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Central Theme: Live-Action TV

  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Understanding the human condition.
  • 24:
    • How far will you go to see justice done?
    • Being haunted by past mistakes.
  • 30 Rock: Maintaining professional integrity.
  • American Horror Story
    • Murder House: Everyone is haunted and infidelity.
    • Asylum: Sanity and guilt.
    • Coven: Oppression and power corrupts.
  • Andromeda: Old fashioned heroics in a world lacking heroes.
  • Angel: Redemption. Specifically, how it's hopeless, thankless, endless and painful. Seek it anyway; there is nothing more beautiful than compassion without any expectation of reward.
  • Arrow: What it means to be a role model.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): The need to survive at all costs. The power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Faith, Idols and God.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Brilliance and wisdom are mutually exclusive.
  • Blackadder: There always have been smart and stupid people, and history is their conflict.
  • Black Mirror: The ambiguity between the benefits and drawbacks of modern technology, and what kind of impact it's having on modern society and those who live in it; are we becoming slaves to new media? Is it changing us and how we look at the world around us for the worse?
  • Boardwalk Empire: Conflict between duty and self-interest.
  • Bones: The awesomeness of science.
  • Breaking Bad: What is the toll that doing evil will take on your life, family and soul, even if it's initially (apparently) for good reasons?
    • The seeds of evil were there all along, lying dormant. They were waiting for the right conditions to grow.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: The conflict between maturity and immaturity, and whether you can grow up and find success while still managing to enjoy your life.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Kids need to grow up sooner or later. We will lose the ones we love eventually.
  • Burn Notice: Can you work with someone you don't like?
  • Castle: In the ongoing story-arc, what cost seeking justice for the wrongs of the past can have on the present and / or future. In general, the perils and opportunities of opening yourself and your heart up to someone else.
  • Cheers: Everyone needs to have somewhere to come home to.
  • Chuck: I Just Want to Be Normal vs. I Just Want to Be Special.
  • The Closer: Can you separate your personal life from work?
  • Cold Case: No crime stays unsolved forever.
  • The Collector: Is a decade of happiness enough to trade in your soul, the only thing about yourself which will last for eternity?
  • Columbo: How appearances can be deceptive; a seemingly perfect crime might be full of flaws, and someone who is seemingly unintelligent might be smarter than they appear.
  • Community:
    • The series as a whole focuses on how people bond together to form communities with one another, and what it takes to hold these communities together; in particular, how friendship and accepting others, flaws and all, helps with this. Each season also develops a particular aspect of this theme, based around the class that the main characters are taking together for that year:
      • Season 1 (Spanish) - Communication; how do people of different backgrounds learn to speak a common language with one another?
      • Season 2 (Anthropology) - Unity; can people of different persuasions come together as True Companions? And can they stay True Companions without either tearing themselves apart or letting outsiders do so?
      • Season 3 (Biology) - Evolution; can the group stay together even as they evolve differently as people?
      • Season 4 (History) - History; the group coming to terms with their pasts but also realizing how much they've grown.
      • Season 5 - Renewal and starting over; the show doesn't follow the characters as they study a particular class but as they try to make the school a better place, and thus try to figure out how start their lives over again after things have fallen apart for them.
  • Criminal Minds: Why do people do terrible things?
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: There is no perfect crime. The suspects always leave a clue behind.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm: The superficialities of day to day social life
  • Dad's Army: The contrasting absurdities and bravery of the British in wartime.
  • Dallas: Can personal ambition take precedence over family loyalty?
  • Dancing on the Edge: When the going gets tough, how open-minded are self-proclaimed open-minded people?
  • Dead Like Me: Picking up the pieces of your life, the importance of seizing second chances.
  • Degrassi: Dealing with adversity can be tough, but if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can prevail. "Whatever it takes, I know I can make it through."
  • Dharma and Greg: Opposites attract.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Overall could be said to focus on pacifism (whether technical or otherwise), the question of where "home" really lies and the ever-changing nature of reality. But breaking it up for each Doctor (mainly taken from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide):
    • First Doctor Era: The meeting of the primitive and the advanced.
    • Second Doctor Era: The dangers of technology. Also, the enemies outside and inside (this is the era where the 'base under siege' plot was most commonly used as a staple).
    • Third Doctor Era: Authority.
    • Fourth Doctor Era: Survival at all costs, climaxing with Season 18's message of 'change and decay' (Season 12 in contrast had an underlying theme of 'rebirth').
    • Early Fifth Doctor Era: "We're all in the same tribe!".
    • Late Fifth Doctor Era: The failure of peaceful methods in a corrupt, violent universe.
    • Sixth Doctor Era: Life under surveillance.
      • Also, as an extension of the "Late Fifth Doctor Era": What methods were necessary to exist in a corrupt, violent universe, and the toll this could have.
    • Seventh Doctor Era: "Unfinished Business".
    • Eighth Doctor Era: Having all your responsibilities cleared and being free to move on.
    • Ninth Doctor Era: "Everything dies. Everything has its time" along with Battle Not With Monsters.
      • Nine's era also has "everyone can save the day." A majority of the episodes resolve themselves due to the Doctor's inspiring miscellaneous characters to be heroes.
    • Tenth Doctor Era: Life after the funeral. Also, the pain of immortality, and the delicate balance between being a hero and assuming that you are the only person left with the power to save people.
      • Arrogance and hubris, and the consequences of this, is also something of a theme. It's notable that whenever the Tenth Doctor lets his more arrogant tendencies get away from him, the consequences usually come back to bite him.
    • Eleventh Doctor Era: Fairytales and stories, along with "Time can be rewritten". And now in series 6, Becoming a legend will make you The Hero to some and The Dreaded to others, no matter how neutral your intentions.
    • Also, anyone, even the most seemingly insignificant person, is important and matters even if that person can't see it themselves.
    • What does it mean to be "The Doctor"?
    • The series as a whole has "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism".
  • Dollhouse: What is the human identity? Is it tangible? Can it be destroyed?
  • Downton Abbey: It's the End of an Age and those that don't adapt to the changes are doomed to become obsolete.
  • Early Edition: How a single act can change the lives of others, or make it worse.
  • Extras: Can you achieve fame and fortune without sacrificing your integrity?
  • Firefly:
    • Faith in all its permutations. The terrible and glorious things faith can motivate people to do, how they react when their faith is taken from them, and the forms that faith comes in (religion, family, heroes, causes, love, friends, and so on). Faith itself can be more worthy than whatever symbol it's placed in.
    • The film Serenity, though touching on that theme in the Operative and Mal's character arc, has a different one that may have surfaced if the series had continued, which is this: Flawed humans can't create perfect humans or a perfect world. The death of what is considered 'sin' would be the end of the human race; without evil, without wrong, without the ability to choose to be good (rather than being good because that's all we can be), we may as well be dead.
  • Foyle's War: The moral and ethical price of fighting a war on the people living in the home front. Can even murder be considered a crime when thousands more are dying through warfare every day?
  • Friends: Friendship in all its forms (friendship among men and women, friendship that is broken and reforged, friendship that blossoms into romance).
  • Game of Thrones: Each season has it's own central theme.
    • Season 1: Honour.
    • Season 2: Power.
    • Season 3: Trust.
  • Gilmore Girls: How involved should parents be in their children's lives once they've grown up?
  • Glee:
    • Popularity is a fleeting and unsatisfactory thing, and the more you try to achieve it the more you'll hurt yourself and others.
    • Another theme that is brought up a lot on the show is that we all have something "wrong" with us, or something which makes us different or "freaks", but we should embrace that, take pride in our flaws, and turn our weaknesses into strengths.
  • The Good Guys: Crimes can't be solved without getting one's hands dirty.
  • The Goodies used its central theme (Everybody goes drunk with power) to kick off silly, wacky plots involving violence and slapstick.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Power does not give you the right to hurt and oppress others.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street: The effects that investigating murder and being surrounded by death can have on those who are charged to investigate them.
  • House: The cure sometimes being worse than the disease.
  • How I Met Your Mother: The really, really long path to true love. Or more generally, how everything that has happened to you and everyone who came into your life is part of the story of how you got where you are today.
  • I'm Alan Partridge: The emptiness of a life lived in narcissism and wasted seeking fame and recognition for it's own sake, rather than for anything of merit.
  • JAG: The military in general represents all thatís good about America, and although there are a few rotten apples in the barrel, the military as a system is never at fault.
  • Jericho: What ordinary people are capable of when they are put in desperate situations.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Being a franchise where each Season usually operates under its own continuity, the Central Theme tends to change from series to series.
    • Showa-era Riders: There are a few exceptions, or at least, seasons where it is not as large an issue, but the basic unifying theme of the pre-Kuuga era is "Does becoming a monster mean losing your humanity".
      • This theme is still in effect in a number of the Heisei seasons given that many of the protagonists are related to or have powers related to the antagonists in some way.
    • Kamen Rider Kuuga: If violence is needed to combat violence, then when and how does it stop?
    • Kamen Rider Agito: What does it mean to evolve?
    • Kamen Rider Ryuki: Are some wishes or motivations more 'correct' than others, and to what degree can people be justified in striving for them?
    • Kamen Rider Faiz: Just because one is less evolved does not mean they are weaker.
    • Kamen Rider Blade: A theme along the lines of Faiz and goes one step further: What is the final product of evolution - and is it a good thing?
    • Kamen Rider Hibiki: Behave in a way that you believe in.
    • Kamen Rider Kiva: The actions of the past will effect the future.
    • Kamen Rider Double: Alone you are good, together you are better.
    • Kamen Rider OOO: Do people need desire, and if they do, how much of it do they need?
    • Kamen Rider Fourze: The Power of Friendship applies to both heroes and villains.
    • Kamen Rider Wizard: People need hope, but do they justify the methods used?
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: What do I do with this newly obtained power? What do I destroy then if I don't want to destroy anything?
  • The Larry Sanders Show: The contrast between the slick surface glamour of showbusiness and the backstabbing grubbiness behind the scenes. Word of God also indicates that the show is about love — specifically, the kind of love between lifelong friends who care deeply for each other but struggle to express it.
  • Law & Order: The strengths and flaws of the criminal justice system, and the difficulties in trying to find true justice while operating within it.
  • Life: The difference between forgiveness and revenge.
  • LOST: Science vs. faith, and which one we choose to believe in during critical situations.
  • Mad Men: The contradictory roles men and women are supposed to play in society.
  • Malcolm in the Middle:
    • Life is unfair.
    • Related: very few people ever get a leg up in life, so if you are lucky enough for an opportunity to fall into your lap, don't waste it or else.
    • Also, your family is an essential part of your identity, no matter what paths you may later choose to take.
  • Mash: The only way to deal with the horrors of war without going completely crazy is to let yourself go a little bit crazy instead.
  • Merlin:
    • Power (including magic) does not make a person good or evil, it is what a person chooses to do with it that defines them.
    • Parents cast long shadows over their children.
    • Secrets are destructive, especially when they exist between friends and family.
    • Social status is not an indicator of worth and blood is not necessarily Thicker Than Water.
    • You Can't Fight Fate and Because Destiny Says So.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers and Power Rangers Zeo: Overlaping theme of tradition vs progress, showing that mindlessly climbing to either is bad.
  • Mission: Impossible: People using each other as pawns.
  • Mr. Bean: Thinking outside the box.
  • My Name Is Earl: Doing good for the sake of doing good and not for a reward or to avoid punishment.
  • The Neighbors: Finding common ground among people of different beliefs.
  • New Girl: Can you stay optimistic even if life continues to beat you down?
  • The Newsroom: Intelligence and Ethics vs Greed and Superficiality. Every character who's painted in a negative light abandons ethical and professional integrity to serve their own ends.
  • Nikita: People are not disposable.
  • Nip/Tuck: Hiding the ugliness of people.
  • The O.C.: Starting your life over.
  • The Office (Both UK and US): The demoralising and crushing tedium of white-collar work.
    • Also, the debate on whether one should escape from the toil of this work to follow one's dreams (risking failure in the process) or to stick with it (enduring a lifestyle of monotonous labor that nonetheless grants financial stability).
  • One Tree Hill: The struggle of children to try to be better than their parents.
  • Oz: Does man have the capacity to change his wicked ways?
  • Parks and Recreation: Has the same theme as Yes Minister and The West Wing, but takes place on a smaller scale (city government rather than national government). It takes the idealistic approach for the most part.
  • Peep Show: The differences and conflicts between the appearances we present to the world and our secret inner thoughts.
  • Person of Interest: Who do you save and who do you kill? Do you even have the right to make that decision?
  • The Prisoner: The conflict between the individual and authority.
  • Psych: The power of keen observation.
  • Pushing Daisies: Life and death are not opposites. Life, death, and rebirth are the opposites of stasis.
  • Quantum Leap: Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
  • Red Dwarf: Isolation.
  • Revolution: For the first season, the theme is what the world would be like if the power went off world-wide and stayed off for 15 years. As the first season demonstrates, the world would not be a very nice place to live without power.
  • Robin Hood:
    • The BBC's version: For the first two seasons: what's more important, the needs of the individual or the impersonal greater good?
    • For the third season: fight the good fight, even if (or when) it costs you everything you hold dear.
    • The relationship between an individual man, the people in his life, and the legend that builds up around him (as epitomized in the gang's Catch Phrase: "We are Robin Hood".) With that in mind...no matter who dies, legends will live on, and ensure that there will always be people willing to fight against The Man.
  • Rome: How long till one's fortune runs out?
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles: True heroism sometimes means doing things people won't like.
  • Scrubs: When the power to save or destroy people's lives rests in your hands every day, you need your friends to help you handle the responsibility, because you can't do it all on your own. After all, you're no Superman.
  • Seinfeld: How some people just will never learn a lesson, if there's even a lesson to learn.
  • Sex and the City: Never losing hope or becoming jaded in the search for love.
  • Six Feet Under: Human mortality, the inevitability of death, and the effect it has on those still living.
  • Smallville: Finding your calling.
  • Smash: What would you sacrifice to make your dream come true?
  • The Sopranos: Being Evil Sucks, no matter how one tries to deny or justify it.
  • Spaced: What it means to be a young adult in the early twenty-first century, and how that means figuring out who you are and what you want to do.
  • Star Trek: The possibility of friendship among races. As ugly and violent as human history has been, it is possible for us to achieve world peace and equality.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Whether it is possible to break free of the past, or whether people/civilizations will be forever chained by it, at least early on. Later seasons address the Godzilla Threshold, and whether it is possible to hold onto morality in the face of certain doom.
  • Suits: Competition in the workplace and at home.
  • Supernatural: Life sucks. Family is the only thing you can really count on.
  • Touch: Seeing things that others can't.
  • Whitechapel: History Repeats, and it's only by looking into the past that we can solve problems in the present-day.
  • Wilfred: The conflict between what one wants (animal instinct) and what one is supposed to do (human conscience).
  • Will and Grace: The evolution of a friendship (from romantic to platonic to familial).
  • The Wire: Every human institution is run by petty, selfish human beings, and is therefore doomed to mediocrity. The effect of the drug trade and the resulting War on Drugs on society as a whole.
  • Without a Trace: You don't really know someone until the day they disappear.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess:
    • When is it all right to kill?
    • What does it take to be redeemed for the sins you have committed in the past — if this is even possible?
  • The X-Files:
    • Trust vs. paranoia; specifically, can you trust even one person when it seems like the whole world is out to get you?
    • The shady things those in authority will get up to when they think no one is looking and the ways they will manipulate you if they think they can get away with it.
    • Is the "Truth" really out there? And if so, is it even possible to find it through all the lies?
  • Yes, Minister and The West Wing: The conflict between political idealism versus political realities, and how politicians and civil servants navigate and exploit this conflict in order to ensure the most favorable outcome for them. Interestingly, each series is set at opposite ends of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.

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