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Right Now Is the Best Time to Be a Philosophy Nerd Who Loves TV

I watch, therefore I am

Amanda Bell

Philosophy has always been a central component of good entertainment. Whether it's an antihero going through an existentialist phase, a looming clash of good and evil forces, a metaphysical thrill ride, or even an exploration of socio-political ethics writ large, the most thoughtful shows tend to lean hard on philosophical tenets at some point -- even if they don't realize they're doing so. The discipline plays parent to so many others that it's hard to avoid tripping over some kind of theory in any given storyline.

There's never been such a bounty of intentionally philosophical programs as there is right now, though. Sure, law procedurals might cite Aristotle once in a while, and sci-fi series sometimes give props to those ancients for looking up at the stars all those millennia ago, but now there are certain shows that dare to do more than just stumble upon these ideas. These programs are intentionally getting into some weighty theoretical territory, and what's even more exciting is that it's not limited to just one genre.

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The Good Place, for example, brings comedy to the otherwise heady human desire for answers about the afterlife, and the show also challenges audiences to take a few lessons on morality right alongside its characters. With Chidi, and eventually Michael, as a conduit, viewers are treated to a hilarious version of Philosophy 101 that enlightens through entertainment and clever exemplifications of the various notions at play. Who knew a Sartrean trap scenario could be so dang funny?

Meanwhile, Black Mirror ushers in some chilling critical thinking about whether technology is dehumanizing and whether the ends justify the means with these devices. The show's interactive movie, Bandersnatch, dives even deeper into the well of thinking with its overt commentaries on free will vs. determinism, alternate dimensions, and immortality.


Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Stuart Hendry/Netflix

Netflix, in particular, has been betting on audiences' interests in pontificating by proxy with impressive results. The OA, the second part of which is due later this month, digs into several theories about the multiverse and presents its chief villain as a Machiavellian monster who's obsessed with proving the existence of the human soul at any cost. Its raunchy comedy series Russian Doll also assumes that there are limitless parallel dimensions of existence and that consciousness can be transported between timelines. Meanwhile, Cary Fukunaga's Maniac is basically a wild serialization of Plato's Cave. Not to mention, the streaming service's gripping foreign language series Dark is all about the circularity of time.

Whether this sudden slate of great philosophy-centric programming is owed to some current crisis of collective conscience or simply a result of this mini-golden era of television opening the door to more thoughtful character introspection is debatable. Whatever the reason, today's TV has generated a pretty impressive little subgenre devoted to dissecting these notions, and it just keeps getting better and better.

What a time to be alive!

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Kristen Bell, The Good Place​

Kristen Bell, The Good Place

NBC, Colleen Hayes/NBC