have recently loved to hate the moral decay of man. In fact, the anti-hero has become so popular, it is hard to name a series without a seriously flawed protagonist (antagonist?). In 2006, we got Dexter, a forensics expert who gets his rocks off by killing criminals who have escaped the justice system. He literally cuts up his victims, and we enjoyed watching him do so for seven years. In 2007, we got Mad Men, currently in its final season, which follows the alcoholic, chain-smoking, morally dubious advertising executive, Don Draper. Clearly we love to hate Jon
Hamm, as Mad Men went on to become the first basic cable series to win an Emmy for Outstanding Drama, ranked 6th on TV Guide’s list of 60 greatest dramas of all time. In 2008, we got Breaking Bad, the climactic peak of the anti-hero, whose main character, Walter White, has become synonymous with the genre. This past year, we got FX’s Fargo, inspired by critically acclaimed movie of the same name, led by Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard, following the moral decay of a small-town insurance salesman from Minnesota after he kills his wife.
Like the zombie, the anti-hero is going strong and appears to be preferred by viewers and critics alike. Still, the anti-hero, the monster within us, isn’t new or particularly inventive. Now we don’t think twice about hating our most-loved and loving our most-hated characters (Joffrey from Game of Thrones anyone? No? Just me?) and these monsters are neither real nor relatable.
So, what’s left?
The Invisible Monster
The invisible monster – that scary stuff we can’t see or know. Where is H.G. Wells on TV? Nowhere. When has there been a good modern remake of The Invisible Man, besides Benedict Cumberbatch’s 2011 Halloween costume? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually asking for a television adaptation of the book, rather, the eerie sensation attributed to it: the knowledge that what is happening to us, all around us, can never been seen or identified. The next monsters will be demons of the unknown. There will be the literal interpretation of these invisible threats – viruses or ghosts (i.e. the growing popularity of American Horror Story) – as well as more inexplicable threats – monsters who cannot be explained or overcome (desire, grief, Ebola, Griffin, I don’t care).
The future monsters of the small screen will have the foreignness of the alien, the dark seduction of the vampire, the driving force of Teen Wolf, written with Kirkman’s awareness of the human condition, all topped off with a perfect cast of Walters and Lesters. For the past decade, Hollywood’s monsters have been creeping inside of humanity, from our flesh to our principles. The only place left is the truly dark, the truly desperate, and the truly unknown. Do with that what you will.
That’s what’s next.
– Michelle Hill