Many Americans begin their Sundays with a visit to the church of their choice and end them with apocalyptic visions — watching TV characters struggle with catastrophic scenarios that have put the human race on the brink of extinction.
Sunday night is the prime TV viewing period in the Webner household and across America. Lately, though, it seems like every show has an apocalyptic theme. On Falling Skies, the Earth has been invaded by multiple alien species who are hoping to wipe us off the face of the planet. On The Last Ship, a weaponized virus has swept across the globe, killing and infecting 80 percent of humans, toppling governments, and leaving only one American ship and one scientist as humanity’s last, best hope for a cure. And on The Leftovers, two percent of the world’s population has mysteriously vanished, leaving the remaining population to wonder why, struggle with the aftermath, and witness a slow breakdown of the entire social order. (I recognize there are other apocalyptic TV shows out there, but one couple can only endure so much televised disaster.)
Why are these shows so popular? For one, Americans like to see people in peril, and have enjoyed it since The Perils of Pauline. Apocalyptic shows just allow the peril to occur on a much grander scale. Too, the broad plot lines give ample room for action and adventure, heroism and cowardice, charismatic leaders, people finding inner strength, romance amidst the carnage, and acts of sacrifice and betrayal, and therefore can appeal to just about everyone. If you like battles, you can watch the freedom fighters on Falling Skies gun down “skitterers” or the Navy personnel on The Last Ship fight al-Qaeda terrorists and rogue Russians. And occasionally bigger picture questions can be addressed, too. What is the role of hope in life? How would ordinary people react to Armageddon? What role, if any, would religion play when people are dealing with the end of life as we know it?
It’s all very interesting, and it makes for a good night of TV viewing. And, having immersed ourselves in catastrophe on Sunday night, we awaken on Monday morning refreshed and well positioned to face another week of work.