Study! Relax!

¿Por qué no los dos?

In the spirit of the Old El Paso school of philosophy, here are five TV shows you can binge watch that will also get you thinking a little about ethics. Quick warning: there are some minor spoilers below.


We’re not going to suggest you go back and watch The Bachelor or Survivor Australia (you probably watched them the first time around). Check out UnREAL instead. It’s a fictional look at the thorny ethics of reality TV based around the producers of Everlasting, which is The Bachelor in pretty much everything but name. < It’s easy to watch reality TV and assume the people appearing on the shows are fair game for criticism because they signed up to appear on the program. What’s easily forgotten – until you watch UnREAL – is the manipulation undertaken by producers to create drama and ‘good’ television. In season 1, a contestant kills herself as a result of this kind of manipulation, which only sparks higher ratings.

2. Offspring

If you’ve never watched Offspring, you’ve got a lot to catch up on. The feel-good Aussie sitcom was rebooted for a fifth season in 2016 and brought with it a thorny bioethics conundrum: who has the right to a dead man’s sperm? Offspring centres around Nina Proudman and her family, and also deals with the fallout from the sudden death of Patrick, Nina’s fiancé and father of her daughter. Unknown to Nina, Patrick had some of his sperm frozen during a previous marriage. His ex-wife decides to offer Nina his sperm, in case she would like to have another child to him. Does Nina have any right to use Patrick’s sperm? Does his ex-wife have any right to offer it to Nina? Patrick donated before he was in a relationship with Nina and we have no idea what his wishes would be for children in the event of his death. How can we respect his wishes in this case?

3. Black Mirror

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed Black Mirror: Patrick Stokes explored the themes of one episode in his piece on digital death. Black Mirror doesn’t follow a season-long narrative. It’s a bunch of standalone dramas exploring themes around technology, the future and humanity. It can be pretty dystopian but does encourage us to think twice about where today’s technology might be headed. One episode that hits close to home is “Hated in the Nation”, which has a detective who investigates the deaths of young people subjected to online shaming and social media pile ons. Just because we don’t see the consequences of a mean tweet or aggressive comment, it doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for them.

4. The Good Place

One for the philosopher nerds among us! When Eleanor Shellstrop is killed by a trailer advertising erectile dysfunction drugs, she finds herself in the afterlife. Everything is perfect except Eleanor herself. It turns out the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed woman was meant to go to “the bad place” but a clerical error worked in her favour. Eleanor enlists the help of her allocated ‘soul mate’ Chidi, who was an ethics professor on earth. He proceeds to help her to reform, teaching her about Kant, Aristotle and the rest. The show basically functions as an introduction to moral philosophy for both Eleanor and viewers, but manages to sneak in a few decent jokes along the way.

5. Cleverman

Mythology and traditional stories have always been good fodder for film and television, so it’s a little surprising Aboriginal stories have been so absent from Australian screens. Ryan Griffen was aware of this absence and wanted to create an Aboriginal superhero for his son. The end product was Cleverman, a dystopian sci-fi series about the Hairypeople – an Indigenous race who live for hundreds of years, have extraordinary strength and grow thick pelts across their body. The “Hairies” are seen as subhuman, rounded up and kept in a separate part of society called the Zone. The spiritual leader of the Zone is the Cleverman, whose powers include bringing people back from the dead. Cleverman follows a range of narratives around the internal politics of the Zone and the broader social structures that continue to oppress Hairypeople. What’s important about Cleverman is both its representation, putting Aboriginal faces at the centre of a world based in Dreamtime stories, and the ability – like all sci-fi – to take pressing social issues and explore them in a fictional world. Questions around Aboriginal identity in the broader Australian community, social attitudes to ‘otherness’, black deaths at the hands of white police officers and the militarisation of government departments are all explored.